'Telexistence' contest for UK nuclear decommissioning

20 January 2022

A competition with a fund of GBP1.3 million (USD1.8 million) has been launched to find ways for a human operator "to project in" by using virtual reality equipment to remotely perform complex tasks and operate equipment from a safe distance.

The aim is to halve the activities carried out by humans the high hazard enviroments by 2030. (Image: DASA)

The competition is being run for the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory with an entry deadline of 6 April.

Telexistence is described as a system combining telepresence - which allows the operator to see and hear as though in the remote location - with robotics/wearable tech to enable the operator to interact in the remote environment and also haptic sensors enabling them to touch and feel as though in the remote environment.

The test for the nuclear decommissioning part of the contest will include remotely picking up an object similar to a thermos flask, reading any writing on it and being able to unscrew the lid and place the lid in a specific position.

The aim is for the tech to be used to remove an item from the cylindrical metal container, place it back and pour sand over the top of it and screw the lid back on the container.

The competition document says: "The NDA faces many challenges to decommission the UK’s nuclear legacy. A significant number of these activities are inherently hazardous to humans and activities are often conducted by specialised personnel within purpose built and now ageing on-site facilities.

"Dose limitations and the wider demands placed on operators limit the amount of productive work that can be undertaken within the limited time that can be spent in these facilities. Access to facilities is also limited by availability of systems, adequate lighting and ventilation systems."

It says that performing tasks using "through-wall master slave manipulators" is time consuming and physically and mentally challenging for the operators. The NDA also hopes to end by 2025 the use of gloveboxes - where people put their hands into gloveports to undertake specific tasks within a glovebox which provides bulk shielding and containment of the hazard - to inspect, handle or repackage nuclear materials.

The NDA says its "ambition is to move humans away from harm, to remotely decommission gloveboxes by 2025 and reduce the activities carried out by humans in high hazard environments by 50% by 2030".

The other uses the competition is seeking bids for are for remotely making safe suspected explosive devices, and providing medical assessments and care for a casualty on a battlefield or high-risk contagion area.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News