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D&D Industry News Archives

View archived deactivation and decommissioning news items.

Robots' limitations exposed in search for melted nuclear fuel in Fukushima

March 23, 2017

​OKUMA, Fukushima -- In an attempt to minimize the risk to humans during the search for melted nuclear fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, robots have also been deployed to help out with the task.

However, the robots have also encountered some problems. For instance, a Toshiba Corp. robot that was sent in to clear away deposited material inside the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor failed to clear away much material, and within approximately two hours, its camera had broken.

According to Takahiro Kimoto of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), "The radiation inside the containment vessel was so intense that the images transmitted back from a camera attached to the robot were pitch black." This was somewhat disappointing for the team working at the No. 2 reactor because by losing their robotic "eye" inside the containment vessel, they were unable to make the progress they were hoping for.

On Feb. 16, a "scorpion robot" was sent into the containment vessel. The intention of the mission was to locate melted nuclear fuel. However, deposited materials inside the vessel meant that the robot became stuck and was unable to move any further.

In the end, images from directly underneath the nuclear reactor were obtained not from the robot, but by "human means," on Jan. 30. By using a pipe and a camera, the team was able to confirm the presence of holes in the platform. They also discovered brown and black deposited material, which appeared to be melted nuclear fuel. Therefore, some might say that "human methods" are more effective than robots in a mission of this nature.

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'LaserSnake': A New Approach to Nuclear Decommissioning

March 23, 2017

​Across the world there are high-hazard nuclear facilities which need to be decommissioned. Dismantling redundant equipment safely and cost-effectively is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today, and an increasingly major issue for operators.

In 2014 the International Energy Agency said that almost 200 of the 434 reactors in operation around the globe would be retired by 2040, and estimated the cost of decommissioning at more than $100 billion. Some commentators felt even this was a great underestimate.

To meet a challenge of this scale, innovation will necessarily have a key role. With the engineering, safety and working time restrictions which apply to ‘active’ nuclear site environments, new technologies that can distance the human operator, be more efficient and save time can potentially play an important part in future decommissioning.

In summer 2016, OC Robotics led a demonstration project at the Sellafield site in northern England, to showcase one such new development which could transform the approach to dismantling redundant equipment.

For the project, called LaserSnake 2, a team led by OC Robotics integrated a high-powered laser cutter with a remotely-controlled snake-arm robot, and used it to cut up a 5.5 tonne steel dissolver vessel at the Sellafield site. While similar work has also been done in France, the LaserSnake 2 team was the first in the world to complete dismantling of a dissolver vessel using this technology.​

The seeds of the LaserSnake 2 project were sown in 2001, when at OC Robotics we began to develop and build long, flexible, multi-jointed robotic arms. Software-driven and controlled by wire cables inside the arm, they are highly dextrous and can navigate through small spaces and cluttered environments, moving around and over obstacles. Depending on the equipment they carry, they can perform tasks such as inspecting structures, cleaning, sealing and welding.

Around 2011 we saw that there was potential to use such snake-arm robots in nuclear decommissioning work. Working with laser experts TWI (formerly known as The Welding Institute) we carried out a feasibility study, supported by the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK, to integrate a snake-arm robot with a laser-cutter head.

In 2012, Innovate UK announced a competition for innovative ideas in decommissioning technology, with the winners receiving grants funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change , and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). Based on the success of the feasibility study, we applied and succeeded in winning a grant towards the costs of a full-scale demonstration. We called this project LaserSnake 2.

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ENRICH will test robots in real world radiological and nuclear scenarios

March 23, 2017

​There is significant potential for the use of unmanned vehicles in scenarios involving radiological and nuclear (RN) threats. The European Reference Network for Critical Infrastructure Protection (ERNCIP) has therefore established a thematic group on the protection of critical infrastructure from Radiological and Nuclear Threats (RNTs).

The group looks at issues such as standardisation of deployment protocols, response procedures and the use of unmanned systems. Possible threats involve measurement and sampling scenarios that are too risky for humans to carry out, also in the event of criminal or unauthorised acts involving nuclear or other radioactive material. Situations envisaged for the use of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) are:

Reactor supervision and related accidents, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima;

Illicit release of radioactive material (radiological dispersion devices and dirty bombs before or after an explosion);

Search of sources out of regulatory control;

Long-term measurements.

Lessons learned from incidents such as Fukushima and Chernobyl, as well as from decommissioning of old nuclear power plants, show that robots have certain advantages. Robots can operate in areas with high radiation, danger of explosives, for example Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosions (BLEVE), collapsing structures, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), booby traps, aggressive chemicals (e.g. Chlortrifluorid) and extreme heat. Additionally, they can manipulate the environment and take samples. Robots can also be used for long-time surveillance of contaminated areas and for monitoring the movements of a threat using real-time data from mobile sensors.

Robotics in the RN domain – applications and standards

The ERNCIP RNTs group focusses on possible applications. The identified scenarios can be separated in two categories. First, there are prevention scenarios where unmanned systems can be used to prevent incidents involving radioactive material and deterrence. Second, there are response scenarios where unmanned systems gather information after incidents with radioactive material occurred. We further identified several tasks for unmanned systems:

spatial mapping of RN sensor data (exploration, change detection);

searching for RN sources (active sensing, isocurves, hotspots);

sampling (air, sweep or material sampling);

3D infrastructure mapping (situation awareness & assessment).

 Another important finding was that no standards, best practices or norms for sampling or taking measurements with unmanned systems have been systematically developed thus far. Therefore, a first set of potential standards for unmanned systems in RN measurement scenarios was compiled. A widely accepted standard collection of frameworks for robot software development is the Robot Operating System (ROS). Further important standards concerning communication with robots and control of unmanned systems are the Battle Management Language (BML), InterOperability Profile (IOP) and Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS). Furthermore, there are efforts for standardisation in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) regarding international standards for RN measurements with unmanned systems.

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Robotics industry learns from successes and failures at Fukushima

March 23, 2017

​Without robots, there would be no safe way to clean up the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The problem is that recently, some of the robots being used in the most dangerous and critical part of the cleanup of the 2011 nuclear plant disaster failed. The robots succumbed to massive amounts of radiation or got stuck in rubble.  

On March 11, 2011, hydrogen explosions ripped through the plant when a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The power plant suffered catastrophic meltdowns in three of its six nuclear reactors.

Six years later, the environment inside the facilities remains too dangerous for people, and even for some robots.

[ To comment on this story, visit Computerworld's Facebook page. ]

The cleanup and decommissioning of the Fukushima power plant, which is expected to take 30 to 40 years and cost tens of billions of dollars, depends on robots of various sizes and shapes. There are robots that are snake-like, others shaped more like a scorpion, some that are tiny and others that weigh 500 pounds. Machines from around the world have been sent to aid in the cleanup.

"I don't think they can do it without robots," said Taskin Padir, an associate professor at Northeastern University's Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory. "We'll never be able to send humans into the reactor. The levels of radiation are unheard of. Contamination and radiation are huge. There's no way people are going in."

During the disaster, nuclear fuel rods were displaced, broken and melted. Removal of this radioactive debris is the most critical part of the cleanup and decommissioning operation.

Some of these robots are doing significant work. They’re taking measurements, assessing damage and recording images and video, among other jobs.

Robots have assisted in other cleanup efforts after nuclear accidents. They were used after the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania, and the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The entire cleanup of the station's basement at Three Mile Island, which had hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water and debris, was handled robotically.

There have been decades of advances in robotics since the machines were called on to clean up after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Scientists have developed autonomous humanoid robots, for example, but those aren’t the machines being used at Fukushima.

Workers involved in the cleanup are relying on old-school, remotely operated robots, instead of autonomous machines. These tried-and-true machines move much like the robots used in the late 1970s and 1980s. What’s different are the advanced sensors and cameras on the robots going into Fukushima, along with improved human and robot interaction.

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D&D KM-IT at Waste Management 2017

March 03, 2017
Come learn about new developments and capabilities integrated into the D&D Knowledge Management Information Tool (http://www.dndkm.org) at our booth #409 in the exhibitor hall at Waste Management Conference in Phoenix, AZ from March 5-9, 2017. We will also have a formal presentation titled “Application of Robotics Technology to D&D” during Session 137 on Thursday, March 9, during the 1:30-5:00 pm session in Room #101B. This presentation will highlight the importance of robotic technologies to overcome challenges in D&D activities as well as demonstrate how to use the D&D KM-IT to search for applicable robotic technologies.​

 Waste Management 2016 Exhibit Hall Booth
Be sure to stop by our "one-on-one" demonstrations of D&D KM-IT being offered at our booth during exhibitor hall hours. The capabilities of the system will be demonstrated, showing the available features and content of the D&D KM-IT, including over 500 robotic technologies. The D&D KM-IT system was developed by Florida International University - Applied Research Center (FIU-ARC) in collaboration with the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (DOE EM).

Waste Management 2017:

Find out more at our formal presentation at Waste Management Conference: Session 137 on Thursday, March 9, during the 1:30-5:00 pm session in Room #101B. 

Visit our booth (#409) at WM17 for a demonstration of D&D KM-IT do it now by using the QR Tag.


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Perry Sworn in as 14th Secretary of United States Department of Energy

March 03, 2017

​WASHINGTON – Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was sworn in on March 2, 2017, as the 14th Secretary of the United States Department of Energy.

 “It is an honor and privilege to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Energy. As Secretary, I will advocate and promote American energy in all forms. America has been blessed with vast natural resources and the technology to utilize them. I am committed to helping provide stable, reliable, affordable, and secure sources of American energy. An American first energy strategy is important to create jobs and grow the economy.

“I am also committed to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent while reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation. We will also continue the important mission of carrying out the environmental clean-up from the Cold War nuclear mission,” said Secretary Perry.

“I have a long record of aggressively courting leading scientific minds to set forth innovation, solutions, and job creation strategies. Our scientists and labs are the envy of the world, and I am a major proponent of maintaining American leadership in the area of scientific inquiry.”

During Perry’s 14 years as Governor, he proved economic growth and increased energy production can be accomplished alongside caring for the environment. During his tenure, Texas created 2.2 million jobs. Texas led the nation in energy production -- not just in oil and gas, but also in wind energy. Texas now produces more wind energy than all but six countries in the world.

Under his leadership, Texas reduced its carbon footprint by 17%, reduced sulfur dioxide by 56%, and nitrogen oxide by 66%. Despite having a rapidly growing population and one of the largest petrochemical refining industries in the world, Texas saw its air quality improve.

Perry brings the executive experience and management skills honed during his time as governor to the leadership of the Department of Energy.

Perry is a veteran of the United States Air Force. He married his childhood sweetheart, Anita, in 1982. They have two children and two granddaughters.

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Japan pulls plug on Monju, ending $8.5 billion nuclear self-sufficiency push

January 10, 2017

​apan on Wednesday formally pulled the plug on an $8.5 billion nuclear power project designed to realize a long-term aim for energy self-sufficiency after decades of development that yielded little electricity but plenty of controversy.

The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts around the world to make the technology commercially viable and potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste.

"We do not accept this," Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa told ministers involved in the decision.

People on vacation fish as the Japan Atomic Energy Agency's Monju nuclear power plant, a sodium-cooled fast reactor, is pictured in the background in Tsuruga, Fukui prefecture, July 2, 2011.
"This abrupt change in policy breeds deep feelings of distrust for the government," said Nishikawa who strongly backed the project because of the jobs and revenue it brought to a prefecture that relies heavily on nuclear installations. He said decommissioning work for Monju would not start without local government approval.

Four conventional commercial nuclear stations lie in close proximity to Monju, earning Fukui the nickname "nuclear alley."

Those like most other nuclear stations in Japan remain closed pending safety reviews or decisions on decommissioning after the Fukushima nuclear crisis of 2011 led to the eventual shutdown of all reactors in the country.

The Fukushima crisis sparked strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan, making it harder to pursue projects like the Monju facility which has faced accidents, cover-ups and regulatory breaches since construction began in 1985.

The plant was built to burn plutonium derived from the waste of reactors at Japan's conventional nuclear plants and create more fuel than it used, closing the so-called nuclear fuel cycle and giving a country that relies on overseas supplies for most of its energy needs a home-grown electricity source.

With Monju's shutdown, Japan's taxpayers are now left with an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) to decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) spent on the project.

Japan is still committed to trying to make the technology work and will build a new experimental research reactor at Monju, the government said.

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Michigan Public Service Commission to look into planned closure of Palisades nuclear plant

January 10, 2017

​The Michigan Public Service Commission wants answers from Consumers Energy about its plan to end its agreement with Entergy Nuclear Palisades, LLC to buy electricity from the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.

The plan would end the power purchase agreement about four years early and result in the permanent closure of the nuclear plant in October, 2018. 

The Commission is initiating a proceeding to make sure customers' energy needs will still be reliably met.


A view of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant from the beach at Van Buren State Park.

"What happens if that plant closes?" said Judy Palnau, spokesperson for the Commission. "What has the utility done to meet demand? How are they going to replace that power?"

The Commission also wants to know the basis of the utility's claim that its plan won't raise costs for customers.

"The company has said it will benefit rate payers," Palnau said. "The Commission would like very detailed information on that."

Last week, the House adopted HR 410 urging the Commission to "reject the premature termination of the power purchase agreement between Entergy and Consumers Energy" for the Palisades plant.

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Shikoku Electric submits plan to scrap reactor at Ikata plant

January 10, 2017

​MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – Shikoku Electric Power Co. asked the Ehime Prefectural Government on Monday to approve a decommissioning plan for the No. 1 reactor at its Ikata nuclear power station.

The company is required to gain consent under a nuclear safety agreement.

The power supplier also filed for approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

After gaining permission from the NRA, Shikoku Electric will carry out the work in four stages over some 40 years. The job is expected to cost about ¥40 billion.

Under the nuclear reactor control law, the life span of reactors is limited to 40 years in principle, but can be extended by up to 20 years if permitted by the NRA.

In March, Shikoku Electric decided to decommission the 566,000 kilowatt No. 1 reactor, which will be 40 years old next year. The company decided that attempting to extend the reactor’s life span would be too costly considering required investment in safety measures.​

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