Wood Group has secured seven-figure government backing to help bring space technology to the field of nuclear decommissioning.
The Aberdeen-headquartered energy and industrial services heavyweight said it was leading research to make nuclear decommissioning “safer, faster and more cost-effective” by applying new technologies developed in space exploration, car production and medicine.
It has landed funding worth around £1.5 million from the UK’s government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Innovate UK after winning a major competition to find the best new ideas.
Wood’s project and four others were selected from a shortlist of 15. Each receives funding of about £1.5m.
Wood Group and its supply chain will combine new data and control systems with state-of-the-art robotics to design a demonstrator system for cleaning and dismantling highly radioactive rooms or “cells” at Sellafield in Cumbria.
The technologies used in the project include material handling systems to reduce the risks of working at height, “mixed reality” headsets, a multi-fingered gripper allowing robots to grasp different objects and a navigation system designed for missions to Mars that enables autonomous mapping where human access is impossible. Wood’s research partners are Airbus Defence and Space, Clicks and Links, Damavan Imaging SAS, Digital Concepts Engineering, IS-Instruments, I3D Robotics, the University of Lancaster, the University of Salford, Kawasaki UK and TWI.
Bob MacDonald, chief executive of Wood’s specialist technical solutions business, said: “Our innovative proposal for a fully remote solution removes the operator from a hazardous environment and is adaptable enough to tackle different tasks, many of which present unique challenges.
“Wood’s role is as an innovation integrator, bringing together ingenious ideas from industry and academia to define a new approach to the nuclear decommissioning challenge.”
Melanie Brownridge, the NDA’s head of technology, said the response had been so promising that the total amount available to the chosen projects has been increased from £3m to £8.5m.
She added: “We were all incredibly excited by the quality and diversity of the submissions, which came from established nuclear organisations as well as industries working with us for the first time.”