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£3.9m challenge seeks innovation in sorting radioactive waste

By Alan Hendry

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Robotics could be among the potential technologies.
Robotics could be among the potential technologies.

A £3.9 million competition has been launched to find innovative ways to sort and segregate radioactive waste at some of the UK’s oldest nuclear sites.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – including Sellafield Ltd and Magnox Ltd – has teamed up with Innovate UK to call on companies up and down the country to come up with new ideas and innovative approaches.

Robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems are just some of the potential technologies which could be used for the Sort and Segregate Nuclear Waste competition.

It is open to any interested organisations – they don’t have to be from a nuclear background – to form consortia and develop a plan to address the challenge. It involves work at Sellafield and several Magnox nuclear reactor sites.

The NDA’s head of innovation, Sara Huntingdon, said: “It has been a challenging time for businesses in recent months. We hope this competition will excite organisations – inspiring them to bring forward ideas which could help transform our work in the nuclear sector.

“Dealing with waste is a huge ongoing challenge for us as we progress our mission to decommission nuclear sites. We want people to be creative and help us develop new and innovative solutions.

“We welcome technologies from all sectors. Organisations don’t have to have nuclear experience – just great ideas, and a passion for turning those into a reality.”

Innovate UK’s nuclear innovation lead, Derek Allen, said: “We are delighted to be working with the NDA again to deliver another small business research initiative to help drive innovation into the nuclear decommissioning supply chain.

“We look forward to working with a wide range of organisations, particularly those that will be new to the sector, to deliver exciting and creative solutions.

“This is a great opportunity for UK organisations to grow their business and at the same time help deal with the country’s nuclear waste in a safer, faster and cheaper way.”

This is the second competition to encourage integrated innovation in nuclear decommissioning. The first launched in 2017 to find solutions to help decommission highly radioactive facilities at Sellafield.

Fifteen submissions were identified in phase one as having potential. Five went forward to phase two to develop their ideas further, and two winning consortia were then chosen to turn their ideas into reality.

This latest competition will be open for applications from August 17. After a rigorous assessment process it is likely a number of consortia will be chosen in February 2021 to carry out a three-month feasibility study into their idea, for which they will each be awarded up to £50,000.

The best submissions will then be given up to £750,000 to go forward to the design and build phase of the project, which can last up to 15 months.

To find out more about the competition and how to apply, go to the Innovate UK competition page.

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