Createc develops underwater robots for nuclear decommissioning operations

Words: Jonathan Lee, 32 West

NEW underwater robots for the nuclear decommissioning industry are being developed by an award-winning business with a global reputation for pioneering technology.

Createc, which develops and applies technologies for nuclear decommissioning around the world, has won a contract to develop technology for underwater nuclear decommissioning.

Createc has previously demonstrated how off-the-shelf collaborative robots – cobots – can be used for dexterity and operating safely in complex environments and for hazardous remote operations, including dry nuclear decommissioning operations.

Now Createc, working in collaboration with partners, is developing the technology for underwater nuclear decommissioning.

Createc is working on the project with fellow Cumbrian company Fortis Remote Technology, which specialises in the development of underwater tooling for both nuclear and offshore sectors.

This project, UCODE – Underwater Cobot Decommissioning, aims to build on the Iris software developed by spin-out Createc Robotics for operating

robotics in dry nuclear decommissioning, and combine it with Fortis’ established techniques for adapting sensors and equipment for submerged operation. safely enclosing machinery to operate underwater.

Createc CEO Matt Mellor said: “Opening underwater nuclear decommissioning operations to cobots would enable tasks not previously possible with conventional “master-slave” robots.

“This would be of benefit to asset owners and decommissioning engineers as well as cobot makers and the associated support supply chain.

“Many nuclear processes happen underwater, such as fueling and defueling reactors, fuel storage, waste processing and storage and many steps in the reprocessing cycle, particularly in older facilities.

“In decommissioning, items of equipment need to be characterised, dismantled and manipulated, which is a one-time task. Developing bespoke equipment for these applications is costly and often risky due to high uncertainties.

“Recently, significant progress has been shown by Createc and others in using cobots to carry out remote nuclear operations in dry environments. “Although not designed to be radiation tolerant, cobots are typically able to operate in radiation fields around 1,000 times more intense than it would be reasonable to expose a human to.

“Underwater operations are a different case; cobots are all designed to operate in air. Developing bespoke underwater cobots for the nuclear industry is unlikely to be economically justifiable.

“The key contribution of this project is to combine Createc’s experience and technical know-how in applying cobots to nuclear operations, with Fortis’s capability to develop oversuit pressure enclosures with rotating joints that can enable such robots to operate in shallow water.”

The proposed experiment for this project is to demonstrate that a cobot protected for shallow water operation is a low cost, general purpose solution to typical underwater decommissioning operations that might be encountered in decommissioning a nuclear reactor.

Fortis, based in Broughton-in-Furness and Barrow, offers specialist design, specification, manufacture, assembly and operation of remote technology solutions in challenging environments. It specialises in the development of technology solutions where access by humans is difficult or dangerous, including subsea and nuclear environments.

For this project Fortis has carried out the design work on the oversuit – the waterproof jacket – for the cobot to be able to function effectively underwater.

Fortis is also carrying out testing of the innovative equipment at its specialist centre in Barrow.

A demonstration is planned this month to show that the technology can perform its tasks successfully underwater.

Darren Ball, technical director at Fortis, said: “As well as ensuring tasks can be carried out more safely, this technology is designed to be reusable which makes it much more cost efficient.”

The project is supported by RIMA (Robotics for Inspection and Maintenance), a four-year European initiative which aims to maximise the potential of robotic applications in inspection and maintenance across multiple sectors. RIMA provides financial and technical support to cross-border experiments involving small and medium-sized enterprises and is establishing a network of 13 Digital Innovation Hubs.

Image: Demo of technology at Fortis’ test facility.