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Remote-Controlled Underwater Vehicles Survey Nuclear Pond

Many, many researchers are working on robots they hope can help clean up after nuclear meltdowns. The robots are supposed to go where people can't and send back information to their human handlers. But radiation is tough on some hardware, too, so fewer machines have actually been used to explore after radiation accidents (Japan deployed several robots after the Fukushima disaster). At one highly contaminated nuclear site, Sellafield in the U.K., cleanup crews are using remotely-controlled underwater vehicles to explore a uranium fuel storage pond. Throughout the cleanup effort, they've bought commercially available vehicles, modified them and tested them specifically for the site. The vehicles are now 98 percent done with surveying the pond, according to Solid State Technology.
/ Source: InnovationNewsDaily.com

Many, many researchers are working on robots they hope can help clean up after nuclear meltdowns. The robots are supposed to go where people can't and send back information to their human handlers. But radiation is tough on some hardware, too, so fewer machines have actually been used to explore after radiation accidents ( Japan deployed several robots after the Fukushima disaster). At one highly contaminated nuclear site, Sellafield in the U.K., cleanup crews are using remotely-controlled underwater vehicles to explore a uranium fuel storage pond. Throughout the cleanup effort, they've bought commercially available vehicles, modified them and tested them specifically for the site. The vehicles are now 98 percent done with surveying the pond, according to Solid State Technology.

Sellafield used the pond for 26 years, storing about 27,000 tons of uranium magnox fuel for civil electricity generation.  A long shutdown in 1974 kept fuel and cladding – the outer layer of fuel rods – stored in the water longer than the pond was designed for. Eventually the water became more radioactive and murky with sludge. 

Officials at the British Nuclear Group, responsible for decommissioning the pond, were looking for a way to survey the pond when they decided to try a remote-control vehicle like those often used at offshore oil wells, Nuclear Engineering International reported. They chose a Rovtech "Seaker" vehicle and modified it for the pond's conditions. 

After they put it in the water, the Seaker's human operators can retreat away from the radiation-contaminated area. A long tether, carrying power and video cables, connects operators with the vehicle but lets them operate the vehicle remotely. "There is no alternative that is as safe as this method," Dave Skilbeck, the pond's head of operations, told Solid State Technology. 

To the British Nuclear Group's surprise, videos from the survey showed that some of the fuel in the pond could still be reprocessed even though it's been submerged for 20 to 40 years, Nuclear Engineering International reported. The group first began removing the fuel for reuse in 2005.

After the first modded Seaker's success, the pond's operators bought other remotely operated submersible vehicles to continue to survey the pond. They're also working on testing a vehicle they've equipped with an arm to pick up fuel rods.  

Rovtech now advertises a nuclear cleanup version of its Seaker vehicles on its website, noting that it's based on the design created for Sellafield. 

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