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Robotics and AI are speeding up our nuclear clean up mission

Robotics and AI are helping to make Sellafield and West Cumbria a success | Credit: Sellafield Ltd

Sellafield Ltd

4 min read Partner content

West Cumbria is delivering the future of nuclear robotics and artificial intelligence technology.

Every day the company in charge of the nationally important mission of decommissioning and cleaning up the UK’s largest nuclear site – Sellafield in West Cumbria - is facing new challenges.

That is why Sellafield Ltd is undertaking tasks that are first of a kind through robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

The company is developing a collaborative approach to robotics that will speed up their introduction, save money and ultimately get the right technologies in place to create a clean and safe environment for future generations.

Sellafield Ltd’s Head of Robotics and AI, Rav Chunilal (pictured below) said: “There are many activities at our six square kilometre site that are already making a difference.

“Examples include the use of underwater remotely operated vehicles to cut and move nuclear material from the legacy ponds and automated tools that can remotely cut and size reduce skips from our ponds. We are also developing the capability to remotely operate the gloveboxes we use to handle hazardous material, which will reduce risk to our operators; and we recently trialled our first ever unmanned aerial vehicle inspection flight.”

Sellafield is one site amongst several across the UK which make up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s portfolio, and has recently established a new central team coordinating robotics and AI across the group to build an intelligent client capability.

Rav said: “Our team will actively provide oversight of all robotics and AI workstreams which will result in other areas of the NDA group being able to reuse developed projects or adapt further to fit a bespoke challenge rather than starting R&D again – ultimately saving time and money.

“Integral to this new structure are the three robotics domains developing and leading on Air, Land and Water based robotics.

“This is a great opportunity for our partners, academics and supply chain to be part of delivering with us – in West Cumbria – in collaboration.

“Nuclear has a great supply chain already supporting robotics and we want to continue strengthening and developing these links. At the same time, we can explore the opportunities to work and collaborate with those in other sectors such as oil and gas, aerospace and defence.

“Let's understand the art of the possible to help nuclear decommissioning and increase the speed of deployment not just at one site, but many sites to enhance safety, reduce cost and schedule and have a more positive impact on the environment.

“We have recently leased a building in Whitehaven, RAICo One. This will be our first robotics and AI collaborative space that will allow us to develop some of our projects in flight. This facility will allow us to bring together partners to work together for a more effective delivery to our challenges. 

“This is complimenting the collaboration with our colleagues at the Engineering Centre of Excellence at Leconfield in West Cumbria - another new venture that is breathing life into an existing facility within our local community. It's somewhere for teams to innovate and collaborate on engineering solutions and implement back on to the site.

Our goal is for West Cumbria to be one of the UK's national Robotics and AI hubs

“Future development of robotics and AI in West Cumbria will require something more substantial to allow many more parties to come and join in, and as with the new RAICo One incubator, a future facility will focus on people and culture; with the prospect of attracting young minds to get involved in innovation and digital early. Something which Sellafield has carried out within its communities for many years.

“Robotics and AI is a huge industry. Outside of our company, others such as Amazon have been using it for many years, and our goal is for West Cumbria to be one of the UK's national Robotics and AI hubs.”

Jamie Reed, Sellafield Ltd’s head of corporate affairs said: “Creating this robotics and AI capability away from the Sellafield site facilitates collaboration and innovation that helps to drive growth and diversify the local economy. By doing this, we help to position Cumbria in the future economy.

“By growing the capabilities that we require to complete our mission, we can also help to drive local sustainability and begin to deliver ‘levelling up’ in Cumbria. Our approach to sustainability is embedded in what we do as an organisation, not just in our nationally leading social impact work.

“The juxtaposition of England’s most outstanding natural environment alongside cutting edge robotics and AI developments used to decommission Sellafield is incredibly exciting.”

Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland said: “We need robotics and AI in the most hazardous sites in the world, here in West Cumbria we have a track record of first of a kind technology and I am excited that RAICo has been established.”

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