TWI develops laser cutting for dismantling nuclear power plants

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TWI is working with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and various Site License Companies (SLCs) to develop the laser cutting process for the dismantling and size reduction of metal infrastructure in nuclear power plants. Laser cutting offers significant economic, technical, operational and societal benefits compared to competing techniques.

Nuclear decommissioning is high on the global agenda for social and economic reasons, as a result of recent events at Fukushima, and the rising cost of decommissioning activities. The UK budget for decommissioning the 18 nuclear installations covered by the SLCs is approximately £80 billion, and the global long-term market is estimated to be £1 trillion.

The UK is well placed to be a world leader in nuclear decommissioning with the potential to create growth, jobs and revenues. A challenge common to all nuclear installations is the dismantling, and size reduction for cost-effective storage of contaminated metallic infrastructures, typically piping, vessels, and support structures.

The flexibility of laser cutting enables it to be considered as a tool for a wide number of applications, both in air and underwater.

TWI, in collaboration with other UK organisations, has demonstrated the capability of laser cutting at Technology Readiness level 3-4 for remote in-situ dismantling using a ‘snake-arm’ robotic manipulator; in-situ dismantling using ‘hand-held’ equipment suitable for operation in low hazard environments; and high productivity size-reduction of fuel skips for optimised packing density in nuclear waste containers (funded by Sellafield).

Planned future activity includes collaborating with other UK organisations to develop and validate the laser cutting process for remote in-situ dismantling, using new snake-arm robotic manipulators, at TRL 6 (in an active nuclear environment). TWI is also discussing this technology with its international client base, which has generated interest from Europe, the United States and Japan.