A consortium of eight universities, led by University of Birmingham, has secured £42m of new investment to fund the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR).
NCNR is developing state-of-the-art robotics, sensing and AI technologies to address the major societal challenges posed by nuclear environments and materials.
The £42m initiative has been co-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, research institutions, industrial collaborators and investment partners.
Cleaning up the UK’s 4.9 million tonnes of legacy nuclear waste is the largest and most complex environmental remediation task in the whole of Europe.
Much of this work must be done by robots, because the materials are too hazardous for humans, however, many of the necessary robotic solutions have not yet been developed.
In addition to decommissioning legacy nuclear sites, robotic systems are also needed for monitoring, maintenance and Plant Life Extension (PLEX) in the UK’s current fleet of operating nuclear power stations.
Robots will also be an essential element in the design of new-build reactors. The nuclear industry is increasingly keen to embrace advanced robotics technologies, to make complex operations, in hazardous environments, safer, faster and cheaper.
Prof Rustam Stolkin, director of NCNR and Royal Society Industry fellow for Nuclear Robotics, said: “The University of Birmingham, our academic and industry collaborators, and our international partners are delighted to receive this funding.
“We very much regard this as a beginning –our ambition is to permanently establish the UK as a world leading centre of excellence for nuclear robotics.”
Ruth McKernan, chief executive of Innovate UK, added: “These pioneering projects driven by the very best minds in UK research and industry exemplify the huge potential of what can be achieved through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the long-term benefits for the UK economy.
“These are just the first competitions in robotics and AI, there will be further opportunities for businesses in the coming months.”
The National Centre for Nuclear Robotics establishes the UK as an international leader, in transferring state-of-the-art robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) research advances into practical solutions for a safety-critical and high-consequence industry.
The research has an international outlook, supported by highly cross-disciplinary teams of renowned researchers spanning Europe, USA and Asia.
Joining the University of Brimingham are the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Essex, Lincoln, West of England, Lancaster University and Queen Mary University of London.