KUKA robots and systems have proved their mettle in the toughest industrial applications. The know-how and experience from decades of developing high-performance solutions can be transferred to the nuclear industry: All over the world, KUKA robotic systems provide the basis for the safe, timely and cost-effective decommissioning of nuclear facilities.
The challenges of nuclear decommissioning
All over Europe, nuclear power is being phased out and on a global scale, more nuclear power reactors have closed than opened in recent years. The decommissioning of these facilities will become a major task in the next decades. Of several hundred nuclear power reactors in operation around the world, more than half have reached or are close to end of their operating lifetime.
Environmental remediation is also necessary for sites that have been in use for similar activities: nuclear research, uranium milling, milling and processing of natural occurring radioactive materials. In such hazardous environments, KUKA robots could be deployed to ensure human workers’ safety.
Solutions for the nuclear decommissioning industry
As one of the world’s leading suppliers of automated production and assembly solutions, KUKA can build on years of experience. They know how to design robotics systems for the nuclear environment that meet the special challenges: being robust, reliable, safe, and also able to withstand a highly radioactive environment. The company is specialized in a number of different applications for the nuclear decommissioning industry, for example:
- Handling and sorting of waste products
- Size reduction
- Box encapsulation
- Lidding and swabbing
- General housekeeping operations
High degree of dexterity with Joystick Control Unit
Many decommissioning tasks require work in environments hostile to humans. Remote operations and robotic systems play a vital part in reducing the exposure of personnel to ionizing radiation. The joystick control is unique in this market and not available from other suppliers. It has been developed to seamlessly interface with the robot.
The unit allows an operator to use a robot remotely in manual mode, automated mode or a combination of the two. Programmed sequences significantly reduced the operator’s workload. Designed to work up to 100 metres away from a processing cell, the unit offers improved flexibility and better operational efficiency. It is particularly suited for complex jobs such as nuclear waste retrieval, sorting and levelling.
Wide range of tools and service provisions available
Typically, these processes can be performed in a number of different ways: from a fully automatic routine to semi-automatic or even a manual routine using the KUKA joystick control.
This includes designing and building tools, based on commercial off- the-shelf equipment that was adapted to be used on the robots, such as:
- Hydraulic shears
- Grabs and general purpose gripper jaws
- Tools for drilling, bolt refitting/removal, pumping or spraying
- Other tools used for general waste recovery and handling
Successfully serving the nuclear decommissioning industry
KUKA automated systems are in use in some of the largest decommissioning facilities around the world. The KUKA robots used in nuclear decommissioning are already available on the market. They are most commonly used in foundries and on car production lines. For the nuclear decommissioning solutions, they adapted proven industrial standard technology to suit the unique and often complex challenges of this industry – making KUKA the only off-the-shelf nuclear compliant robotic systems manufacturer.
Together with industry partners, KUKA is developing nuclear engineering solutions along the complete nuclear fuel cycle, from mining and enrichment to conversion. Their applications have been used in many facilities, sorting low level and intermediate level wastes.
In collaboration with the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), KUKA evaluated robot technology and its potential for use in the Sellafield Box Encapsulation Plant. The result: The trials demonstrated that the use of the KUKA units is a viable option. The robots successfully handled the operations required to ensure the waste can be manipulated and processed into a suitable solidified product.
KUKA Systems UK, part of KUKA Industries, is the preferred automated systems supplier to a major nuclear decommissioning engineering, procurement and construction company and is currently involved in many major cleanup projects. Its base in Halesowen is KUKA’s global nuclear decommissioning centre of excellence.