AN INNOVATIVE collaboration at a UK nuclear decommissioning site saw two robotic dogs enter an evaporator cell and swab their surroundings in the ‘most complex deployment of a SPOT robot’ in a nuclear facility to date. 

Cleator Moor based React Engineering, as part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Ltd consortium, is working to decommission parts of Dounreay, near Thurso, Scotland.

In this case, no one has set foot in this particular Evaporator Cell for more than 30 years and before employees can enter the team needed more information. 

The survey aimed to gather extensive information to fill knowledge gaps, which is essential for developing an effective decommissioning strategy for the facility. 

Working with Createc and Boston Dynamics’ Spot the dog robots the team came up with a plan to support decommissioning planning for the facility.

Two Spot robots were sent in carrying a range of equipment, enabling them to capture the dimensions of the cell, take swabs for radioactivity readings and set up effective communication channels to send back images and videos to the team. 

The information obtained from the survey is pivotal in developing the decommissioning plan as uncertainty has a cost. The robots were able to assist the team in testing previous assumptions and providing more certainty going forwards.

Now, the team can design a decommissioning plan understanding the safety hazards, providing cost savings and enabling more informed decision making. 

Chris Weir, Principal Consultant, React-NDL, said: “The use of robotics allowed entry to a remote cell which hasn’t been accessed by personnel since the 1990s.

"The extensive information gathered provides insight that would not be possible from traditional technologies, greatly helping decommissioning planning, and giving greater certainty on future decommissioning liability, all while keeping humans away from the radiation hazard. 

"It was a fascinating project to work on, using cutting edge technology to get a complex job done.” 

The survey commenced in November 2022, with engineering work and safety assessments completed to ensure a successful survey. The survey provided crucial data, including images of the basement of the cell for the first time in over three decades, radiation levels within the cell, and key sources of radiation. 

The cell had walkways which ideally suited SPOT which was able to collect the information needed. Physically the robot can move around and deal with difficult environments.