If wearable technologies are the future, a radioactive-busting robotic suit could represent yet one more dramatic step into the beyond.
The Sellafield site represents one of the world’s biggest scientific and logistical challenges. Not only does the Cumbria-based site handle spent fuel from most of the UK’s nuclear power stations, it also has to decommission a large number of nuclear facilities on the site itself.
"the Sellafield site represents one of the world’s biggest scientific and logistical challenges"
With continued focus on delivering value for money for the UK taxpayer, Sellafield Ltd, the company responsible for managing the site, are seeking new ideas for delivering improvements in decommissioning performance.
Now researchers from the University of Bristol, who have been working with Sellafield Ltd since 2013, may have come up with a solution – in the form of a wearable robotic suit.
The concept developed by a team of engineers and physicists is for an ‘Iron Man’ type suit that would incorporate a wearable exoskeleton and a protective body covering made from composite materials.
Workers at Sellafield currently wear air-fed PVC suits. These suits are completely safe for use, but they can usually only be worn for a few hours at a time due to the heat stress they cause on workers’ bodies.
The benefit of a wearable robotic suit is that it would reduce any physical stress on the individual wearing it, especially when working in awkward or constrained positions, such as small areas or having to lift objects. The composite materials would also be easier to decontaminate and would provide a better shield against radiation levels in some plant areas which contain radioactive contamination.
Professor Tom Scott, project lead from the University of Bristol and co-director of the South West Nuclear Hub, said: “Sellafield is one of the biggest nuclear decommissioning challenges in the world, predicted to last 100 years and costing tens of billions of pounds.