Competition seeks innovations to sort and segregate radioactive waste

A £3.9m competition has been launched to find innovative ways sorting and segregating radioactive waste at some of the UK’s oldest nuclear sites.

radioactive waste
Sorting and segregating waste competition launches (Image: NDA)

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Innovate UK are calling on companies to come up with new ideas and innovative approaches to the challenge, which could include the use of robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems.

UK to tackle nuclear waste with robots and AI

NDA said the Sort and Segregate Nuclear Waste competition is open to any interested organisations to form consortia and develop a plan to address the challenge. It involves work at Sellafield and several Magnox nuclear reactor sites.

In a statement, Sara Huntingdon, the NDA’s Head of Innovation, said: “Dealing with waste is a huge ongoing challenge for us as we progress our mission to decommission nuclear sites. We want people to be creative and help us develop new and innovative solutions. We welcome technologies from all sectors - organisations don’t have to have nuclear experience - just great ideas and a passion for turning those into a reality.”

“This is a great opportunity for UK organisations to grow their business and at the same time help deal with the country’s nuclear waste in a safer, faster and cheaper way,” said Derek Allen, Innovate UK’s Nuclear Innovation Lead.

This is the second competition to encourage integrated innovation in nuclear decommissioning. The first launched in 2017 to find solutions to help decommission highly radioactive facilities at Sellafield. In total, 15 submissions were identified in phase one as having potential, five went forward to phase two to develop their ideas further, and two winning consortia were then chosen to develop their ideas.

Applications for the latest competition are open from August 17. NDA said that several consortia will be chosen in February 2021 to carry out a three-month feasibility study into their idea for handling radioactive waste, for which they will each be awarded up to £50,000. The best submissions will then be given up to £750,000 to go forward to the design and build phase of the project, which can last up to 15 months.

Details on the technical specification can be found here.