Getting all steamed up about nuclear clean-up

Steam-powered pumping technology may be used to help clean up nuclear sites more safely, according to its UK developer.

Pursuit Dynamics, which is developing its system for a wide range of industrial process applications, confirmed that it has had early-stage discussions with several unnamed UK specialist nuclear companies.

The technology, called PDX, uses steam as the sole power source for a pump that has no moving parts, reducing the risk of breakdown during the transportation of radioactive waste matter through networks of pipes.

The PDX unit uses a continuous steam feed to generate a powerful pumping action. This is caused by the drop in pressure that results when the steam condenses and the development of a high-energy, controllable shockwave caused by the movement of steam and water droplets at supersonic speeds.

The company claims its units are virtually impossible to block, and require minimal maintenance.

Pursuit’s chief executive John Heathcote said these qualities had proved of particular interest to the nuclear industry, reflecting the unique problems associated with pumping high volumes of radioactive material.

A blockage or component failure that in other conditions would result in only a routine maintenance shutdown can be far more serious when nuclear waste products are involved.

‘The last thing you want is to have to start stripping down equipment under those circumstances,’ said Heathcote. ‘It’s a major barrier to decommissioning.’Initially the Hertfordshire-based company was concentrating on developing its system as a new type of marine propulsion drive, converting steam into thrust that could power small or medium-sized boats.

However, Heathcote said its engineers soon realised the far broader potential of the technology to a wide range of processes.

As well as its attributes as a pump the PDX proved to be a highly effective mixing chamber, creating possibilities for use in the food processing industry.

Heathcote said that while development of the original marine system was continuing, the process industry applications offered more opportunities for early commercial breakthroughs.

A major confectionery company recently began testing PDX in the manufacture of food and soft drinks.

Pursuit has also made inroads into the waste water industry following successful trials with Sonico, a specialist in the area.

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