State-of-the-art robotic technology will be used as part of an innovative project led by Birchwood Park based Cavendish Nuclear, to transform the way nuclear waste material is sorted – more safely, quicker and at lower cost.
Cavendish Nuclear, a wholly owned subsidiary of Babcock International Group, has won funding for its new OptiSORT system, which will be carried as part of an industry-wide partnership including Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
The funding forms phase 1 of a 2 part competition awarded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), in partnership with Innovate UK  to fund innovative ideas that will lead to cheaper, safer and faster ways of sorting and segregating radioactive waste.
At the heart of the project is an innovative technology package, which will feature the integration of multiple sensors and real-time decision making, using machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms. Tony Burnett, Head of Innovation and Technology for Cavendish Nuclear said, “The use of this technology will be brand new and is not something currently carried out on nuclear sites.”
Along with Bristol Robotics, the OptiSORT partnership includes Clifton Photonics Ltd., Imitec Ltd, Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics, Structure Vision Ltd. and Acrovision Ltd.
The collaboration brings together extensive experience and capabilities in the selection and use of instrumentation for radiometric and chemical characterisation, spatial and visual identification and software tools for efficient packaging, and robotic / autonomous systems, to deliver a holistic and integrated solution to the challenge.
Tony added: “It’s the strength of this partnership along with the technology that is really bringing the innovation to life. Our goal is to develop something that will save time, reduce risks and costs to make a significant contribution to achieving Nuclear Sector Deal  objectives. OptiSORT is a significant technological leap forward and has the potential to transform the speed and efficiency at which we can decommission complex redundant nuclear facilities.”
An initial £60,000 (including VAT) of funding has been provided to Cavendish Nuclear and to thirteen other consortia, to undertake the three month technical research and development feasibility study. Following conclusion of Phase 1 in late May, the consortia will compete for a number of contracts to take the concept to the next stage, which is to demonstrate system operation. This will involve developing and demonstrating a full scale prototype in a non-radioactive environment.
OptiSORT aims to improve productivity by introducing autonomous operation in remote sorting and segregation projects like the Berkeley Active Waste Vaults Retrieval Programme