Framatome advances development of waste-handling robots

19 May 2021

Framatome has announced the completion of a key milestone in the development of a robotic-assisted handling system to support decommissioning and waste management for the nuclear industry. Testing has confirmed the operation of robotic systems for handling and sorting high-level waste components, paving the way for increased automation.

The robotic-assisted waste handling system (Image: Framatome)

The Virtual Remote Robotics for Radiometric Sorting (VIRERO) project is focused on enhancing robot control systems by automating them for waste handling. The project began on 1 October 2020 in partnership with the Institute for Factory Automation and Production Systems (FAPS) at the University of Erlangen and with the Aachen Institute for Nuclear Training GmbH (AiNT). The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research through the FORKA programme for research related to the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

The aim of the VIRERO project is to develop an adaptive, task-oriented teleoperation for radioactive residues. This requires the development and merging of the radiological and spatial characterisation methods. The project develops technologies for dismantling and sorting high-dose operational wastes, post-conditioning of packaged radioactive waste, and radiological sorting for handling, storage and disposal. Using a segmentation algorithm, radioactive waste can be automatically analysed, sorted and disassembled.

The robotic-assisted handling system uses digital twin advancements so that operators can control the technology in an augmented virtuality environment using virtual reality goggles. This automation, Framatome said, enhances operator safety and significantly improves waste treatment processes for the safe and efficient decommissioning of nuclear facilities and makes it possible to produce volume-optimised waste products. The universal system targets research and commercial reactors and can be adapted to other applications such as nuclear medicine.

The robotic-assisted handling system is being developed and tested at the FAU. AiNT focuses on the development of the automated nuclear measurement part of the handling system for sorting the waste components at Stolberg, Germany.

"Together with FAPS and AiNT, we provide extensive automation and robotics expertise in the field of decommissioning and high-dose waste conditioning," said Frédéric Lelièvre, senior executive vice president of Sales, Regional Platforms and the Instrumentation and Control Business Unit at Framatome. "The VIRERO project team combines years of experience in robotics and nuclear measurement technologies, ensuring a safe and robust solution to support our customers' needs."

The VIRERO project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News