Nuclear decommissioning is a precise, time-consuming and inherently dangerous process. However, some people believe artificial intelligence (AI) could bring improvements for everyone involved.
Exploring the Potential of AI-Assisted Nuclear Decommissioning
It’ll take a while before people have hard evidence about precisely how artificial intelligence could make nuclear commissioning better. But, individuals familiar with the matter have some expectations already.
In the United Kingdom, officials have set up an AI hub to develop technology for decommissioning the Sellafield plant there. Officials believe AI will make the nuclear decommissioning process faster, safer and more economical.
“Officials believe AI will make the nuclear decommissioning process faster, safer and more economical.”
The AI hub will include several features mimicking the Sellafield plant’s characteristics, including water tanks. Testing AI in a highly controlled environment will make it easier to determine how the technology will perform in a real-life setting.
Using AI Robots to Relieve Humans of Dangerous Tasks
One of the reasons why people are particularly interested in working with AI-powered robots is that they can keep individuals safer from possible dangers. The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is holding a competition to find technologies that support the faster and safer handling of decommissioning waste.
One competition entry uses AI and machine learning algorithms to guide a robotic arm and gripper. The system can detect, sort and categorize nuclear waste with minimal human input.
The United Kingdom has a small amount of radioactive waste compared to other places. However, there and elsewhere, much of the waste handling still happens manually by people wearing personal protective equipment. Smart robots could do it faster and leave those individuals to perform tasks with less built-in risk.
“AI-powered robots can keep individuals safer from possible dangers.”
This is not the only case of robots helping people with high-risk work. In Australia, a four-legged robot dog is part of the police force’s tactical response group. Representatives say the machine will allow safer and faster responses to some of the riskiest and most intense situations.
Increasing the Efficiency of Nuclear Decommissioning Projects With AI Robots
Nuclear decommissioning must follow strict protocols because of the plant-associated risks to life and the environment. Also, the complete process can take decades, and there are several decommissioning types for people to pursue. Utilizing AI during nuclear-decommissioning projects could speed up some timeframes, though.
That’s the hope of people working on a multidisciplinary project involving AI robots specifically built for environments with active dangers. Those could include nuclear sites but may also extend to other places, such as outer space.
Professor Barry Lennox of the University of Manchester is one of the team leaders of this project. He explained the particular interest in AI, saying, “The inclusion of AI is because the goal is to develop automated systems that can operate much more efficiently than if they were operated by people.”
“The goal is to develop automated systems that can operate much more efficiently than if they were operated by people.” – Barry Lennox”
Some of the potential tasks for robots enable remote inspection and manipulation of sites. Suppose humans could do things from safer distances by controlling robots on their behalf. In such cases, they could substantially reduce the risks associated with nuclear decommissioning and other duties typically categorized as high-risk.
Elsewhere, a European Union project has developed a robot that an operator controls by wearing a telepresence suit. The four-legged machine also has some autonomy. If a user tells it to grasp something, for example, the robot can plan how to execute that action. People working on the project said that some nuclear waste is so radioactive that only robots can handle it safely.
Standardizing Decommissioning Procedures With AI
Researchers working on bringing AI into nuclear decommissioning have also brought up how one of the issues is the lack of standardization when decommissioning the sites. The procedures vary per location, which can result in wasted time and higher costs if things go wrong. However, a project called PLEIADES centres on using various advanced technologies, including AI, to start standardizing what happens. Authorized users will also use a single platform to access all resources needed for decommissioning and dismantling.
People working on the initiative believe it could shrink carbon footprints by giving people more opportunities to work together across distances rather than travelling to specific locations. Additionally, the individuals involved can share best practices after identifying the optimal steps and separating them from those that don’t work as well.
Relying on AI for Nuclear Decommissioning Is Worth Consideration
The efforts mentioned here and elsewhere are still in the early stages. However, it’s easy to see how they have plenty of potentials to make them viable long-term.