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Robots to rip out reactor core

Robots to rip out reactor core

A range of unusual devices have been designed and built by Dounreay’s in-house design team over the years.

Probing the depths of a former nuclear reactor with remotely controlled equipment isn’t a simple process and requires some ingenious thinking.

A Dounreay senior design engineer, who has worked on site since before PFR was built, is now part of the PFR design team responsible for safely dismantling the reactor. Together they have donned their thinking caps and pondered the unique challenges they face.

Calder Bain, a key member of the team who started life as a young Dounreay apprentice in the early 1960’s, explained: “A considerable amount of innovation was required to build the Prototype Fast Reactor and there will be a continual requirement for pioneering methods to take a reactor of this complexity apart. This type of work gives both our young and experienced engineers the opportunity to put their innovative skills and knowledge into practice.”

The team has designed a series of tools which will allow the removal of hundreds of components from the reactor vessel. A total of eight multi-purpose grabbing, cutting, slicing and lifting tools are being designed and tested to pull out the core of the redundant fast reactor.

All the tools have in-built cameras fitted and are designed to operate within an extremely hazardous environment to allow safe remote operation, including plunging over 10 metres into the centre of the core to cut and remove components.

Calder is sharing his knowledge with a team of DSRL engineers to pass on his years of experience and expertise to a new generation of design professionals who will be taking apart the reactor when the time comes.

Talking about his work on the site, Calder explained: “These engineers are demonstrating huge potential and are very capable and enthusiastic young Dounreay workers who will be at the forefront of the final stages of the PFR reactor dismantling programme.”

Ken Heider, project director for reactors said: “The reactor dismantling project is critical to the decommissioning of PFR. We need to use lateral thinking and unique ideas to design and build the necessary equipment to safely take apart the plant and remove the reactor vessel. The design of purpose built equipment like this is a credit to all DSRL staff and contractors involved.”