Dounreay switches to drones
14th November 2017
Drone technology is helping Dounreay reduce the risk of accidents and save money on its inspection of buildings. A camera mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle is taking over tasks previously carried out by workers on elevated work platforms.
Falls from height are recognised as one of the biggest causes of death and serious injury in UK workplaces, so the switch to drone technology means staff can carry out inspections while keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), the company in charge of decommissioning the nuclear site, carries out about 50 inspections a year of buildings that continue to play an important role in clean-up and waste management functions. It estimates manpower savings of £100,000 as a result of the switch to drone technology.
John Moar, a senior electrical engineer at the site, is behind the initiative. His long-standing personal interest in aerial photography prompted research into whether drones could be deployed at the site, given it falls within a strictly enforced air exclusion zone and is protected by robust physical protection measures including armed officers from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. After investigating the rules and technical requirements, including nuclear site regulations, he persuaded the company of the potential benefits in both health and safety as well as cost. John undertook a course run by a Civil Aviation Authority authorised training company and secured a specific exemption from the no-fly zone.
DSRL spent £6,000 on a drone - and John says the results so far have been very impressive. Its first deployment was to carry out an inspection of two 20-metre high stacks for a project to modernise the ventilation of a facility. Previously, this would have required the site to erect scaffolding and hire a mobile elevated work platform at a cost of thousands of pounds a week.
"The project manager was delighted at the quality and detail of the images and how easy and safe it was to get them," said John. "It also gives us 360 degrees inspections, which often isn't possible when doing the inspection manually. Clearly there are very strict rules in place to protect the safety and security of nuclear sites, so we had to follow a detailed process to get all required agreements.
John is now passing on his skills to a team from the site's maintenance department who are being trained by an authorised trainer to operate the drones. He says the images obtained from the aerial surveys will improve the quality of the site's building maintenance programme and enhance professional structural surveys.
"It also has the potential to develop applications in other areas, such as 3D modelling, thermographic, environmental and land remediation surveys, and PR footage."
Dounreay's tallest structure is 55 metres high. The drone can fly up to heights of 120 metres.
Dounreay is being decommissioned under a contract with Cavendish Dounreay Partnership Ltd(Cavendish Nuclear, CH2M Hill, URS) - Contract awarded 2012.
More than 200 people packed into the Weigh Inn hotel in Thurso this week as Dounreay Site Restoration Limited and supply chain partners shared plans and ideas about the decommissioning of the site. Leading nuclear firms mixed with numerous small and medium sized enterprises for the event which was attended by those who either support the site through existing framework contracts or have registered for the innovative ‘LINC with Dounreay' scheme.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) welcomed Lord Duncan of Springbank, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Scotland Office, to its Dounreay site to see decommissioning progress. Lord Duncan travelled to Caithness to learn more about work on Scotland's largest nuclear clean-up and demolition project.
Decommissioning a nuclear reactor is about more than removing the core itself and, around a decade after work started to pull apart a host of support facilities associated with Dounreay's oldest reactor, they have all gone. Radioactive facilities, including a cooling pond, storage compound and examination cells assisted Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR) during its operational life.
Work has started to make safe one of the most hazardous materials left at Dounreay. Highly radioactive liquid, known as raffinate, has been stored in tanks for around 20 years after being produced as a by-product of Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) fuel reprocessing.
Construction of a new facility to support the decommissioning of reactors and demolition of historic active laboratories are just two of Dounreay's major projects expected to be delivered as part of a new framework agreement, potentially worth up to £400 million, which is being published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) today. - www.ojeu.eu The decommissioning services framework agreement will initially be for a period of up to 4 years with the possibility of extensions of up to 3 years meaning skyline changes could be delivered over the next decade under the arrangements.
Engineers at Dounreay have raided a scrap car and a kitchen can opener to help decommission one of the site's reactors. The handbrake from a vintage 1968 Ford Cortina has been used to help steer a camera, attached to wheels taken from can openers, into the Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) where a detailed survey inside the plant was completed.
Dounreay Site Restoration Limited has submitted a planning application to the Highland Council covering a series of decommissioning projects expected to take place between 2018 and the site's shut down, also known as the interim end state. The application, which is the last of three planning phases covering the overall decommissioning of the site, follows engagement undertaken earlier this year including public events and an opportunity to comment on draft documents online.
Work is underway to retrieve the last remaining radioactive fuel elements that have been stuck for decades inside the iconic Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR). The experimental dome-shaped nuclear reactor once led the world in fast breeder technology and after it closed in 1977 most of the core fuel was removed.
Eleven young people who have completed their Dounreay apprentice training are "very much a part of the future of the far north." Guest speaker Jamie Stone MP told the audience at the apprentice indenture ceremony that took place last Friday that, as Dounreay continues to decommission, the newly indentured apprentices would be an important part of the area's ability to offer a skilled and innovative workforce. Dounreay Managing Director and former nuclear industry apprentice Phil Craig added: “I am very proud that we are celebrating yet another group of talented apprentices.
Companies are being invited to LINC together and support Scotland's largest decommissioning project thanks to an innovative new scheme designed to increase the number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) delivering clean-up work at Dounreay. Up to five companies will be invited to help understand and develop the best proposal for size-reducing all of the machinery and components that will need to be removed from Dounreay's Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) - the largest to be built at the Caithness site.
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