“Higher-power lasers are predominately used for fabrication, but sometimes we use them for slightly off-the-wall applications,” said Dr. Jon Blackburn, Section Manager – Laser and Sheet Processes with TWI. One of those off-the-wall applications is the use of lasers in decommissioning nuclear power plants, where TWI has developed and demonstrated a handheld gun, a gun that can be used underwater, and guns which may be mounted on a snake robot, all of which shoot laser beams—sort of.
A Snake ROBOT “SHOOTS” THE laser.
TWI, a United Kingdom-based independent research organization, was awarded a one-year contract from the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in 2009 to develop prototype equipment and demonstrate the processes of laser concrete scabbling and laser cutting for remote use in nuclear decommissioning projects. Because of strong industrial interest, further projects have and are being performed, and an array of technologies that help to demolish radiological sites quickly and safely are being developed. The actual deployment technology will depend upon the geometry, location and radioactivity of the structure.
THE GUN “GUIDES” THE LASER TO ITS TARGET.
The guns, which are referred to as “process heads,” don’t exactly shoot a laser beam, Blackburn said. The laser is actually located outside of a processing cell up to 100 meters away and is fiber-delivered to the gun, which “guides” the laser to where it needs to shoot. The technology could potentially be used for processes like the cutting of metallic structures, pipework and I-beams either underwater or on dry land. The cutting could be done in situ or in a bespoke size reduction cell. Testing so far has been performed in lab-based environments, but TWI is working with companies to demonstrate the technology in active environments in the near future.
While the lasers are a fun topic of discussion, they are being designed for a serious matter: reducing the cost of decommissioning, whilst meeting the high safety requirements of the nuclear decommissioning industry.