UK-Japan alliance to develop robotics and automation techniques for nuclear applications | Daily Current Affairs 2021
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UK-Japan alliance to develop robotics and automation techniques for nuclear applications

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Britain and Japan have signed a research and technology deployment collaboration to develop new robotics and automation techniques for nuclear decommissioning and fusion energy production in both Japan and the UK. The UK-Japan alliance is called LongOps, a robotics project to support the delivery of faster and safer decommissioning at TEPCO’s Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors in Japan and at Sellafield in the UK, using long-reach robotic arms. UKAEA’s Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) facility will lead the project, design strategy, and deliver new robotic capabilities with global potential.

The decommissioning of legacy nuclear facilities and fusion facilities are complex large-scale projects that are time-intensive to accomplish safely. The UK-Japan alliance will help leverage Robotics and Digital Twin technologies in carrying them out efficiently with no risk to human health. A major feature of the LongOps program will be the deployment of sophisticated Digital Twin technology – virtual models where the pairing of the virtual and physical worlds allows for highly detailed analysis of data, and the forecasting of potential maintenance and operational issues.

‘Digital Twins’ is a formative technology for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) enabling the optimization of operations, improved productivity, and the ability to test and innovate in the virtual world before developing real-world applications. The software created will allow RACE to show how such machines are controlled in real-time during remote operations.

Developments from LongOps will also be applied to the upgrading, maintenance, and dismantling of fusion devices, such as the Joint European Torus (JET), once their lifespans have ended. Fusion is a form of low-carbon energy whereby the power of the sun is replicated on earth. It promises minimal impact to the environment, long-term reliability, and weather independence. LongOps forms part of an over $616 million investment by the Government into robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) projects since 2014.

The UK-Japan alliance is also expected to result in direct benefits for both the UK and Japan, such as employment opportunities, advances to ‘fusion-adjacent’ technologies, and the upskilling of their scientific and engineering capabilities. This four-year research collaboration will be funded equally by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The Robotics Growth Partnership brings UK RAS businesses and government together to harness smart machines for productivity and wider societal benefit.

Amanda Solloway, UK Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation, said, “To unlock the amazing potential of nuclear power, it’s critical that the UK works hand in hand with international partners to safely decommission nuclear sites while backing pioneering research into fusion, which could offer a limitless source of clean energy.

This innovative research alliance with Japan will ensure we share our expertise in robotics to address complex challenges such as nuclear decommissioning, while helping to secure highly skilled jobs across the country as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Akira Ono, Chief Decommissioning Officer of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.(TEPCO’, said, “It has been almost a decade since the Fukushima Daiichi(1F) accident on March 11th, 2011. TEPCO’s 1F Decontamination and Decommissioning was carried out initially on an emergency response basis, but we now will be entering the stage of taking on challenges in unchartered territory such as Fuel Debris Retrieval (FDR).

I recognize that robotics and remote-control technology is one of the most important key success factors for the FDR project. I believe LongOps R&D will contribute tremendous support to this FDR project, and I also feel secure that we can work with our partners, UKAEA, NDA/Sellafield, and UKRI for this UK-Japan international challenge.”


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