Lasers ready for trial

  Cutting-edge lasers are now ready for demonstration in the nuclear decommissioning process.

Cambridge-based materials engineering specialist TWI Ltd won a £1 million contract to demonstrate the effectiveness of lasers in removing contaminated concrete surfaces and cutting up metal pipework.

 The company has now procured and commissioned a single laser system that can address both these applications. The first six months of the project were spent in design and build of the system, which includes the concrete scabbling head equipped with an on-line debris collection system and the integrated vision system which can automatically track the concrete surface.

The equipment was developed in response to an NDA project to encourage innovative technologies from the supply chain in support of the decommissioning mission.

TWI Project Manager Paul Hilton said:

“After quite an intense period of specifying, sourcing, designing, and manufacturing, the system has now come together and the eagerly awaited process trials have begun on tube cutting.”

To aid TWI with the process trials, Sellafield Ltd have supplied an assortment of steel tubes, and some concrete samples, while other aged pre-cast concrete samples have been provided by Manchester University.

Interest in the project from the SLCs is already high, while National Geographic’s video division has made contact with TWI about a possible TV programme on the techniques being developed.

The NDA’s Head of Research and Development, Dr Melanie Brownridge said:

“We are committed to investing in innovation and the development of a vibrant supply chain. The application of laser technologies from other industries offers the opportunity to secure and develop good practice for NDA’s mission and beyond – and we are delighted with the developments so far.”

Contaminated concrete and pipework represent major decommissioning challenges in terms of the large volumes of material to be treated, radiation levels and the number of facilities affected.

This project will demonstrate the capabilities of lasers for surface removal of contaminated concrete and size-reduction of vessels and pipework. If successful, lasers could be effectively deployed in situations that are too hazardous or inaccessible for standard people-led teams.

The project has its own public website,, and, beginning in 2010, will feature demonstration workshops, training sessions, company visits and one-to-one expert assistance, in order to maximise the full potential of this innovative project.