New technology trials at Sellafield

Sellafield keeps a close eye on the market for promising technologies to add to the toolkit to safely manage nuclear materials and decommission the legacy nuclear plants.

A new radiation detection device has been trialled at Sellafield which shows tremendous promise.  The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) developed the RadBall® which uses an innovative combination of radiation-sensitive materials and shielding design to identify radiation sources.

Phil Reeve, Head of Decommissioning Technical said: “We’re always on the look out for the holy grail in terms of the technology we apply at Sellafield.  We have three strict criteria when assessing what our suppliers can offer us: it has to improve safety; to save the taxpayers’ money; and accelerate decommissioning timescales.   “The RadBall® looks like it could be right on the ball and trial results at Sellafield have already demonstrated that it could be valuable help in our mission to clean up the site.  It could be used to identify radiation hazards in enclosed cells, nuclear stores, gloveboxes and hard to access facilities undergoing decommissioning.”

The trial proved that the RadBall® can distinguish between different types of radioactive materials in a nuclear waste store.   Three sets of data were collected by the RadBall®, then analysed and results were triangulated to locate which items within the store were the main sources of radiation.   The RadBall® is a passive device needing no power source, which can be deployed into a high radiation area by a robot or manually in a lower activity area.

It is about the size of a grapefruit and contains layers of radiation sensitive films which change to a rather fetching green opaque colour when exposed to radiation.  The opaque tracks on the film are used to measure the direction and intensity of the radiation.

Decontamination Technical Specialist Alex Jenkins said: “NNL’s RadBall® has shown itself to be able to accurately detect the location of items or small differences in the levels of radioactivity.  Very importantly, the use of RadBall® results in a significant reduction in radiation dose to the workers involved, since the device can simply be placed in position and left to measure the radiation.  The information it provides can also help save money by identifying the appropriate disposal route for nuclear waste.”

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