Engineering awards for nuclear firms

One of the buoyancy bags used by JFN on the Sellafield site
One of the buoyancy bags used by JFN on the Sellafield site

There were wins for two nuclear firms in The Engineer’s Collaborate to Innovate Awards. Future Tech Studio won the Young Innovator for Practical Application Award for their engineering students who built a Nuclear Crane Zoning System – an automated system for controlling movement of a crane used to deal with nuclear waste at the Sellafield site. James Fisher Nuclear won Highly Commended in the Energy, Efficiency and Sustainability Category for their work on buoyancy bags with the Sellafield Pile Fuel Storage Ponds (PFSP) Team.

For the Young Innovator Award, the team of students from Future Tech Studio met with graduate engineers from Sellafield on a weekly basis to come up with a solution to the real life problem identified at the decommissioning plant in Cumbria.

The issue was that it was too dangerous for the operators in the plant to enter the room where the crane is used, so there needed to be a way of moving the crane into a “safe zone” for maintenance. Currently, a simple chain system is used, but this is prone to human error and mechanical failure.

With their engineering mentors, the students developed a solution and built a model including 3D printed parts to demonstrate their design.

Richard Harris, Deputy Principal at Future Tech Studio, said, “We’re absolutely delighted to win the Collaborate to Innovate Award and incredibly proud of our Engineering students for all the hard work they have put in to achieve this. The project with Sellafield was a fantastic experience for them – it combined a wide variety of engineering and designing skills in a real life setting and will give them a superb head start when it comes to finding work.”

James Fisher Nuclear (JFN) identified Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) buoyancy bags, used extensively for off-shore applications, as a potential solution to moving large items between the decanner area, where fuel rods were stripped of their outer metallic casing, and the withdrawal bays within the PFSP facility. As part of the iterative and collaborative process a means to deploy and control their inflation/deflation was developed and optimised through trials within the JFN test tank. These have now been used extensively and successfully within the PFSP facility to move items remotely. Attaching the bags to underwater items provides sufficient buoyancy to allow manual movement (by means of supplied long reach tools or simple rope) between the bays. The simplest and most flexible attachment technique is to use more COTS equipment in the form of pneumatically controlled permanent rare-earth magnets. The control system for the inflation and deflation of the buoyancy bags and the operation of the magnets is through a portable panel connected to the plant compressed air supply. The panel is designed to be hooked onto the pond railings at the work location, and can easily be operated by personnel wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Lead Mechanical Engineer on the project James Cruickshank said: “The Buoyancy bag project is an excellent example of how working with the client at every stage, and making clever use of existing technology, can create an effective solution. Creative thinking from both Sellafield Ltd and ourselves has helped us to make real progress in addressing one of the most challenging clean-up projects in the UK.”

Sellafield Ltd Project Manager David Birks commented that “This project is an excellent example of how effective partnering with the supply chain can deliver results rapidly and safely in line with Sellafield’s decommissioning mind-set. The whole team have often gone beyond the call of duty, working late and pushing work on to meet challenging delivery dates. The good use of simple mock-ups in the JFN rig hall was especially useful to identify and refine solutions.”