Britain and Japan have signed a research and technology deployment collaboration to help automate nuclear decommissioning and other aspects of fusion energy production. Said to be a world-leading alliance, it will see new robotics and automation techniques applied to both fusion research and to decommissioning nuclear facilities in Japan and the UK.  

The £12m project, designated ‘LongOps’, will support 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.  The 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 collaboration between the three entities will see UKAEA’s Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) facility lead the project, design strategy and deliver new robotic capabilities with global potential.  It is also expected to result in direct benefits, such as employment opportunities, advances to ‘fusion-adjacent’ technologies, and ‘upskilling’ of the UK and Japanese scientific and engineering capabilities. The decommissioning of legacy nuclear facilities and fusion facilities are complex large-scale projects that are time-intensive to accomplish safely. Robotics and digital twin technologies will play an essential part in carrying them out efficiently with no risk to human health. 

A major feature of the LongOps programme 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 enabling the optimisation 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.