Twenty years of designing remote operations for JET, the Joint European Torus, the world’s leading fusion science programme has equipped us to understand the challenging environment of a nuclear reactor.
A fusion reactor will generate levels of radiation that makes human entry impossible. But work must be done. So we have to make regular, planned interventions to refuel, maintain and replace components, always within a stringent safety framework requiring inspections, planning and preparation for every eventuality.
The tools we use to achieve this are robots, robotic arms, mobile vehicles, drones and automated cranes. These become extensions of their human operators, who work remotely from a safe location.
We know that using a robot to copy what a person does is not easy. People have incredible abilities to appreciate what needs to be done, and will readily adapt to cope with real conditions as they arise. Putting a robot into a nuclear reactor is challenging too. Radiation causes materials to change over time and electronics can degrade after only a few hours.
So our biggest hurdle is enabling our robots to perform a huge variety of tasks, be responsive and adapt to changing conditions.
Our years of inspecting, cutting, welding, disconnecting, handling and rebuilding using the unique robots at JET, has equipped us for this. Our work on ITER the world’s next generation fusion reactor, is taking us to new levels of capability.