UK Atomic Energy Authority signs collaboration agreement with the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy

The Korea Institute of Fusion Energy

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UKAEA’s Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) signs collaboration agreement to research, commission and test the In-vessel Rapid Inspection System (IRIS), with the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE).

Following the signing of an MOU in 2023, UKAEA’s centre for robotics, RACE, and the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE) have defined a project and officially launched a collaboration. The project will research, commission and test the In-vessel Rapid Inspection System (IRIS), a novel robotic system that can be rapidly deployed for lightweight tasks and inspection. UKAEA and KFE are both working to make fusion energy a part of global future energy supply, and this collaboration brings us one step closer.

The Challenge

This collaboration is addressing a fundamental challenge in fusion – rapid deployment immediately following abnormal data or an unplanned event. RACE and KFE are researching, developing and plan to build a robotic system that can enter the most extreme environment – a tokamak hours after the last plasma pulse. Currently, there are no systems that can tolerate post-pulse temperatures, magnetism, radiation or vacuum pressures.

With KFE focusing on K-DEMO and RACE looking into general purpose technologies for ITER, DEMO and STEP, the environmental conditions IRIS will need to comply with are:

  • Temperatures above 100°C
  • Radiation up to 4 kGy/h
  • Ultra-high vaccuum conditions
  • Magnetic fields of up to 40 mT

IRIS should be able to enter these conditions through a narrow access port and conduct lightweight tasks. These include inspecting the first wall to look for damage like cracks or melts and intervening to fix and maintain with a small payload. As result the system also needs:

  • 10m of reach
  • Navigation and collision avoidance capability
  • 10 kg payload capacity
  • Maximum diameter of 300mm
  • A dextrous end effector
Dr Robert Skilton and Dr Luca Raimondi at RACE, UKAEA

Research into use cases, materials and initial designs are already underway, with commissioning of the system planned for the second half of 2024. Testing will commence in early 2025.

When complete, IRIS will be one of the hardiest robotic systems ever built. Dr Luca Raimondi, Robotics Research Engineer at RACE and the project’s lead says: 

“Robotic remote maintenance is fundamental for commercially viable fusion energy. The novel long-reach manipulator that we will develop in this collaboration will play a crucial role, by minimising the shutdown period of fusion machines and avoiding breaching the vacuum. The system will be state-of-the-art, using distal actuation and the latest technologies to be compatible with the tokamak’s environment. We will be able to inspect and rapidly fix via light payload tasks.”

The Collaboration

When speaking about the project, Dr Robert Skilton, UKAEA Robotics Fellow and Head of RACE’s Research Department, said:

“This collaboration is a symbiosis between two great fusion focused nations and will have global impact. Sharing experience, knowledge and insight on topics like remote maintenance robotics, advanced manufacturing and superconductors, won’t just be beneficial to K-DEMO and UK fusion efforts, but to the future of all fusion devices. As we work towards a future powered by fusion energy, this is an exciting step in collaboratively answering the unsolved challenges of robotics in fusion.”

To learn more about RACE’s collaborative research programme, please visit our website.

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