RAICo Labs in West Cumbria – Virtual Event

The first stakeholder event for the proposed robotics and artificial intelligence collaboration capability, RAICo, was held in May. The RAICo concept came from discussions between organisations already involved in developing robotics and AI (RAI) for decommissioning, including:

  • Sellafield Ltd
  • Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA)
  • National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL)
  • University of Manchester
  • UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)

The event was hosted by Adrian Simper, the Chief Scientist for the NDA, with speakers from the partner organisations and other stakeholders.

The RAICo One incubator facility is due to open this summer. Situated in Whitehaven, West Cumbria, it will focus initially on decommissioning, with Sellafield as its first use case.

The importance of the location was highlighted by many of the speakers, not least Rebecca Weston. Rebecca is the COO of Sellafield Ltd, but was speaking as a Board Director of the Cumbrian Local Enterprise Partnership and Chair of their Clean Energy Panel.

The Cumbrian Nuclear Prospectus, which was published in the summer 2020, includes a vision of an advanced robotics cluster. Seeding a RAI capability in Cumbria meets an immediate need and could act as the catalyst for the creation of a world-class capability, for nuclear and other sectors.

This was echoed by Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland:

“We need robotics and artificial intelligence in the most hazardous sites in the world. We have to do it here in West Cumbria because this is where the risks are, but from risk and adversity comes innovation. West Cumbria has a track record of first of a kind technology and I am so grateful that RAICo has been put together.”

Robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly reduce the costs and timescales for decommissioning, while at the same time improving worker safety. Melanie Brownridge, Technology and Innovation Director for the NDA, touched on why innovation could transform how the NDA delivers their mission. Rav Chunilal, Head of Robotics and AI at Sellafield, explained how they have embraced robotics and their plans to grow the capability.

In order for RAICo to work, there needs to be an input from both industry and academia. Stephen Shackleford, Head of Capability Nuclear Operations at NNL, and Barry Lenox, Professor of Applied Control at the University of Manchester, talked about the need for facilities where technology can be nurtured and developed. 

Rob Buckingham, Director of UKAEA’s RACE, looked at how RAICo could be viewed in 2030 – the demonstratable RAI impact in nuclear and beyond, well-funded programmes enabling industry to be globally competitive and a shared understanding of the ongoing challenges and opportunities. Rob said:

“Robotics and AI is unproven in a number of environments, so demonstration of benefit is essential and RAICo will enable this. It is also about generating evidence for spending reviews and a ground swell of support for bigger and better things. If decommissioning is done well then it can be an investment, rather than a sunk cost.”

To view the presentations in full, plus the Q&A that followed click HERE