The nuclear industry is always searching for even safer and more efficient technologies. One such trend is the use of robotics at plant sites. Robots are used across the Duke Energy nuclear fleet as way to strengthen personal and operational safety.
The robots, however, may not look like what you imagine. Many are repurposed designs originally intended for use in war zones to search for explosive devices. They are nimble, agile, equipped with track tires that allow them to easily navigate any terrain on site and give them the appearance of miniaturized tanks with arms. The robots are equipped with several cameras allowing for multiple viewpoints.
A cultural cornerstone of the nuclear industry is strictly limiting the amount of radiological exposure nuclear workers encounter while performing work. While all radiological exposure at a nuclear facility is closely monitored and tracked, both in the short term (a single work project) and long term (over the entire career of the worker), the industry’s approach to radiation reduction is that any tool or technology that prevents worker exposure should be used. Nuclear workers could safely perform tasks without the assistance of robots, but using robots reduces or even fully eliminates exposure for many tasks.
Robots offer a number of creative solutions for limiting exposure from remote viewing of radiological areas within the plant to collecting and storing radioactive materials.
Recently, workers at Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station, located north of Charlotte, N.C., utilized the iRobot 710 Warrior robot (710) to lower collective radiological exposure of workers during the replacement of radioactive waste filters. These filters act in a similar fashion to your home HVAC filters, and like those filters, need to be changed on a regular basis.
Previously, removing the filters required professionals using a six-foot pole to grasp the filters and move them into temporary storage prior to transport. The same process was used for installing new filters. As you can image, using a six-foot pole to do precise work can be very challenging.
In other cases, robots simply make the work more efficient. At the Robinson Nuclear Plant, in Hartsville, S.C., robots were used to place material into storage. In order to complete this task without the assistance of robots, an enormous amount of planning and preparation would have to be performed, including the placement of barriers and other safeguards to reduce radiation exposure. By using the robots, workers were able to eliminate exposure and work more safely and efficiently.
These are just a couple of the instances, in which robots are being used throughout the Duke Energy fleet for maintenance, examination and worker protection. Robots reduce the risk of human error, providing for consistent, high-quality results. We expect the application of robots at nuclear sites will only continue to increase, as we continue to find new and innovative ways to make work safer and more efficient.