Virtual reality software packs real savings

U. LEEDS (US)—Virtual reality software that plans the safe decommissioning of nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities could save millions of pounds, according to its inventors.

The software package will allow planners to work out the best way of breaking up and packing contaminated equipment while minimising radiation exposure to workers.

The software shows in minute detail how radioactive waste can be stored in the smallest possible space, reducing the number of long-term storage containers needed.

“Independent commercial contractors have estimated that just packing this waste efficiently could lead to literally millions of pounds being saved from the public purse,” says Richard Williams University of Leeds professor and co-inventor of the software.

“This type of cost saving should accelerate the safe decommissioning of nuclear installations.”
The software is based on a general modelling tool that shows how oddly-shaped objects fit best together.

“Most other software packages used to solve packing problems can only handle simple and regular shaped objects—a scenario that doesn’t reflect real life problems as accurately.

Developed by Structure Vision Ltd., a University of Leeds spin-out company, the software is also able to take into account the properties of the material that is being packed, for example, its level of radioactivity and how hard it will be to cut.

It was tested by several industry partners for a variety of applications.

In one of these trials, conducted at the UK’s Low Level Waste Repository at Drigg, Cumbria, for example, it showed how the number of containers needed to transport and store racks that had held irradiated waste materials could be reduced by a third, simply by changing the way they were cut up.

It is expected the software will also be used when nuclear reactors are being designed. In the UK, proposals to build new nuclear reactors have to include detailed decommissioning plans. Reactors could be needed for power plants, scientific research, or the commercial manufacture of radioisotopes for medical scans.

“Previously when nuclear reactors were built, the cost of disposing of contaminated plants safely when they reached the end of their operating life was never a major concern, says Neville Chamberlain, CBE, Chairman of the Structure Vision Board.

“This software tool will help engineers design new reactors with cost-effective decommissioning in mind.”

“By providing not only accurate cutting and packing simulations, but an entire decommissioning project planning tool,” says David Knight, director of software development at Structure Vision Ltd., “project engineers will for the first time be able to see the whole picture of their liabilities and directly compare the impact of different approaches to dealing with intermediate- and low-level waste from complete nuclear facilities.”

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