Nuclear and Robotics by the SFEN

  • Digital In Nuclear : Work in Progress


    Several structural developments are changing and will shape the future of the nuclear industry. Internet of things to connect the machines, RFID chips for the materials traceability, modeling and virtual reality to build, operate and dismantle a plant, Big Data to exploit the whole data. But we must also rely on robotics that creates increasingly intelligent machinery, able to go where people cannot.


            In the nuclear field, robotics is applied to several areas. The first "robots" developed in the United States in the 1950s were limited to handling arm equipped with cameras and projectors. Further to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, remote manipulators have carried out tasks of monitoring, examination and decontamination.

    One of the first prototypes of French remotely operated robot built to intervene in very radioactive area was devised in 1975 by the CEA. MERIT was able to walk up and down the stairs, overcome obstacles and seize items, while radiation-resistant, to make video analysis, security checks and maintenance operations in the NPPs hydraulic systems. In 1983, the MIR robot followed its example to achieve control ultrasonic welds between the main vessel and the Superphénix safety tank. Then came Centaure, commissioned from 500 meters to operate in hostile environment following a nuclear accident, and Sherpa, with six telescopic legs and a tray for carrying heavy loads.


    Since then, the materials of intervention have advanced in all fields. Far from "replacing humans," they reduce the exposure risk in hostile zone. This is the case of Maestro manipulator arm and real-time monitoring software. From 20 years of R&D between the CEA, Cybernetix and IFREMER, Maestro is able to bring in highly radioactive areas saws, drills, grinders or shears required to cut in situ irradiated devices. It can be installed on a bridge crane, a lift or a vehicle, according to the site.

     Devised and designed by AREVA, RIANA can operate in all nuclear sites, both outside and inside. It is a real vehicle, it is modular and can therefore respond itself to various missions, where several robots would be required: 2D or 3D mapping, collection of solid and liquid samples, physical measurement, radiation measurement...

    Getinge La Calhène, specialized supplier of human protective equipment for hostile environments notably, developed MT200 TAO, a remote-control computer-assisted program that takes advantage of remote handling fast computers and new electric motors. Operating from the late 1970s in the nuclear field, Getinge La Calhène has developed with AREVA, five TAO systems including one in use since 2015 to the fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague.

    An important application area for robotics is dismantling. It is in particular thanks to machining and welding equipment designed and manufactured by PROTEM that has achieved the first and only worldwide dismantling of the tank of sodium-cooled reactor KNK II of Karlsruhe in Germany.


    In order the robots to be effective in areas highly exposed to radiation, their electronics is "reinforced” as the instrumentation has to resist to the radiation. ERMES, specialist in this field, developed in its joint laboratory with CEA, highly innovative solutions for vision (cameras and highly resistant LED lights), measurement (dosimeters, encoders...), analysis (radiation resistant processors) and transmission (wired and wireless).


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