Robot dog could soon be sniffing out hazards at Sellafield nuclear site

Sellafield Ltd held a three-day trial of Spot, the mobile robot dog developed by Boston Dynamics, at the Calder Hall nuclear power station which is currently being decommissioned

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Canine-like robots could soon be sniffing out hazards and helping clean up the Sellafield nuclear site, believed to the most complex site of its kind in Europe.

Sellafield Ltd held a three-day trial of Spot, the mobile robot dog developed by Boston Dynamics, at the Calder Hall nuclear power station which is currently being decommissioned.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) robotics team RACE was at Sellafield to advise and support on how such robots could help with the clean-up of nuclear sites as the building offers challenging terrain in a risk-managed environment, providing ideal conditions to test Spot’s agility, scanning and radiation detection capabilities.

If successful, Spot could be deployed at locations across the Sellafield site to carry out routing tasks like inspections, mapping, data capture and characterisation.

Rav Chunilal, Head of robotics and artificial intelligence for Sellafield Ltd said: “Our mission is to create a clean and safe environment for future generations. Robots like Spot are an integral part of our future. They offer us a way of getting jobs done in hazardous environments while keeping people out of harm’s way.

“Robots are excellent at performing repetitive and time-consuming tasks. This allows us to free up our people to undertake more fulfilling work contributing to our purpose: creating a clean and safe environment for future generations.

“Spot’s active demonstration has given us great insight into its capabilities. We’ll now study the findings before we take a decision on whether to deploy this technology at Sellafield.”

RACE owns two Spot devices and has been working on applications for them in industrial locations where it is difficult or unsafe to send humans.

One of the dog robots carried out a radiation mapping project at Chernobyl for the University of Bristol last year.

Guy Burroughes, Senior Control System Software Engineer at RACE, UKAEA added: “We’ve been using Spot for over a year in our work to develop robotics for challenging environments like nuclear facilities. We were delighted to bring this experience to support the trials at Sellafield and hope it can lead to safer, more efficient decommissioning.”

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