This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The aim of the competition is to develop an autonomous and integrated toolkit to sort and segregate radioactive waste generated by nuclear decommissioning activities. This will reduce the level of waste requiring disposal, increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve safety.

This is phase 1 of a 2-phase competition. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1 and the assessment of a separate application into a subsequent phase 2 competition.

Phase 1: research and development contracts, feasibility study (this competition)

Up to £600,000, including VAT, is available for phase 1 and it is anticipated that the feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £60,000, including VAT. This is for each project for up to 3 months. We expect to fund up to 10 projects. At the conclusion of phase 1 you will produce a technical feasibility study.

Phase 2: research and development contracts, prototype development and testing

Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2. Your end-of-phase 1 report (technical feasibility study) will form part of your application into phase 2.

The second phase will involve up to 4 R&D contracts. Up to £900,000, including VAT, will be allocated for each contract for up to 15 months, in order to develop and demonstrate a full scale prototype in a non-radioactive environment.

At the conclusion of the competition we will ask all phase 2 projects to demonstrate their solutions at their own premises to an invited audience and participate in a showcase event to present their solutions to potential end users and customers.

The contract is completed at the end of phase 2, and the successful business is expected to pursue commercialisation of their solution.

Projects in phase 1 must start by 1 March 2021 and can last up to 3 months.

An organisation of any size can lead a project, and due to the wide range of technologies required to provide a solution to this challenge, you are allowed to work with others as subcontractors where their special expertise is needed. Any subcontracted work will be the responsibility of the main contractor (applicant) and you will be expected to justify subcontracting components of the work.

There is no limit on the number of applications you can make as the lead applicant. The applications you submit must be materially different. There is no limit on the number of applications an organisation can be named in as a subcontractor. If you are successful in more than one application you must be able to resource and successfully complete all contracts.

The aim of this competition is to develop an autonomous, integrated toolkit which sorts and segregates radioactive waste generated by nuclear decommissioning activities into compliant, optimised packages.

Your project must:

  • reduce waste by prioritising its recycling over its disposal
  • reduce the number of waste sorting and segregation processes carried out by humans
  • increase the productivity of the processes
  • be scalable and transferable

We will fund innovative projects that combine existing technologies into a single integrated system.

Your application must address all the following:

  • detect the type and intensity of the radioactivity present using existing technology or off-the-shelf equipment
  • determine the composition, size, shape, and surface area of the material
  • sort and segregate the waste by radioactive classification and material type
  • remotely move the waste from a specific area, process it and then pack it into the appropriate container (for example, skips, drums, boxes or bags) ensuring the space used is optimised
  • collect and analyse data and images, and retain accurate records

More information on the specification, background of the challenge, and examples of tasks and end-user working environments are in the NDA sort and segregate waste specification document.

We are keen to encourage technology transfer from other industrial sectors that carry out multiple complex automated tasks, rapidly and safely. This might include, for example, food processing, logistics, waste management, high value manufacturing or medical.

Solutions might include the integration of a range of existing technologies such as, but not limited to:

  • artificial intelligence and virtual reality
  • advanced software
  • route planning and tracking
  • sensors and detectors
  • image recognition
  • materials characterisation
  • robotics, control, and automation

We expect the system you develop to be able to identify and segregate a wide range of different types of waste, including but not limited to:

  • steel offcuts (stainless, mild, galvanised, painted, pipework and solid pieces)
  • aluminium
  • rubble
  • graphite
  • soil
  • plastic hoses
  • asbestos
  • man-made mineral fibres
  • rubber (for example: wellington boots or tyres)
  • plastics (for example: bottles or gloves)
  • aerosols
  • batteries
  • cables

We will not fund projects that cover:

  • development of new robots
  • development of new radiation sensors
  • additional size reduction or cutting of items
  • development of new technologies where solutions already exist and can be used
  • projects that do not fully meet the scope of the competition
  • projects that cannot complete a full-scale demonstration in a non-radioactive environment in phase 2 by January 2023