It was with great interest that we recently read of the ingenious Nuclear Engineers involved in the decommissioning of the Dounreay Nuclear Reactor. A Design Engineer at the Scottish plant involved in the clean up and demolition of the former fast reactor at Dounreay used sofa castors from his own couch and attached them to a surveillance probe to prevent it from toppling over. The probe named the ‘hedgehog’ was built to probe and measure radioactivity levels and shoot videos from inside the Dounreay Nuclear Reactor. In previous tests the sensitive device mounted on fixed castors, toppled over when turning corners which led the senior design engineer to provide an innovative solution. Swivelling furniture castors, found on the bases of sofas, couches and furniture were the inspired solution as they allowed the castors wheels to rotate in a three hundred and sixty dedree angle. Attaching these furniture castors to the probe, meant not only did it then run smoothly but it was able to manoeuvre around corners and inaccessible parts of the Reactor with ease.
The Fast Nuclear Reactor at Dounreay has been in and out of the headlines for several years. In the 1990’s the Government decided this plant should close and since then the site has been undergoing cleaning, demolition and decommissioning. This Plant decommissioning is planned to take until 2025 at a cost of two and a half billion pounds. This dismantling is over half way through the thirty year programme and a range of castors and wheels have been used. The Nuclear Reactor site is still undergoing clearing out of chemical hazards, putting these wastes into a form that makes them safe for long term storage and disposal. Once all the buildings and reactors have been cleared out of the site it can be demolished and returned to green fields.
Castors and wheels can also be found on the large number of robots that are being deployed in the clean up of this nuclear plant. These robots have been working in highly radioactive areas of the Dounreay plant clearing and demolishing highly radioactive waste. These robots mounted on castors can be pre programmed and remotely operated. Similar to the robots that work in car assembly plants these demolition robots run on polyurethane castors and caterpillar tracks. Many have likened these robots to the Disney Film Wall-E, a robot tasked with clearing rubbish on a deserted planet. However the main difference is the remote operation of the Scottish robots ensures the human operators are not exposed to harmful radiation within the Nuclear Reactor plant.
Using furniture castors on a sensitive piece of equipment must be a first for us. Usually Nuclear facilities request a range of anti static wheels and castors on their equipment and machinery. This ensures they are operating in a spark free environment and any electric static is absorbed. A spokes person from Dounreay recently commented that using innovation, such as sofa castors on a probe, just represents the vast amount of pioneering methods and innovate skills required in a demanding and dangerous work environment. An amusing previous example of this was the use of household cleaners to remove plutonium stains! Good old Cillit Bang!