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Development Of An Interdisciplinary Graduate Program For Automation In Nuclear Applications

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Research and Education in Radiation and Radiologic

Tagged Division

Nuclear and Radiological

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.477.1 - 14.477.9

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Paper Authors

author page

Mitchell Pryor

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Sheldon Landsberger

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Development of an Interdisciplinary Graduate Program for Automation in Nuclear Applications


This paper outlines the motivation for – and development of – an interdisciplinary graduate level curriculum for robotics and automation in the nuclear domain. For cost, safety, and security purposes, the Department of Energy and nuclear related industries hope to automate mission critical tasks for handling and manufacturing sensitive materials from nuclear waste to weapon components to spent fuel. Design in this challenging domain requires an interdisciplinary expertise in nuclear engineering and flexible automation (robotics). Our experiences have shown that there is a shortage of interdisciplinary trained engineers in this area which has led to either 1) an inherent lack of cutting edge automation technologies in the nuclear domain or 2) an inability to precisely define the operational and environmental requirements for proposed automation systems. This paper outlines the generalized material and course requirements for an interdisciplinary graduate program from domain relevant application requirements as well as interactions with the DOE complex and industry. A course structure and timeline is outlined and mapped to the proposed curricula and project development. Students in the program are additionally mentored by DOE personnel to complete interdisciplinary research projects relevant in nuclear application areas.

Background and Motivation

The idea of automating the multitude of hazardous tasks associated with all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle (whether it be weaponized or energy producing) is not a new one. The positive impact of successful automation for safety and security is clear, yet the few successes have been costly and time consuming. A review (as examples, Y-121, LANL2, INL3, ORNL4, SNL5, 6, and Academia7) of the multitude of projects teaches an important lesson. Automation in the nuclear domain requires expertise in two diverse engineering fields: robotics and nuclear engineering. Consider the following challenges that will be difficult to meet in extremely hot environments without cutting edge automation.

Target fabrication of minor actinides for transmutation in advanced recycling reactors. Due to radiation fields and radiotoxcity, fabrication must take place inside shielded, fully automated cells. The complex fuel pellet machinery will require the ability to be remotely maintained. Generalized Radiochemistry. To date, it has been impossible to fully characterize actinide elements as thoroughly as, for example, concrete, steel, and other stable elements. Even the simplest experiments must be performed behind shielding and processes must be strictly adhered to with full consideration given to fault contingencies. These experimental processes are expensive and often take years to design, verify, certify, and execute. Open, flexible experimentation allows for real-time procedural flexibility given new data or insight (even idle curiosity) from the experimenter. Decommissioning and Decontamination. D&D tasks are time consuming, hazardous and difficult to automate since processes are difficult to quantify ahead of time.

Pryor, M., & Landsberger, S. (2009, June), Development Of An Interdisciplinary Graduate Program For Automation In Nuclear Applications Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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