Innovation is fundamental to ensuring we build a successful, broad-ranging and balanced portfolio that addresses NNL, industrial and customer needs.

We see innovation as an enabler to overcoming technical and process challenges and a means to identify, translate and apply.

Across NNL, we encourage a challenge-led approach and embed opportunities for out-of-the-box thinking within our everyday structures, whether that is through our top-down challenges or working in Tiger Teams.

We have also developed a bespoke innovation programme to support the delivery of key innovation projects – facilitating everything from idea stimulation and prototyping to commercialisation.

These projects have been predominantly used to drive our Environmental Restoration ambitions thus far, and have led to the development of a 3D laser scanner, a radiometric probe and Electrolytically Advanced Surface Decontamination (EASD) technology.

As a result of these successes, we will be continuing to apply this innovation model across more of our Focus Areas going forward.

Finding new and better solutions within decommissioning

“It is critical that NNL drives this kind of innovation so that we can continue to find new and better ways of doing things, both for our customers and our society.”

Gareth Mannion Research Technologist at NNL

Gareth Mannion is a Research Technologist at NNL who helps deliver our Electrolytically Assisted Surface Decontamination (EASD) project, in collaboration with C-Tech Innovation Ltd. He joined NNL in August 2020.

“Joining NNL has been a great learning experience and a real step up in terms of gaining technical insight. Over the past few months, I have been working on EASD – an innovation project focused on declassifying waste on nuclear sites, feeding directly into our Environmental Restoration and Security and Non-Proliferation Focus Areas.

EASD technology involves applying an electrolyte to a contaminated metal surface and passing a current through it. This oxidises the metal which dissolves and becomes associated with the electrolyte; in turn, this can be stripped off and safely disposed of. We deliver the project in collaboration with our partner, C-Tech Innovation Ltd. It is the coming together of a chemical problem with an electrical solution, requiring the expertise of both parties.

The art of electropickling or electropolishing is a well-established industrial technique for removing impurities; however, what is unique to EASD is the way the electricity is applied to the surface. We use a very specific waveform that constantly disrupts the surface, allowing us to drill down deeper and strip off as much material as necessary.

EASD technology is still in the development phase and so our next step will be onsite deployment trials at Sellafield Ltd. Since the technology isn’t intrusive, operations at the site can be ongoing whilst it is deployed and articles can be decontaminated in-situ. For example, if there is an active glove box that is in frequent use, the operator can treat the hotspot area, dispose of the contaminated section and ensure the glove box remains fully accessible.

The project is integral to reducing the amount of nuclear waste and any associated radiological hazard. In addition, it saves expense by ensuring that equipment that would otherwise have to be decommissioned can continue to be used. It is critical that NNL drives this kind of innovation so that we can continue to find new and better ways of doing things, both for our customers and our society.”

Alongside innovating within NNL, we take seriously our responsibility to drive growth and innovation across the UK. Key to this is collaboration, which is why we are proud of our extensive partnership work.

Working with Sellafield Ltd and FIS360, we have developed the Game Changers programme which has successfully incentivised over 100 other organisations, ranging from universities to cutting-edge SMEs in the supply chain, to find ways to overcome some of the most complex challenges in the nuclear industry.

One example of this has been with Resolve Robotics, a Cumbrian SME. It has received funding to develop its versatile and modular robotic deployment system CellRail, which will make it safer, easier and cheaper to carry out inspection and intervention processes in nuclear cells.

“Our relationship with Game Changers and ability to work with NNL has had a significant impact on our business, lending us credibility within the UK nuclear sector and the confidence to expand our market reach.

By helping us advance CellRail, our novel remote deployment technology, we hope to remove barriers to decommissioning activities and minimise the overall cost and environmental impact. Since being involved in Game Changers, we have been able to increase our workforce from one to nine and provide highly specialist jobs here in the North West.”

Andrew Ludar-Smith Technical Director of Resolve Robotics

How we are embedding innovation further

As part of our new Science and Technology Agenda, we will provide more opportunities for our people to innovate by:

  • Increasing internal conversations that inspire innovation by developing use of our customised digital platform, Innovation Lab;
  • Establishing a dedicated ‘thinking’ space – The Think Tank – and a dedicated ‘doing’ space – The Forge – at our Workington Laboratory in Cumbria;
  • Embedding a focus on innovation within our people’s Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and Performance and Development Reviews (PDRs).

We will also expand the focus of our innovation projects beyond Environmental Restoration so that they support our remaining three Focus Areas: Clean Energy, Security and Non-Proliferation and Health and Nuclear Medicine. This will include harnessing digital innovation and robotics to support advancements.

2.1.3 Strategic Research