Scientists investigate underwater laser cutting for dismantling nuclear reactors

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Scientists are investigating whether laser beam cutting can be used underwater to dismantle nuclear facilities efficiently.

Within the scope of the AZULa project (Automated separation of reactor pressure vessel installations using underwater laser technology), the Laser Zentrum Hannover, together with nuclear energy group Orano, is carrying out a feasibility study in which a laser cutting process and a compact cutting head are being developed for use in radiologically activated and contaminated underwater environments.

The new process could offer an advanced alternative to conventional cutting methods that are used to dismantle reactor pressure vessels, such as water jet cutting or sawing techniques. This is because a laser binds the kerf material on the exit side of the cut, which significantly reduces the amount of secondary waste that later needs to be cleaned off the water basin floor – a time-consuming and costly process. In addition, a laser – unlike a sawing tool – is not prone to jamming, meaning process times could be also shortened.

Laser beam cutting could therefore offer a much cheaper and faster alternative for dismantling reactor components.

The AZULa project is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is being coordinated by technical safety organisation GRS.

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