Researchers at The University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute will lead a new multimillion pound robotic and artificial intelligence (AI) programme aiming to clean up the world’s nuclear waste.

Led by Professor Barry Lennox, Professor of Applied Control in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, the new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) Hub has been awarded £12 million to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the nuclear industry.

The hub will undertake world-leading research and develop innovative technologies to address issues such as decommissioning, waste management, fusion, plant life extension and new site builds.

Whilst being led by Manchester, RAIN brings together expertise from the Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Lancaster, Bristol and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), as well as international partners from the US, Italy and Japan.

Prof Lennox, who is also part of the University’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, says: “This is excellent news, not just for the universities involved, but the entire energy and nuclear sectors. It is also a testament to the world-leading research we are doing right here in Manchester. We have already successfully tested robots at facilities such as Sellafield and in hazardous environments like Fukushima in Japan and this new investment will allow us to take these major developments to the next level.”

The funding comes from a wider £68m awarded from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) of which £44.5m has been invested, over three and half years, for four research hubs, including RAIN, which will be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC Chief Executive, said: “These new Robotics Hubs will draw on the country’s research talent to nurture new developments in the field of robotics and provide the foundations on which innovative technologies can be built. The resulting outcomes from this research will allow us to explore environments that are too dangerous for humans to enter without risking injury or ill-health.”

The overall funding comes from the Government’s £93m for the robotics and AI in extreme environments programme. Innovate UK and the Research Councils are taking a leading role in delivering this funding.

Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, added: “These pioneering projects driven by the very best minds in UK research and industry exemplify the huge potential of what can be achieved through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the long-term benefits for the UK economy. These are just the first competitions in robotics and AI, there will be further opportunities for businesses in the coming months.”

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