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TWI develops laser cutting for dismantling nuclear power plants

TWI is working with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and various site license companies (SLCs) to develop the laser cutting process for the dismantling and size reduction of metal infrastructure in nuclear power plants. Laser cutting offers significant economic, technical, operational and societal benefits compared to competing techniques.

Nuclear decommissioning is high on the global agenda for social and economic reasons, as a result of recent events at Fukushima, and the rising cost of decommissioning activities. The UK budget for decommissioning the 18 nuclear installations covered by the SLCs is approximately £80 billion, and the global long-term market is estimated to be £1 trillion.

The UK is well placed to be a world leader in nuclear decommissioning with the potential to create growth, jobs and revenues. A challenge common to all nuclear installations is the dismantling, and size reduction for cost-effective storage of contaminated metallic infrastructures, typically piping, vessels, and support structures. The flexibility of laser cutting enables it to be considered as a tool for a wide number of applications, both in air and underwater. TWI, in collaboration with other UK organisations, has demonstrated the capability of laser cutting at Technology Readiness Level 3-4 for remote in-situ dismantling using a ‘snake-arm’ robotic manipulator; in-situ dismantling using ‘hand- held’ equipment suitable for operation in low hazard environments; and high productivity size-reduction of fuel skips for optimised packing density in nuclear waste containers (funded by Sellafield).

Planned future activity includes collaborating with other UK organisations to develop and validate the laser cutting process for remote in-situ dismantling, using new snake-arm robotic manipulators, at TRL 6 (in an active nuclear environment). TWI is also discussing this technology with its international client base, which has generated interest from Europe, the United States and Japan. | @electrooptics

John Pendry, creator of the ‘perfect lens’, wins Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics

Sir John Pendry, whose work includes that on fabricating a theoretically perfect lens, has won this year’s Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics. Pendry is a pioneer in the field of optical metamaterial science and his work has created materials with electromagnetic properties that provide greater control of light.

He introduced a method of creating a lens whose focus is theoretically perfect. This ‘perfect lens’, whose resolution is unlimited by wavelength, utilises negative refraction to allow limitless data storage. The award, accompanied by US$5,000, will be presented on 18 October 2013 at the Magnus Haus of the German Physical Society in Berlin, Germany. The perfect lens uses metamaterials to go beyond the diffraction limit, and means

that image resolution is not limited by wavelength, but by the quality of the material the lens is made from. Pendry proposed a thin slab of negative refractive metamaterial might overcome the limitations of traditional lenses.

Metals such as silver show

this effect of negative refraction, but an optical version of the lens is harder to engineer. As yet, the group doesn’t have a fully 3D negatively refracting optical material, at least not one that is capable of sub-wavelength operation. A version of the perfect lens in silver has been built by the Xiang group in Berkeley and the Blaikie group in Canterbury, New Zealand. Both groups have demonstrated imaging on a scale of a few tens of nanometres. Pendry’s research has also

led to the development of the first working prototype cloaking device, also known as the ‘invisibility cloak’. This device renders an object invisible to radar waves. Instead of striking and reflecting off the object, the waves flow smoothly around it as if it were not there, giving the illusion of transparency. Pendry received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1969 and worked at Bell Laboratories from 1972-1973. He has held his professorship in the Blackett Laboratory (Imperial College, London) since 1981. In 1998 he became the head of the Physics Department and is currently the Chair in Theoretical Solid State Physics. He was knighted (Knight Bachelor) in 2004 and was named a Fellow of the Optical Society of America in 2005.

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