Every Week is Robotics Week at a Nuclear Plant

National Robotics WeekThis week marks the fourth annual Robotics Week in America; a week dedicated to inspiring, celebrating and increasing awareness in robotics technology while educating the public about the impacts of the field on society.  At Duke Energy, robots are critical components of our plant operations.

There is a long history of robot use in nuclear plants, dating back several decades.  More recently, plants are utilizing a type of robot known as unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).  These robots give technicians the ability to access areas of the plants to ensure workers’ exposure to radiation remains low.  “Using robots makes getting into tight spaces easier and helps to cut down on radiation exposure for workers,” said Floyd Harris, a radiation protection technician at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant.  Currently, this plant is using the iRobot 510 PackBot to monitor possible hazards, complete mainteance in tight spots and replace pipe insulation. 

Photo of a 510 PackBot
Photo of a 510 PackBot

Advances in robotics technology have helped enhance plant performance by improving safety and efficiency.  “Jobs that once took hours, or even days, of planning because of difficult locations and potential for worker radiation exposure can now be taken care of with the robots,” said Harris.   In 2012, Oconee Nuclear Station, in conjunction with AREVA Inc., received recognition from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) for use of robot-acquired data after implementing a fully automated process for inspecting steam generator tubes.  The process eliminated the need for two teams of workers to inspect and re-inspect the steam generator tubes.  With the help of robots, the once arduous process now takes a fraction of the time and has increased plant safety and efficiency.   

Duke Energy’s commitment to advancing robotic technology extends past plant operations and into the community.  Teams of workers from various sites coach and sponsor teams of high school students participating in FIRST Robotics competitions each spring.  FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” provides challenges for high school students to build and program robots to perform tasks against competitors.  With this program, students can learn from engineers, use sophisticated computer software/hardware and qualify for college scholarships.  It also gives the engineers a chance to “share information on the growing need for engineers and technical personnel throughout the energy sector,” said Dan McRainey, vice president of Duke Energy Nuclear Major Projects. 

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For more information about National Robotics Week, click here.