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Advanced technologies at nuclear fuel cycle facilities

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) recently attended an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) technical meeting focused on safety considerations for using advanced technologies at nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

The meeting was hosted by the National Nuclear Laboratory and involved nuclear regulators and other stakeholders from around the world.

Attendees shared their experiences and lessons learnt from applying advanced technologies and how this has been regulated, with a specific focus on artificial intelligence (AI).

Dr Paolo Picca, ONR's lead on robotics and autonomous systems, was at the meeting and he presented its work on supporting innovation through our frontline regulation and international engagements, as well as the joint regulatory sandboxing pilot with the Environment Agency.

He said: "Overall, the meeting found that there are many opportunities to apply AI in nuclear, with potential benefits including dose reduction for workers and more efficient operations.

“The UK’s approach to innovation in nuclear attracted significant interest from international partners, and early engagement between the nuclear industry and regulators was highlighted as a key factor in success.

“Attendees also recognised the value of further international engagement on some challenging areas, and future discussions will draw on specific AI and human factors expertise as well as learnings from other industries.”

ONR's approach to innovation is centred around supporting the adoption of innovative solutions by the nuclear industry and its supply chain where it is safe and secure to do so.

During the last year, ONR and the Environment Agency have been piloting a nuclear regulatory sandbox process of artificial intelligence (AI), a technology with the potential for significant safety, security and environmental benefits within the industry.

This is a first-of-a-kind regulatory sandboxing in the nuclear industry and has been supported with a grant from the government’s Regulators’ Pioneer Fund (RPF) to help finance the project.

Sandboxing is when regulators and industry work together in a non-regulatory environment to explore how innovative proposals can progress to deployment.

The RPF enables UK regulators and local authorities to help create a regulatory environment that encourages business innovation and investment. The current £12m round is being delivered by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.