A robotised innovation for modernising and enhancing the safety of nuclear installations, selected by France Relance

The government's investment plan assists the development of a miniaturised technological solution to ensure the maintenance of certain hard-to-reach corners of power plants.

Teams from ENDEL SRA, an ENDEL subsidiary, have imagined a robotised and miniaturised tool consisting of a camera that is capable of penetrating the heart of a sector that is crucial for electricity production: the steam generator. This promising robotic technology, currently in the development phase, will be capable of performing a precise diagnosis of the water networks that comprise the steam generator's spacer plates.

While paving the way for performing operations that have previously been impossible on certain steam generators, the ENDEL SRA teams are participating in the modernisation of the maintenance tools that are available for French nuclear installations, by reducing the risks of radiological exposure for intervention teams.

Inaugurating a high-precision operation at the core of the steam generator

Not only are ENDEL SRA teams capable of performing cutting-edge diagnostics for nuclear maintenance, they also develop and manufacture remotely operated tools for different types of operations, including the inspection and video examination of the spacer plates. These are responsible for maintaining uniform spaces between the tubes placed in the steam generator* and allow the passage of water.

The equipment used in the different sectors of French installations does not always have the same specifications. The existing maintenance technologies currently in use do not allow for the inspection/examination of all spacer plates. The ENDEL SRA teams have therefore imagined a custom-made remotely operated tool that can penetrate into the steam generator. Featuring a 4 mm camera, this tiny robot is also equipped with lighting that can project up to 1 m for inspecting/examining the plates that have been inaccessible up to now. The stakes are high: the video inspection is decisive for ensuring effective and proactive maintenance and plays a major role in the safety of nuclear power plants.

Consolidating the safety of installations by reducing the risk of exposure

Once it has been prototyped, this little technological gem will represent a major step forward in modernising nuclear maintenance tools, while optimising the safety of maintenance operators by minimising radiation exposure. Operators will no longer need to enter the steam generator to position the currently used inspection tank.

ENDEL SRA teams have obtained a grant from France Relance to develop this project, a sum corresponding to half of the overall investment required, i.e. €850,000. The goal is to finalise the first robot by the end of 2022.

"The implementation of these diagnostic operations requires extreme precision and involves cutting-edge expertise, while remaining strategic for the safety of the installations", explains Jean-Paul Mandier, Managing Director of ENDEL SRA. "Having been confronted with equipment that differs from other plants, particularly at Chooz and Civeaux, we have identified the best way to overcome the impossibilities of accessing certain plates. This is how the project "Video inspection of steam generator' spacer plates" originated, in a process of development for technically and operationally optimising maintenance for nuclear installations. "

* Steam generators are essential for the production of electricity. The heat produced in the reactor core is transmitted via water circulating in a closed circuit - called the primary circuit - to a secondary circuit whose water is transformed into steam that supplies turbines for the production of electricity. Heat is exchanged between the primary and secondary circuits via numerous tubes held in place by several spacer plates inside the steam generator. (source www.irsn.fr)

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