Efficient reactor dismantling by laser beam cutting?
02/05/2019

Underwater laser cutting offers enormous potential for the dismantling of reactor vessels. (Photo: LZH)

Less contaminated secondary materials through an efficient laser cutting process. (Photo: LZH)

Can laser beam cutting underwater be used for efficient reactor dismantling? This question will be investigated by scientists of the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) within the scope of the AZULa project. In a feasibility study, they develop a laser beam cutting process and construct a compact cutting head for use in a radiologically activated and contaminated underwater environment.

This new system is supposed to enable the direct dismantling of nuclear facilities (reactor pressure vessels). Laser beam cutting offers significant advantages compared to conventional cutting methods, such as water jet cutting or sawing techniques. Above all, the binding of the kerf material on the exit side is a major advantage of the laser process. The expense for the final cleaning of the water basin floor is significantly reduced, as the amount of secondary or technology waste is significantly lower compared to water jet or sawing techniques. The disposal of this waste is time-consuming and costly. In addition, sawing techniques are prone to jamming of the tool. This cannot occur with laser beam cutting. Thus, the process times could be shortened. The laser beam cutting would therefore represent a much cheaper alternative for the dismantling of the reactor components.

About AZULa:
The project "Automated separation of reactor pressure vessel installations using underwater laser technology" (AZULa) is carried out together with the Orano GmbH. AZULa is sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under grant number 15S9408 by the project coordinator Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit gGmbH (GRS).

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Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH)

As an independent, non-profit research institute, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) stands for innovative research, development and consulting. The LZH is supported by the Niedersachsen Ministry of Economic Affairs, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation and is dedicated to the selfless promotion of applied research in the field of photonics and laser technology. Founded in 1986, over 170 employees are now working for the LZH.

The focus of the LZH lies on the fields of optical components and systems, optical production technologies, and biomedical photonics. Interdisciplinary cooperation between natural scientists and mechanical engineers makes innovative approaches to challenges from the most different areas possible: from the development of components for specific laser systems to process developments for the most diverse laser applications, for example for medical technology or lightweight construction in the automotive sector. Eighteen spin off companies have emerged from the LZH up to now. Thus, the LZH has created a strong transfer between fundamental sciences, application oriented research, and industry.