Monday, 11 November 2013

The Nuclear Institute Congress (21-22 October 2013)

By Matt Gunther

They say "timing is everything" and the Nuclear Institute's inaugural national Congress event could not have come at a more opportune moment. Taking place within Manchester Central, delegates - fueled by excess coffee and danish pastries - appeared buoyant after the weekend announcement that Chinese investment would aid construction at Hinkley Point. 

With in excess of 200 in attendance, Congress 2013 boasted presentations on all aspects of the fuel cycle. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and European Nuclear Society (ENS) were among those promoting a vision of an industry escaping from its tangled past and driving forward with clarity.

Alongside the main speakers, a labyrinth of exhibits were situated in the Central's main hall. AMEC, Rolls-Royce, GE Hitachi and the University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute all vied for the attention of delegates.

On the University's Dalton Nuclear Institute stand, we promoted the core values of the Institute and some of the activities we have been engaged in over the past twelve months. With two eye-opening demonstrations, we seemed to attract a broad range of people over the course of the two day conference.
Me attempting to point at a television monitor,
while a delegate is feeling the pressure (no pun intended)
during the reactor simulation.

The electrical engineering & robotics team brought along their underwater characterisation robot, which is guided along a trajectory by detecting colour contrast (in this case a red ball against a dark coloured flooring). Aimed to be used in radioactive hotspots which cannot be navigated by conventional cameras, the robot reiterates the need for advanced detection technology in decommissioning applications.

Developed by the Dalton Nuclear Institute, our second exhibit was the "nuclear reactor simulator game". Targeted primarily at children in secondary education the game enables pupils to  operate a simulated nuclear reactor. In order to obtain the maximum number of points, the participant has to match the reactor's power output to national demand. Enhanced with online leaderboards and further information on reactor technology, the simulation went down a storm. The Institute brought the reactor simulation to the Congress in order to generate feedback from industry and their insight has been invaluable to aid with further game development. The stand also featured a plasma screen displaying a 360 degree virtual fly-through of the University’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility.

Once the exhibits were packed away and all of the danish pastries had been consumed, we reflected back on the impact of the event. Conferences such as these, in my opinion, simply reinforce the notion that more investment is required in nuclear power going forward; especially in the wake of recent developments. With The University of Manchester positioning itself as a global leader in nuclear research, however, nuclear energy will remain at the heart of this city and John Dalton can rest assured his legacy remains central to the University's ethos going forward.

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