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Science Minister opens robotics and materials research facilities at UK Atomic Energy Authority

Science Minister opens robotics and materials research facilities at UK Atomic Energy Authority

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Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, has officially opened two new research facilities at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Science Centre near Oxford.

RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) is a £10 million robotics test centre for UK industry. Robotics is one of the Government’s ‘eight great technologies’ for growth and RACE will be key to developing this sector. It applies the knowledge in robotics and remote handling developed over two decades at the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion experiment at Culham so companies in other areas, such as space, deep sea, nuclear, construction and autonomous vehicles, can benefit. RACE has already helped British firms secure £100 million in contracts.

Culham’s new Materials Research Facility is a £10 million laboratory for scientists designing the nuclear power stations of the future, both fission and fusion. It is a key part of the Government’s investment to improve the UK’s nuclear research base through the National Nuclear User Facility, to ensure that Britain has long-term options for generating low-carbon energy in the future.

Both facilities are a sign of the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s diversification to aid wider research communities alongside its traditional nuclear fusion R&D programme.

Mr Johnson also announced funding for Oxford Advanced Skills – a new apprentice training facility for hi-tech businesses, to be located at Culham Science Centre. Oxford Advanced Skills is a partnership between UKAEA and training providers JTL – it will train 150 engineering apprentices per year when completed in 2019 and aims to address the skills shortage which threatens Oxfordshire’s booming technology sector.

During his visit on 23 May, the Minister toured JET, the world’s largest magnetic fusion experiment. JET is the only major European science experiment on UK soil, and continued EU funding for the project has given the UK Atomic Energy Authority the skills and expertise to create the two new facilities. 

Jo Johnson said: “The hard work of scientists, academics and apprentices here at Culham is a prime example of why the UK is a world-leader in scientific discovery. These new facilities will take the next steps in developing clean fusion energy, and train apprentices to support businesses and growth.

“Our membership of the EU, and the funding and international collaboration it brings, is vital to the world-leading research here at Culham and across the UK.”

Background Information

UK Atomic Energy Authority

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the Government at Culham Science Centre. It is also developing Culham as a location of hi-tech research and business, with around 40 tenant companies now on site and the new RACE and Materials Research Facility opening in early 2016. 

UKAEA’s fusion lab Culham Centre for Fusion Energy oversees Britain’s fusion programme, headed by the MAST (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment. It also hosts the world’s largest magnetic fusion research facility, JET (Joint European Torus), operated for European scientists under a contract with the European Commission. 

Further information is available at www.gov.uk/ukaea.

RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments)

RACE conducts R&D into many applications of robotics and remote handling technology. It is a key facility for implementing the Government’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems strategy, which aims to equip the UK to compete in this emerging global industry.

RACE is now open for use by customers. It offers access to state-of-the-art test facilities, robotic equipment and expertise to SMEs, multinationals, research laboratories and academia. Access models are tailored to suite the specific requirements of the user and range from full “member” status (with the ability to influence the development programme of the facility) to “user” status. 

The RACE facility brings together a broad range of expertise from the UK Atomic Energy Authority and its partners the National Nuclear Laboratory, TWI, the National Physical Laboratory and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. 

More details: http://www.race-ukaea.uk/  

Materials Research Facility

Culham’s Materials Research Facility (MRF) provides academic and industrial users – in both fission and fusion – with equipment for the processing and characterisation of radioactive materials, for on-site analysis or taking back to the researcher’s own lab.

The MRF has hot cells for processing and equipment for characterisation of neutron-irradiated samples. It bridges the gap between the university or industrial laboratory and large facilities at nuclear licensed sites, with affordable, convenient access.

The MRF is part of the UK’s National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF, http://www.nnuf.ac.uk/). Established in 2013 as part of the Government’s Nuclear Industrial Strategy, NNUF is a multi-site initiative funded by EPSRC that gives academia and industry access to internationally-leading equipment for research on radioactive materials. UKAEA’s other NNUF activity is the nuclear instrumentation project ADRIANA (Advanced Digital Radiometric Instrumentation for Applied Nuclear Activities). ADRIANA provides instruments for use by industrial and university researchers at Culham and at partners the Universities of Lancaster and Liverpool.

More information: http://www.ccfe.ac.uk/mrf.aspx 


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