Since my trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone and power plant, the Immobilisation Science Laboratory has forged some great connections which have lead to some interesting projects.
The projects pertaining to the decommission and management of the Chernobyl site are funded under the Global Challenges Research Fund, evidence of the international collaborations needed to deal with the ongoing safety of the site. Projects include the characterisation of Lava like Fuel Contaminated Materials, a new formation of product caused by the melting of the fuel assemblies combined with the structural surroundings and fire fighting additives, which the Sheffield team have been undertaking in making a simulant material. There are also sociological projects to explore these interesting concurrent issues that nuclear communities past and present face alongside the engineering challenges.
In light of all this work, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop between the Sheffield ISL members, sociological researchers, robotics researchers and scientists from the National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine. The workshop aimed to provide an opportunity for the Ukrainian scientists to share the problems and findings at the Chernobyl site and the UK teams to share their research and how it may apply to the site and it’s populations. Rather than the typical conference style of presenting experimental results, this was aimed much more at presenting the aims, expertise and current work of the various research groups represented.
Despite the very broad intention of the talks, communication was a big issue here. The Ukrainian scientists were largely reliant on Russian translators but the technical nature of the talks, even deliberately pitched at an easy level, proved unavoidable and very challenging for our translators! (To see how much of a task this is, I’d recommend the book Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe). However, the topics covered were very interesting and there is quite a range of research that has potential to be utilised at the Chernobyl site and others. Some of the remote robotics designs are amazing: snakes, quadrupeds, lunar lander styles and my favourite, the 2m long, 250kg mechanical spider design!
Saving the most enjoyable bit for last, there is a Ukrainian custom of sorts to propose a toast between each course of a meal. We were treated to some hilarious stories of events that have occurred while the collaborations have been in progress. And of course, the complimentary wine helped!