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Decommissioning two-thirds of a century of legacy nuclear waste, to safeguard the environment for future generations, is a problem of enormous societal and international importance. Cleaning up the UK’s 4.9million tonnes of nuclear waste is expected to take over 100 years and cost as much as £220billion (with costs expected to rise). Much of this work must be done by robots, because the materials are too hazardous for human handling.

Dr. Rustam Stolkin, Senior Birmingham Fellow in Robotics, has recently been awarded a Royal Society Industry Fellowship, entitled ‘Advanced robotic manipulation for nuclear decommissioning’. This four year fellowship will fund Rustam to grow his research collaborations with National Nuclear Lab (NNL).

To address this need, Rustam recently established the Extreme Robotics Lab (ERL) at UoB, devoted to robotics for nuclear and other extreme environments. ERL has rapidly grown to include 10 post-doctoral research fellows, numerous PhD students and state-of-the-art equipment. The College of Engineering and Physical Sciences have now committed to building major new laboratory facilities for housing the ERL team, coinciding with the Royal Society Fellowship. Rustam’s team now has major funded collaborations with the nuclear agencies of UK, France and South Korea. He is also pursuing collaborations with USA and Japan to look at problems such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster site.

Current projects led by Rustam include the €6.4million H2020 project RoMaNS (Robotic Manipulation for Nuclear Sort and Segregation), and the major robotics theme of the UK-Korea Civil Nuclear Collaboration, funded by EPSRC. He also leads a major collaboration with industrial robot manufacturer KUKA, based near to the university at Wednesbury, whose robot arms are now increasingly being used by the UK nuclear industry. Rustam is grateful for his long-standing collaboration with Professor Ales Leonardis in these projects and others.