A Handheld Laser Cutter for Nuclear Decommisioning

By now you’ve probably seen the video of this handheld laser cutter which aims to be used for nuclear decommissioning. The tool looks pretty powerful (and pretty fun to use). But what’s the story behind this amazing piece of cutting technology?

The laser cutter you see in the video was developed by researchers at The Welding Institute (TWI) who were awarded a contract by the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in 2009 to develop a prototype that could be used for concrete scabbling and tube cutting. In essence, TWI needed to develop a tool that could cut pipe and remove contaminated surface layers in decommissioned nuclear power plants in a safe, remote, and efficient manner.

TWI’s case study about the laser’s development states: “Contaminated concrete and pipework present major decommissioning challenges in terms of the huge volumes of material to be treated, the radiation levels present and the number of facilities affected.”

One of the project’s key issues was developing a laser that would be strong enough to cut through pipe, while modest enough for concrete scabbling. “An industrial fibre laser was chosen for several reasons; it had to be suitable for both roles, it needed to be robust and compact, and appropriate in remote applications,” the case study reports. “The laser chosen has an output power of 5kW, adequate to demonstrate both processes.”

As powerful as this tool seems, there are some commercial lasers available in powers up to 30 kW.

The true marvel of this laser tool is its portability, ease of use, and ability to be used for two different processes: tube cutting and removal of contaminated concrete.

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