October 8, 2021

Autonomous Inspection of Geologic Repositories: Current State of the Art and Future Directions


Geological repositories for nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel, present a significant challenge for traditional International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards tools due to their inaccessibility and demanding operational conditions. The IAEA has been working closely with Member State organizations currently involved in repository construction and planning, including Euratom, the Finnish and Swedish regulatory authorities, and relevant facility operators. However, the verification challenge remains unsolved, and there persists an out- standing need for tools and approaches that will help the IAEA verify that no nuclear material is diverted from a repository environment. The challenge is also not static. Activities must encompass verification of the design, prior to and during the construction/operation phase, and post backfill. Throughout these various phases, it is imperative that the IAEA maintains a continuity of knowledge (CoK) of all material including information on material inventory and flow. This paper highlights these challenges and outlines how they might be addressed by using remote or autonomous vehicles. Specifically, we discuss the current state of the art in robotic autonomy for known or partially known environment mapping and patrolling, as well as shared autonomy, where humans collaborate with closed loop autonomation to complete tasks. We explore the feasibility of using rovers for these verification tasks, along with the challenges associated with system implementation. Hardware and software suggestions are provided based on the adoption of similar technologies in other comparable areas and ability to close technical gaps. Lastly, human-robotic interactions are considered based on the challenges of the environment of the repository and effective deployment and continued operation of the robot system.

Published: October 8, 2021


Lee Y., R. Kumar, J.M. Benz, H. McGee-Hilbert, G. Hollinger, and C.J. Palmer. 2020. Autonomous Inspection of Geologic Repositories: Current State of the Art and Future Directions. PNNL-30566. Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.