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Sort and segregate nuclear waste: Phase 1 (SBRI competition)


Organisations can apply for a share of £3.9million, including VAT, to develop an autonomous, integrated toolkit to sort and segregate nuclear waste.

This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The aim of the competition is to develop an autonomous and integrated toolkit to sort and segregate radioactive waste generated by nuclear decommissioning activities. This will reduce the level of waste requiring disposal, increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve safety.

This is phase 1 of a two-phase competition. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1 and the assessment of a separate application into a subsequent phase 2 competition.

Phase 1: research and development contracts, feasibility study (this competition)

Up to £600,000, including VAT, is available for phase 1 and it is anticipated that the feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £60,000, including VAT. This is for each project for up to 3 months. Innovate UK expect to fund up to 10 projects. At the conclusion of phase 1 you will produce a technical feasibility study.

Phase 2: research and development contracts, prototype development and testing

Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2. Your end-of-phase 1 report (technical feasibility study) will form part of your application into phase 2.

The second phase will involve up to four R&D contracts. Up to £900,000, including VAT, will be allocated for each contract for up to 15 months, in order to develop and demonstrate a full scale prototype in a non-radioactive environment.

At the conclusion of the competition, Innovate UK will ask all phase 2 projects to demonstrate their solutions at their own premises to an invited audience and participate in a showcase event to present their solutions to potential end users and customers.

The contract is completed at the end of phase 2, and the successful business is expected to pursue commercialisation of their solution.

In phase 1, projects can range in size up to a total cost of £60,000, including VAT. In phase 2, projects can range in size up to a total of £900,000, including VAT. This competition is for phase 1 only.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to develop an autonomous, integrated toolkit which sorts and segregates radioactive waste generated by nuclear decommissioning activities into compliant, optimised packages.

Your project must:

  • Reduce waste by prioritising its recycling over its disposal
  • Reduce the number of waste sorting and segregation processes carried out by humans
  • Increase the productivity of the processes
  • Be scalable and transferable

Innovate UK will fund innovative projects that combine existing technologies into a single integrated system.

Your application must address all the following:

  • Detect the type and intensity of the radioactivity present using existing technology or off-the-shelf equipment
  • Determine the composition, size, shape, and surface area of the material
  • Sort and segregate the waste by radioactive classification and material type
  • Remotely move the waste from a specific area, process it and then pack it into the appropriate container (for example, skips, drums, boxes or bags) ensuring the space used is optimised
  • Collect and analyse data and images, and retain accurate records

More information on the specification, background of the challenge, and examples of tasks and end-user working environments are in the NDA sort and segregate waste specification document

Innovate UK are keen to encourage technology transfer from other industrial sectors that carry out multiple complex automated tasks, rapidly and safely. This might include, for example, food processing, logistics, waste management, high value manufacturing or medical.

Solutions might include the integration of a range of existing technologies such as, but not limited to:

  • Artificial intelligence and virtual reality
  • Advanced software
  • Route planning and tracking
  • Sensors and detectors
  • Image recognition
  • Materials characterisation
  • Robotics, control, and automation

Innovate UK expect the system you develop to be able to identify and segregate a wide range of different types of waste, including but not limited to:

  • Steel offcuts (stainless, mild, galvanised, painted, pipework and solid pieces)
  • Aluminium
  • Rubble
  • Graphite
  • Soil
  • Plastic hoses
  • Asbestos
  • Man-made mineral fibres
  • Rubber (for example: wellington boots or tyres)
  • Plastics (for example: bottles or gloves)
  • Aerosols
  • Batteries
  • Cables

In phase 1 you must produce a technical feasibility study. This should include a technical specification, detailed methodology and plan for a technical solution to be demonstrated in phase 2.

Innovate UK will ask successful applicants from phase 1 to develop their ideas in phase 2. In phase 2 you will manufacture a full-scale prototype demonstrator and carry out a representative demonstration of your integrated technology solution at your own facilities in a non-radioactive environment. For the purpose of the demonstration, Innovate UK expect that you will have to simulate the presence of radioactivity.

This competition is for phase 1 only, but you must define your goals and outline your plan for phase 2. This will form part of your commercial implementation plan in your phase 1 proposal.

Research categories

In phase 1 (this competition) you must produce a technical feasibility study for an innovative and integrated solution to the problem.

In phase 2 the outcome of your project will be a full-scale prototype and demonstration of the solution. Only applicants successful in phase 1 will be invited to apply to phase 2.

Phase 1: technical feasibility studies

This means planned research or critical investigation to gain new knowledge and skills for developing new products, processes, or services.

Phase 2: prototype development and evaluation

This can include prototyping, demonstrating, piloting, testing and validation of new or improved products, processes, or services in environments representative of real-life operating conditions. The primary objective is to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set.

Projects in phase 1 must start by 1 March 2021 and can last up to three months.

Innovate UK expect projects to range in size with total costs of up to £60,000, including VAT.

To lead a project, you can:

  • Be an organisation of any size
  • Work alone or with others as subcontractors

Contracts will be awarded to a single legal entity only.

Due to the wide range of technologies required to provide a solution to this challenge, you are allowed to work with others as subcontractors where their special expertise is needed.

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition provided the work is procured through an open and transparent public tender. Any subcontracted work will be the responsibility of the main contractor (applicant) and you will be expected to justify subcontracting components of the work.

There is no limit on the number of applications you can make as the lead applicant. The applications you submit must be materially different. There is no limit on the number of applications an organisation can be named in as a subcontractor. If you are successful in more than one application you must be able to resource and successfully complete all contracts.

A total of up to £600,000, including VAT, is allocated to phase 1.

Innovate UK anticipate the phase 1 feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £60,000, including VAT, for each project for up to three months. Innovate UK expect to fund up to 10 projects.

The total funding available for the competition can change. The funders have the right to:

  • Adjust the provisional funding allocations between the phases
  • Apply a ‘portfolio’ approach

To simplify payment processing and make it easier for your project to adapt around the current constraints of COVID 19, in phase 1 two payments will be made against milestones.

The first payment of 25% of the funding awarded will be dependent on the successful completion of the project kick off meeting and approval of the project plan.

The remaining 75% second payment will be awarded after the submission of the project end-of-phase report, which is your technical feasibility study.

Research and development

Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to R&D services, including solution exploration and design. R&D can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. This lets you incorporate the results of your exploration and design and demonstrate that you can produce in quantity to acceptable quality standards.

R&D does not include:

  • Commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • Supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs already incurred
  • Incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

State aid

SBRI competitions involve procurement of R&D services at a fair market value and are not subject to state aid criteria that typically apply to grant funding.

Innovate UK will not fund projects that cover:

  • Development of new robots
  • Development of new radiation sensors
  • Additional size reduction or cutting of items
  • Development of new technologies where solutions already exist and can be used
  • Projects that do not fully meet the scope of the competition
  • Projects that cannot complete a full-scale demonstration in a non-radioactive environment in phase 2 by January 2023

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.