Funding competition Sort and segregate nuclear waste: phase 1 (SBRI competition)

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

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


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 2-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. We 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 4 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 we 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.

This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline.

Funding type


Project size

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.

Who can apply

Your project

Projects in phase 1 must start by 1 March 2021 and can last up to 3 months.

We 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. Any subcontracted work will be the responsibility of the main contractor (applicant) and you will be expected to justify subcontracting components of the work.

Multiple applications

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.

Previous applications


You can use a resubmission to apply for this competition.

A resubmission is a proposal Innovate UK judges as not materially different from one you've submitted before. It can be updated based on the assessors' feedback.

If you submit a new proposal this time you will be able to use it in no more than one future competition that allows resubmissions.

Failure to exploit

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole organisation and were awarded funding by Innovate UK or UK Research and Innovation, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members, and communicate it to you in writing

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you must submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


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

We anticipate the phase 1 feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £60,000, including VAT, for each project for up to 3 months. We 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 we will make 2 payments 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.

Your proposal

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

We 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

We 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

We 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.

We 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, we 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 we will not fund

We 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
17 August 2020
Competition opens
25 August 2020
Online briefing event
11 November 2020 11:00am
Competition closes
13 January 2021 5:06pm
Applicants notified
15 January 2021
26 February 2021
Phase 1 contracts awarded

Before you start

By submitting an application, you agree to the terms of the draft contract which is available once you start your application. The final contract will include any details you have agreed with the funding authority and will be sent to you if your application is successful. The terms and conditions included in the draft contract should not change substantially.

When you start an application, you will be prompted to create an account as the lead applicant or sign in as a representative of your organisation. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

As the lead applicant you will be responsible for:

  • collecting the information (including from any subcontractors) for your application
  • representing your organisation in leading the project if your application is successful

You will be able to invite colleagues from your organisation to contribute to the application.

What happens next

A selected panel of up to 5 independent assessors will review and score your application and the winners of phase 1 contracts will be selected. All applicants will be provided with feedback.

For phase 2 the assessors will also take into account your end-of-phase 1 report (technical feasibility study). They might ask a number of phase 1 finalists to attend an interview, which would be between 25 August and 7 September 2021. Soon after that you will be awarded a phase 2 contract. All phase 2 applicants will be provided with feedback.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

1. Project details

These sections are not scored.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and duration for phase 1.

Project summary

Please provide a short summary of your project and describe how it fully meets the scope of the competition.

Describe your project briefly. Be clear about what makes it innovative and how it relates to the scope of the competition.

Give details of the lead organisation. Before you submit, we expect you to have discussed your application within your own organisation and any other relevant organisations.

List any organisations you have named as subcontractors.

Your answer for this section can be up to 400 words long.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We collect and report on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data to address under-representation in business innovation and ensure equality, diversity and inclusion across all our activities.

You must complete this EDI survey (opens in a new window) and type ‘EDI survey completed’ within your answer. The survey will ask you questions on your gender, age, ethnicity and disability status. You will always have the option to ‘prefer not to say’ if you do not feel comfortable sharing this information.

Public description

Please provide a brief description of your project. If your application is successful, we will publish this description. This question is mandatory, but we will not assess this content as part of your application.

Describe your project in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project. We have the right to amend the description before publication if necessary but will consult you about any changes.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.


Describe how your proposal fully meets the scope of the competition. How does it tackle different aspects of the challenge and how will it provide an integrated solution? Include a description of what you will deliver at the end of phase 1 and your concept for phase 2.

This section is not scored, but we will use it to decide whether the project fits the scope of the competition. If it does not, it may be rejected.

Your answer for this section can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score all your answers.

The questions are weighted and the total score that can be awarded is 100. Each question has a different word limit for the answer.

You can only include appendices where indicated. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.

Question 1. Approach and innovation (worth 30% of the total marks)

You must provide a structured summary of your idea, its innovation and the technical approach you will take to deliver the entire solution

You must describe or explain:

  • your idea, its innovation and how it will provide a step change on the current state-of-the-art
  • the current status of development or readiness of your idea
  • a detailed description of the technical approach you will take to deliver the full solution from feasibility to demonstration
  • a list of the main technical deliverables for phase 1 and an outline of your key deliverables for phase 2
  • any elements of technology transfer
  • the key elements and methods of system integration
  • how your solution is scalable and transferable

Your answer can be up to 800 words long.

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF containing text, images, and diagrams to support your answer. It can be no larger than 10MB and up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

This question will be marked against the criterion “Does the project have an innovative approach, sound technical basis and a structure that is likely to deliver a solution?”

Question 2: Team and expertise (worth 20% of the total marks)

You must demonstrate that the team has the right skills, experience, and capacity to successfully deliver the entire project.

You must describe or explain:

  • who are the individuals in the team, including subcontractors, and what are their roles, skills, and relevant experience in relation to the approach to be taken
  • how much time will be allocated to key individuals in phase 1
  • why the team is best placed to carry out and deliver the project
  • any existing relationships between the project team and how these might benefit the project and/or what new relationships are being developed
  • the teams experience in developing and delivering innovative products
  • the relevant expertise in the team of taking research through to demonstration and commercialisation

Your answer can be up to 800 words long.

This question will be marked against the criterion “Does the team have the skills, expertise and resources to deliver the full solution?”

Question 3. Planning, management, and risks (scored) (worth 20% of total score)

You must provide a plan that identifies the main areas of work within the project for both phases 1 and 2. The plan for phase 1 must be comprehensive. For phase 2 an outline is required. The emphasis throughout should be on practicality and deliverability.

You must describe or explain:

  • the key milestones and success factors for phase 1 and outlining them for phase 2
  • your approach to project management, including identifying any key tools and mechanisms that will be used for successful project delivery and management reporting lines

  • the resources (including materials, equipment, and facilities) that are needed to deliver the full solution, and how you will make the resources available and accessible
  • where the inactive demonstrator is likely to be sited in phase 2
  • the key technical, project management and environmental risks and uncertainties of the project and how they will be mitigated
  • how you will maintain freedom to operate and fulfil the intellectual property (IP) requirements in the contract
  • how you will handle any IP issues that arise during the project, particularly with respect to any subcontractors

Your answer can be up to 800 words long.

You must upload a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 10MB and up to 2 A4 pages long including key deliverables, milestones, resources required and dates. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

This question will be marked against the criterion “Is a detailed project plan with clear management, milestones and success factors in place to provide assurance that the full project can be delivered?”

Question 4. Route to market and commercialisation (worth 15% of the total marks)

You must describe how you will realise the commercial potential of your proposal and within what timescales and how you intend to benefit from it as a result of this project.

You must describe or explain:

  • the size of the market you will target
  • the main challenges of entering the market
  • your current position in this market and its supply chain
  • the competitive advantage that your proposal has over existing or alternative technologies that meet market needs.
  • your route to market and how you will be establishing or extending your market position
  • identification of other potential markets for the technology and your strategy for exploiting them.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

This question will be marked against the criterion “Does the project understand the market and have a clear route to commercialisation?”

Question 5. Costs and value for money (worth 15% of the total marks)

You must demonstrate clear value for money and note that the costs quoted must reflect actual costs at a ‘fair market value’ and must not include profit. All costs must include VAT.

You must describe or explain:

  • the total eligible project costs, including VAT, you are requesting in terms of the project goals for phase 1
  • the justification of costs for phase 1
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • the justification for the use of subcontractors, explaining how these will be used and the costs of each
  • any additional funding or services being brought to the project, either from the team or third parties that may increase value for money
  • indicative costs for phase 2 with a brief justification

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

You must download and complete the milestone template attached with associated costs and success factors. This will be used to help assess value for money. Once you have completed it you must upload it as an appendix to this question. It must be in a PDF format and up to 10 MB in size. The font be legible at 100% zoom.

This question will be marked against the criterion “Does the project represent good value for money and are the budget and costs realistic and justified?”

Full economic cost (FEC) calculations are not relevant for SBRI competitions. SBRI is a competitive process and applications will come from a variety of organisations. Whatever calculation you use to arrive at your total eligible project costs your application will be assessed against applications from other organisations. Bear this in mind when calculating your total eligible project costs. You can include overheads but remember that this is a competitive process.

All costs must include VAT. VAT is the responsibility of the invoicing business, and applications must list total costs inclusive of VAT. If you are VAT exempt or non-registered, then you can quote without VAT but you will not be able to increase invoice values to cover VAT later on.

Please note information from the finances section will be used to support the assessment of this question.

3. Finances

Enter your project costs for phase 1 only, organisation details and funding details. For full information on what costs you can claim, see our project costs guidance.

All costs quoted must reflect actual costs at a fair market value and must not include profit. The total value of your application that is calculated in this section must be the same as the value you have quoted for phase 1 in question 5 and must not exceed £60,000 including VAT.

Please note, in the finance section you will be asked if you are VAT registered. If you are a VAT registered organisation, the Innovation Funding Service will automatically calculate the VAT for you.

Background and further information

This competition’s objectives align with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) aspirations to reduce human decommissioning activities by 50% and to reshape and optimise the way nuclear waste is dealt with by 2030. These goals are set out in the NDA Grand Challenges for Technical Innovation.

About the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is a non-departmental public body created through the Energy Act 2004. We aim to deliver safe, sustainable and publicly acceptable solutions to the challenge of nuclear clean-up and waste management.

Briefing event

There will be a briefing event held online. The date is listed in the dates section of this brief. The event will be recorded, and we will post a link to the recording in the dates section.

Sellafield Ltd and Magnox Ltd

Sellafield Ltd and Magnox Ltd, who are part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authorities estate, have provided input into the scope of this competition. They will not be able to act as a lead contractor or subcontractor in the competition, nor will they be able to give any direct support to individual organisations during the application stage. If you have any questions relating to the scope or their engagement in the competition, please contact the Innovate UK support desk at

Data sharing

This competition is jointly operated by Innovate UK and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (each an “agency”).

Any relevant information produced during the application process concerning your application can be shared by one agency with the other, for its individual storage, processing, and use.

This means that any information given to or generated by Innovate UK in respect of your application may be passed on to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and vice versa.

Innovate UK and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority are directly responsible to you for their holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with their own policies. Accordingly, Innovate UK, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will be data controllers for personal data submitted during the application.

Innovate UK complies with the requirements of GDPR, and is committed to upholding the data protection principles, and protecting your information. The Information Commissioner’s Office also has a useful guide for organisations, which outlines the data protection principles.

About Small Business Research Initiative competitions

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness.

The SBRI programme:

  • supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services through the public procurement of R&D
  • generates new business opportunities for companies
  • provides a route to market for their ideas
  • bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies

SBRI competitions are open to all organisations that can demonstrate a route to market for their solution. The SBRI scheme is particularly suited to small and medium-sized businesses, as the contracts are of relatively small value and operate on short timescales. Developments are 100% funded and focused on specific identified needs, increasing the chance of exploitation.

Suppliers for each project will be selected by an open competition process and retain the intellectual property generated from the project, with certain rights of use retained by the contracting authority. This is an excellent opportunity to establish an early customer for a new technology and to fund its development.

Further help and information

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you have any questions about the requirements of this competition or if you need more information, email us at or call our customer support services on 0300 321 4357. Our phone lines are open from 9am to 11:30am and 2pm to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

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