CUMBRIAN company James Fisher Nuclear has won a major contract with electricity supplier EDF-Energy.

The firm - which is part of Barrow-based plc James Fisher and has an operation at Egremont - will produce inspection tools for the energy giant.

These will assess the state of graphite cores across the power company's nuclear reactors. Graphite is used in reactors as a way of slowing down neutrons, which helps to cause a nuclear chain reaction.

James Fisher has not revealed the value of the deal but described it as a "substantial contract".

The equipment provided will be Eddy Current Inspection Tools, developed by James Fisher in collaboration with EDF, outsourcing organisation Serco, Bloodworth Consultancy and Manchester University.

They are designed to assess the condition of graphite within vacated fuel channels using an electromagnetic field. As graphite is electrically conductive currents are induced in the material, which allows inspectors to form conclusions on the state.

Understanding the density variations within each reactor with this quick turnaround provides significant support to the safe operation of the reactor fleet and make conclusions on station lifetimes.

Project lead Sarah Town said: “We originally developed a Proof of principle Eddy Current tool with EDF-Energy which led to the Prototype Eddy Current Inspection Tool. The prototype was only intended for a limited number of deployments but has exceeded expectation and now, several years later, is still providing EDF with valuable inspection information from within the graphite channels of their reactors.”

Moving on from this very successful prototype, the devices have been further developed to be robust and adaptable enough to provide reliable and accurate data in the highly radioactive environment of the reactor cores. The data from each inspection is relayed to operators on the charge face and enables rapid assessment of the condition of the core by the E inspection team.

Production begins at the company's Malton plant in the next few weeks and deployment and is scheduled for next year.