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Rolls-Royce looks at viability of quantum computing in nuclear safety

Rolls-Royce plans to use quantum computing to figure out how to run nuclear power plants remotely. Through the Quantum Technology Access Programme (QTAP), the manufacturer aims to build small, autonomous nuclear reactors that could operate safely in remote mining colonies and on the Moon and Mars.

During the programme, Rolls-Royce used data from the Fukushima nuclear event to investigate the feasibility of a quantum machine learning model to identify potentially hazardous situations quickly. This would enable the reactor to operate safely and be shut down if necessary, with minimal human involvement.

QTAP provides access to quantum computing and experts from Riverlane and Orca Computing. Its goal is to assist companies in trialling novel use cases to demonstrate the potential for quantum technology to transform critical parts of the UK economy. 

Jonathon Adams, assistant chief engineer at Rolls-Royce, said: “The Novel Nuclear team at Rolls-Royce is very future focused, seeking to develop revolutionary new technologies and explore energy-efficient applications for nuclear power on Earth and in space.

“Quantum technologies, including quantum computing, will be an enabler for this over the next 15 years. It’s important that we develop an understanding of how and when we can adopt this technology. The Digital Catapult Quantum Technology Access Programme has been a timely boost to this effort.”

Rolls-Royce is among a number of organisations that are working with the QTAP programme to identify applications of quantum computing-based optimisation. Other organisations involved in the programme include Arup, Airbus and the Port of Dover. During a demo day organised by Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology, participating companies including DNV Services UK and Bahut tested optimisation applications on the Orca PT-1 quantum computer. 

Another optimisation example demonstrated was one from SeerBI, which used a quantum machine learning model to predict shipments that were at risk of late arrival.

Owain Brennan, CEO of SeerBI, said: “The QTAP programme has proved invaluable for our team so far. We have been able to pick up new skills and interact with technology that, at the start of the programme, we didn’t even know existed. Applying this technology to our problem area of logistics and on-time delivery classification using quantum binary classification opened our eyes to a different way of looking at problems.

“We would like to give out thanks to the digital catapult team for their support and Orca Computing for access to their systems and SDK [software developer kit] throughout the programme.”

According to Digital Catapult, the quantum computer successfully solved industrial problems, demonstrating the potential to solve more complex and sophisticated challenges in the future.

Digital Catapult’s director of innovation practice, Katy Ho, said: “The remarkable success achieved on QTAP underscores the increasing interest in quantum computing within industry. From its inception to the showcase, participating companies have consistently shown commitment to enhancing their understanding of quantum technology.”

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