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Participants in the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) demonstration gather behind PipeDream.
Participants in the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) demonstration gather behind PipeDream.

PIKETON, Ohio – An EM-led collaborative project is exploring using a robot to drive through several hundred miles of pipes at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant to help identify uranium remaining from enrichment operations.   

   The project is helping EM evaluate the robot, named PipeDream, for possible deployment to help deactivate and prepare two massive process buildings for demolition.

   “The program is a model for shared purpose, knowledge, collaboration, and great chemistry among the many people who made PipeDream a pipe reality,” said Rod Rimando, director of EM’s Office of Technology Development. “As a remote system, PipeDream offers a significant reduction in potential hazards to workers, which is the essence of EM’s Science of Safety.”

   The Science of Safety Initiative aims to deploy enhanced technologies throughout the DOE complex, including supporting worker safety in high-hazard operations.

   Joining EM headquarters in the PipeDream collaboration are the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO), contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth (FBP), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), University of Nevada-Reno, and Savannah River, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories.

At right, Larry Papincak, a Carnegie Mellon University master's student in mechanical engineering, explains how PipeDream works to demonstration participants.
At right, Larry Papincak, a Carnegie Mellon University master's student in mechanical engineering, explains how PipeDream works to demonstration participants.

   The Portsmouth Deactivation & Decommissioning (D&D) project is characterizing the plant’s pipes as part of deactivation work prior to demolishing the buildings. Workers inspect each foot of piping to determine whether it contains uranium levels above pre-determined conservative limits. The vast majority of the plant’s piping falls below those limits and can be safely left in the buildings for demolition. Segments with potential deposits above those limits are removed, cut and cleaned of the deposits before disposal. 

   Traditional nondestructive assay (NDA) methods — which measure the quantities of uranium deposits — have been used to characterize each segment of pipe. PipeDream could potentially serve as an alternative or complement to external NDA measurements, which are manual, time-consuming, and costly.

   The robot would spiral sensors to accurately model the volume of uranium deposits on pipe walls. It combines optical triangulation, which measures the top of the deposit, and inductive sensors, which assess the pipe’s metal surface. The robot can determine permissible thicknesses of deposits as thin as 0.4 millimeters.

PipeDream measures the volume of surrogate deposits while spiraling sensors through a test pipe. Its headlights alternate white and ultraviolet to acquire the visual and fluorescent appearance of the surrogate deposits.
PipeDream measures the volume of surrogate deposits while spiraling sensors through a test pipe. Its headlights alternate white and ultraviolet to acquire the visual and fluorescent appearance of the surrogate deposits.

   CMU hosted PipeDream at its Pittsburgh campus for testing in a pipe mockup last month. The robot repeatedly traversed the test pipe to quantify the location, dimensions and constituencies of surrogate deposits. The surrogates included volumetric, visual, radiation and fluorescent simulants of the deposits. Representatives from EM headquarters, the Portsmouth Site, FBP, and Savannah River, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories reviewed the testing. CMU designed and built PipeDream. PPPO and FBP provide program management and implementation, and EM headquarters is the sponsor.  

   Portsmouth Site Lead Joel Bradburne said the site worked with EM headquarters on innovative robotic technologies for the Portsmouth D&D project through a Science of Safety initiative in May 2016. They held a workshop to demonstrate different systems later that year.

   “It’s encouraging that we are now ready to demonstrate a specific application with great potential benefits to the project as an outgrowth of those original workshops,” Bradburne said. “This has been an excellent collaboration and we have been very impressed with the technical capabilities and ‘can-do’ mindset of the CMU team.”

   The next PipeDream demonstration is scheduled for September at the Portsmouth plant using the actual pipes.