PIKETON, Ohio – EM and contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth are partnering with United Steelworkers (USW) to make a physically demanding and potentially hazardous job safer and more efficient using remotely operated cutting equipment and a virtual reality interface.
The virtual reality system allows job planners and workers to test out the cutting process before placing workers in a radiologically controlled work zone at EM’s Portsmouth Site in Piketon.
The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant Deactivation and Decommissioning (D&D) Project plans to cut open 33-ton steel components to remove internal material. More than 1,700 components known as converters must be removed between two of the three major process buildings called the X-333 and X-330.
Workers will remove materials that may have value in the future. They will size-reduce massive pieces of process gas equipment before sending them to the Onsite Waste Disposal Facility (OSWDF). Size-reducing saves valuable space in the OSWDF.
“It’s been gratifying to see the integration of high-tech methodology with traditional labor intensive activities to create a safer work environment,” Site Lead Joel Bradburne of EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office said. “Size reduction of the process gas equipment will be cost effective to the project and provide efficiencies for OSWDF operations.”
USW workers from a variety of job backgrounds are being trained to use new equipment made available through EM under its Science of Safety initiative. The program’s premise is that the best way to keep workers safe is to remove them from potential hazards. Workers will learn to use work platforms with multiple tools, including a cutting device to process a component in 24 hours.
“There is a lot of really useful technology across DOE, as well as prominent universities and agencies like NASA that we studied and tested,” Fluor-BWXT Project Director Dennis Carr said.
“We focused on existing technologies that weren’t flashy but could be applied to the physical hazards facing our workers in a large industrial setting,” Carr said. “This entire program has strong support from USW leadership like Herman Potter and his safety leads. They were key in bringing this technology to the Portsmouth Site.”
Workers cleared an area the size of two football fields in the X-333 building to build a material sizing area with multiple work stations, special ventilation systems, and hazard controls. While the workers will use remotely operated equipment, they will still be alongside the operations, thus anti-contamination equipment and respirators will be required.
Fluor-BWXT anticipates having workers fully trained and ready to begin converter segmentation in the X-333 building by January 2018.