Decontamination and demolition crews practice using heavy equipment at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site before beginning actual demolition work.
Decontamination and demolition crews practice using heavy equipment at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site before beginning actual demolition work.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – When preparing to use heavy equipment to decontaminate and demolish (D&D) Cold War-era buildings and structures, EM's cleanup contractor at the DOE Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site believes practice makes perfect.

Idaho Environmental Coalition D&D Manager Mike Swartz and his team of operators cordoned off a 2-acre area at the Naval Reactors Facility (NRF) recently to practice with a host of equipment to be used to dismantle support structures, tear out a concrete slab, remove mercury contamination, and complete asbestos abatement. Swartz’s team will practice with all the equipment — from small skid steers to large universal processors to front-end loaders to huge excavators.

“We have all new equipment and a fairly new project team,” he said. “We’re giving them seat time to get familiar with the equipment.”

Operators are moving soil around a 2-acre area south of NRF dubbed “the play pen,” but later they will use shears to size-reduce large metal objects as practice for pulling sheet metal off buildings and cutting larger metal objects like girders.

“It’s a safe environment to practice, and no repercussions in the event they drop something,” Swartz said in jest.

Swartz said his operators have completed all computer-based training and certifications, but nothing compares to hands-on experience. To help with the realism, his team will also practice inside buildings on mock-ups to gain experience on asbestos removal techniques.

“We’re trying to refine their skills,” he said. “They are quickly gaining proficiency.”

While there are new operators with the project who are in the early stages of their careers, Swartz said seasoned D&D operators have also stepped in to give constructive advice and provide mentoring. That advice plus equipment practice time has been well received.

“The feedback I’ve received is they really appreciate the time we are investing in them to practice,” Swartz said.

The team will work with remotely operated equipment, including a remote excavator arm with unique attachments.

Teams are finalizing demolition preparations and conducting radiological and soil sampling. Demolition would be conducted under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act removal action process and agreements with the State of Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An engineering evaluation and cost analysis are being prepared to analyze options for the end state of the Submarine 1st Generation Westinghouse (S1W) building and ultimately the S1W reactor vessel.

The S1W prototype was constructed in support of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS NAUTILUS. This land-based reactor was built inside a prototypic section of a submarine hull at the NRF on the Arco Desert west of Idaho Falls.

Once drafted, the evaluation and analysis will be issued for a 30-day public comment period prior to the selection of the final end state for the S1W building and reactor vessel.