Office of Environmental Management

Idaho Site Could Arm Calcine Retrieval Project With Robotic Snake

October 17, 2017

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The robotic snake arm enters the mockup of a calcined waste storage bin.
The robotic snake arm enters the mockup of a calcined waste storage bin.

 

IDAHO FALLS, IdahoEM’s Idaho Site is considering the use of a new robotic arm to help transfer more than 220 cubic meters of radioactive calcined waste to newer bins, ultimately closing the location where the material has been stored for more than 50 years.  

   The calcine material is a granular byproduct of a process used from 1963 to 2000 to convert radioactive liquid waste from spent nuclear fuel reprocessing to a more stable solid. The material is stored in long stainless steel storage bins within six concrete bin sets at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. 

   EM is working to design a system to retrieve the 220 cubic meters of calcine material from the older bins and transfer it to the newer storage location. Eventually, workers will close the emptied bins under numerous regulatory authorities. The Idaho Site hopes to begin calcine retrieval and transfer by fiscal year 2020 and complete closure of the old bin set by fiscal year 2022.

   Working with subcontractor Diversified Products of Idaho Falls, the Calcine Retrieval Project fabricated a full-scale mockup of a waste storage bin to assess technologies for the transfer of the calcined waste. The project enlisted the help of United Kingdom firm OC Robotics to test the robotic snake arm. Through the use of lasers, the robotic snake arm closely followed the cylindrical shape of the bin and used compressed air to move simulated calcine to a collection point to vacuum it up. 

The robotic snake arm uses compressed air to move simulated high-level waste called calcine during a mockup demonstration.
The robotic snake arm uses compressed air to move simulated high-level waste called calcine during a mockup demonstration.
Fluor Idaho Calcine Retrieval Project Manager Howard Forsythe observes the robotic snake arm during a recent demonstration inside a mockup of a calcine bin.
Fluor Idaho Calcine Retrieval Project Manager Howard Forsythe observes the robotic snake arm during a recent demonstration inside a mockup of a calcine bin.

   Program engineers expect some calcine to remain in the old bins following the transfer. But before the bin set can close under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, workers must vacuum remaining excess material, according to Howard Forsythe, Calcine Retrieval Project manager with EM cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho. That’s where the robotic snake arm comes into play.

   “We’re dealing with tight quarters in the bin set as well as obstacles associated with the original piping,” Forsythe said. “The robotic snake arm was able to maneuver very well inside the vessel and complete its demonstration effectively.

   “Obviously, we’re in the early stages of testing,” he added. “So far, this snake arm has performed well. We may go with this design or another, but it’s good to be making progress on this important cleanup project.”