IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – EM is testing a commercial inspection drone to map piping and other obstructions as it prepares to position equipment to retrieve granulated high-level radioactive waste called calcine from storage bins enclosed in a concrete vault at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site.
EM’s calcine retrieval project has been developing remotely operated equipment, cameras and retrieval technology in recent years to remove 220 cubic meters of dried calcine from one bin set to another. The emptied bin set would then be closed under federal regulations.
Testing of equipment continues on a full-sized replica of that first bin set to be emptied using simulated calcine material. Some piping and other internal obstacles were added to the mock-up to replicate the actual bin as closely as possible.
Calcine is a dried byproduct of the legacy spent nuclear fuel reprocessing mission at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC). In an agreement with the state of Idaho, EM is required to retrieve, treat, repackage and prepare 4,400 cubic meters of calcine to ship for out-of-state disposal by 2035. The material is in storage in six separate bin sets inside concrete vaults at an INTEC facility.
Two years ago, the project used light detection and ranging technology to create a 3D map of obstructions above the storage bins contained within the vault with limited results. Since that technology was limited to a single location during data collection, several “shadow areas,” or blind spots, exist in the 3D map.
Last fall, the calcine retrieval project hired drone manufacturer Flyability, Inc. to test the drone used to inspect confined spaces on the bin set mock-up to map obstructions surrounding the bin set more effectively. The drone is unique because it is currently the only confined space inspection drone equipped with the light detection and ranging technology and contained by a lightweight carbon fiber cage allowing it to safely bounce off obstructions and remain flying.
Earlier this month, Kevin Young, an engineer with the calcine retrieval project, partnered with physicists at the Idaho Accelerator Center Imaging Laboratory (IACIL) at Idaho State University to subject the drone to high levels of radiation to determine how the drone operates under those conditions. It was irradiated while under tethered flight and operated successfully at a dose rate of 10,000 roentgen per hour with an accumulated dose of 4,000 roentgen. A dose rate of 2,000 roentgen per hour is the worst-case estimated field strength the drone is expected to encounter while flying near the surface of the calcine storage bins. Roentgen is a unit of radiation.
The IACIL went online in the 1980s to perform nuclear-based applied research. It was chosen to conduct testing on the calcine retrieval components because it is more cost effective and safer than recovering a portion of actual calcine and conducting testing in a hot cell, which is a radiation containment chamber.
The EM team intends to continue working with the drone manufacturer to enhance the drone’s capabilities and accuracy of 3D-map data collected by the drone.
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