Office of Environmental Management

Robotic Arms, Supercompactor Slice and Squash Challenging Waste

October 15, 2019

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Two pieces of equipment at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) deliver a proverbial one-two punch to help the facility with the disposition of waste more safely and efficiently.

Crews have used three robotic arms to open radioactive waste containers, reduce the size of concrete and other difficult waste forms, and sort and package the waste in 55-gallon drums for compaction in the supercompactor. They have worked with the robotic arms in boxlines, huge concrete and metal hot cells that protect workers from coming into contact with the waste.

At one point in the waste treatment mission, the workers realized they needed a larger robotic arm attachment than the ones they used. 

The "super clam" can crush a drum into the size of a basketball or sheer metal objects into small enough pieces to fit into a 55-gallon silver drum.
The "super clam" can crush a drum into the size of a basketball or sheer metal objects into small enough pieces to fit into a 55-gallon silver drum.

AMWTP engineers partnered with an Idaho Falls, Idaho, firm to fabricate a new arm attachment known as the “super clam.”

The super clam easily reduces the size of waste boxes, drums, concrete, and metal containing transuranic (TRU) constituents. It is so powerful and dexterous that operators can crunch a 55-gallon drum into the size of a basketball, reduce solid concrete slabs into small chunks, and quickly crush waste boxes and metal debris. Operators have become so proficient using the super clam that they can even gently turn the pages of magazines they occasionally find in the waste.

A robotic arm resizes a metal tank in one of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project’s boxlines.
A robotic arm resizes a metal tank in one of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project’s boxlines.
A waste drum awaits the supercompactor's hydraulic ram.
A waste drum awaits the supercompactor's hydraulic ram.
A silver 55-gallon was crushed into a “puck” by the supercompactor.
A silver 55-gallon was crushed into a “puck” by the supercompactor.

Workers use the robotic arms in concert with AMWTP’s supercompactor, which leverages 4 million pounds of force to reduce a standard 55-gallon drum filled with solid TRU waste debris to a five- to seven-inch-thick puck. Its crushing force is so powerful that it has squeezed several ounces of water out of kiln-dried lumber. Drums of debris that meet AMWTP entry requirements, and contain no prohibited items, go directly to the supercompactor via a conveyer line.

The supercompactor has been among the most popular attractions of the 40-plus tours each year at the Idaho Cleanup Project. Visitors often insist on watching several drum compactions before leaving AMWTP.

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