AIKEN, S.C.EM is employing 3D laser scanning to further ensure safety and accuracy in work at the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS).

The 3D scanning will allow EM’s liquid waste contractors at SRS to use virtual reality tools to bolster the safety of operations, engineering, maintenance, training, and other functions at the new facility.

At the heart of this technology is a state-of-the-art 3D laser scanner used to scan the SWPF processing areas, particularly those restricting human entry following the start of radiological operations initiated in early October.

The scans have been combined in a software program to produce 3D virtual models of those locations, many of which are posted as radiation or contamination areas. The images can be used to plan repairs, upgrades, general maintenance, and other tasks.

Jim Folk, EM’s assistant manager for waste disposition at SRS, said the modeling tool is an example of efforts being made to help workers do the job well and do it safely.

"Performing every job safely at SRS is always our priority," Folk said.

Defense Waste Processing Facility Crane Manager Robbie Robinson uses 3D virtual reality equipment to view images from inside the Salt Waste Processing Facility.
Defense Waste Processing Facility Crane Manager Robbie Robinson uses 3D virtual reality equipment to view images from inside the Salt Waste Processing Facility.

The training staff at liquid waste contractor Savannah River Remediation (SRR) has played a key role in the scanning project.

Wesley Hightower, the training technologies team lead, oversaw a three-month effort to photograph or "map" the target SWPF process areas by strategically repositioning and relocating the scanner to capture a full 360-degree view.

Those scanned images were then combined using specialized software. The team’s efforts led to producing a catalog of 3D views of the facility process areas sealed from human entry — a valuable tool when training new personnel on SWPF's long-term operations and maintenance activities.

Use of virtual reality is part of an overall effort to make training more compelling for workers and promote active learning. The modeling program can also assist planning efforts by engineers tasked with upgrading the facility in the future, as well as provide unusual views of SWPF's inner workings for the public by way of virtual tours.

Keith Harp, SRR's project integration manager for SWPF, said virtual reality will be an invaluable tool for workers.

"Many of the site's engineers and maintenance workers have never seen the inside of SWPF," Harp said. "These images will enable them to acquaint themselves with specific rooms and affected equipment inside the facility, allowing them to analyze the situation, which gives them a step ahead for any repairs or replacements that might be needed. We feel this tool will not only improve their safety in those operations, but also enhance their efficiency."

SWPF is currently operated by Parsons Corporation, which also designed and constructed the facility. Parsons will continue to operate the facility during its first year of operation.

Mike Pittman is the vice president of nuclear operations and SWPF project manager at Parsons, as well as a supporter of the use of technology to strengthen efforts inside the facility.

“Virtual reality is quickly becoming an invaluable technological tool, especially in relation to one-of-a-kind facilities like SWPF,” Pittman said. “Their use gives workers a step up on effectiveness and safety.”