Robotics experts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have developed an autonomous uranium detector that is expected to greatly speed up inspection of the pipes in plants or processing facilities in their decommissioning phases.
The robot is to be deployed at the former uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, and, if that goes well, at a similar plant in Paducah, Kentucky. Reportedly, however, private companies have taken notice of the inspection robots and developers are working on smaller sized versions that would make the robots more versatile.
The robot is designed to inspect pipes from the inside, replacing a tedious task of having a worker take a reading of a pipe in various hard-to-reach locations, then move one foot down the line and take another reading.
The standard practice is time consuming and hazardous. Workers taking the readings must wear protective clothing and often work while lying on their backs on a lift of on scaffolding built to accommodate them.
According to Carnegie Mellon's website, the Department of Energy has estimated that deployment of the robot will save taxpayers “tens of millions” of dollars at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant cleanup project in Ohio alone. Another $50 million could be saved at the Paducah processing facility.
The university is building two robots, named RadPiper(s). The prototype was constructed in coordination with the DOE and Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, the partnership that is the prime decommissioning contractor for the Ohio plant.
The Portsmouth facility began operations in 1954 and was closed down in 2000. The plant includes 10.6 million square feet of internal space, making it the largest DOE facility under one roof in a space that is the equivalent of 158 football fields. The processing building alone has 75 miles of pipes that need to be inspected so that contaminated sections can be properly removed and stored.
The university called inspecting the pipes a “herculean” task.
In its current configuration the RadPiper will be able to operate in pipes of 30 inches and 42 inches in diameter, which are the sizes that could have uranium-235 deposits inside them. However, most of the pipes in the facility will be demolished when the plant it torn down, the university noted.
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