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Ingenious Robot Aids Hanford Cleanup
In south-central Washington, engineers are experimenting with ways to clean out the poisonous, radioactive brew in Hanford's underground storage tanks. One million gallons leaked before the clean up started and are seeping toward the Columbia River. The dregs in those waste tanks also present a test. They're sticky and gooey like peanut butter, or in some cases, hard like crusty fudge. Correspondent Tom Banse reports from Richland that the newest clean up helper is an ingenious robot.LISTEN
TO THIS STORY
HOW'S THIS FOR AN ENGINEERING CHALLENGE? FIGURE OUT HOW TO SCRAPE OUT THE NASTY GUNK AT THE BOTTOM OF WASTE STORAGE TANKS AT THE HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE. THIS IS NO JOB FOR A SHOVEL AND MOP BRIGADE SAYS HANFORD GROUP VICE PRESIDENT JOEL EAKER OF THE ENGINEERING FIRM CH2M HILL.
Eaker: "It's a mixture of chemicals from fifty years of production of the Cold War nuclear materials."
EVEN FOR A MACHINE, THESE ARE AMONG THE MOST HOSTILE CONDITIONS YOU COULD IMAGINE.
Eaker: "You know if you went into space, then you'd have some other issues. But on the earth, on the planet, yes, we have a pretty good brew."
WHATEVER CLEAN UP TOOL YOU PICK CAN'T BREAK DOWN BECAUSE YOU CAN'T SEND IN A HUMAN TO GO FIX IT. ADDITIONALLY, THE CHOSEN DEVICE MUST HAVE THE FLEXIBILITY OF A CONTORTIONIST.
Eaker: "Like a bottle analogy, you've got to go through a very small opening and then have it impact a large bottom area of 75 feet in diameter."
JOEL EAKER DESCRIBES THE CHALLENGE WHILE STANDING IN A FULL SIZE MOCK UP OF A HANFORD WASTE STORAGE TANK. NEXT TO HIM, SITTING SQUAT ON THE FLOOR IS A PROMISING ANSWER TO THE ENGINEERING CHALLENGE.
Sound: [crawler tracks running]
THIS IS THE REMOTE CONTROLLED WASTE TANK CRAWLER... A MINIATURE BULLDOZER WITH FOLDING BLADE, SPRAY NOZZLE, AND TANK TREADS THAT RETRACT. UNFOLDED, THE ROBOTIC CRAWLER CAN PUSH OR SQUIRT LETHAL CRUD TOWARD THE TALL STRAW OF A VACUUM HOSE, ALSO BEING TESTED RIGHT NOW.
Sound: [vacuum slurps test mud]
THE ROBOT WAS ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED FOR USE AT OIL REFINERIES AND MINES. TANK CLEANUP PROGRAM DIRECTOR ANDY STEVENS SAYS THE GOVERNMENT IS SAVING A LOT OF MONEY USING OFF THE SHELF TECHNOLOGY. STEVENS EXPECTS THE CRAWLER TO BE A BIG HELP GETTING LETHAL TANK CRUD PUMPED OUT SO THAT IT CAN BE MIXED INTO GLASS OR CONCRETE BLOCKS FOR STABLE LONG TERM STORAGE -- EITHER AT HANFORD OR UNDER A MOUNTAIN IN NEVADA.
Stevens: "We anticipate that some of the tanks will be very difficult to take the 99-plus percent of the waste out, because some of that waste will be pretty hard. It won't easily move around. Thus, the purpose of this crawler is to move that difficult waste."
NINETY-NINE PERCENT WON'T BE GOOD ENOUGH FOR SOME. AT PUBLIC HEARINGS THIS WEEK, REPRESENTATIVES FROM HANFORD WATCHDOG GROUPS INCLUDING TOM CARPENTER OF SEATTLE CALLED FOR EVERY LAST DROP OF LIQUID, GOOEY SLUDGE, AND BAKED ON CRUD TO BE TAKEN AWAY.
Carpenter: "You know that Hanford argues that this is an expensive process and it's made more expensive when you try to go for that last one percent. I guess I would argue that you have a duty to protect the health and safety of future generations of the Northwest. That means, you get all of this waste out."
THE ENERGY DEPARTMENT IS TESTING OTHER TECHNOLOGY TO GET THE LEFTOVERS INCLUDING A COMBINATION OF WATER JETS WITH VACUUM SYSTEM THAT MAKES A MINI TORNADO. THE AGENCY HAS EMBARKED ON ACCELERATED CLEAN UP SCHEDULE THAT CALLS FOR AS MANY AS 40 UNDERGROUND TANKS TO BE EMPTIED AND CLOSED BY 2006. I'M TOM BANSE IN RICHLAND, WASHINGTON.
** Department of Energy - Hanford
A service of the University of Washington | Copyright© 2003 KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio
February 3, 2003
article on the Reach Website
Tank cleanup crawler
put to the test
Geoff Tyree, CH2M HILL
tank crawler dives into a tank of simulated waste at Hanford's Cold Test
Facility. The crawler will help the tank-farm contractor remove sludge
from the single-shell tanks.
The Department of Energy Office of River Protection
and CH2M HILL Hanford Group are taking a clue from the petroleum industry
in the effort to clean up an estimated 53 million gallons of radioactive
and hazardous waste stored in
Hartford’s 177 large underground tanks.
Demonstrations of a new remote-controlled cleanup machine are under way in
a simulated waste tank at the Cold Test Facility. Called the tank crawler
the machine is a sturdy and agile1,300-pound system that looks like a
small bulldozer with treads and a folding blade. With the push of a button
hydraulics fold the crawler to lust 27 inches wide, narrow enough to enter
waste tank through a riser. Once inside the tank, the crawler will push
the thick sludge to a central pump that will transfer the contents out of
The crawler is an adaptation of commercially
available technology used extensively in the petroleum and mining
industries. A Welsh company, Non Entry Systems, Ltd., which has been
making similar machines for the petroleum industry since the mid 1980s,
manufactured the crawler. The petroleum industry uses the machines to
remove sludge from product tanks. Non Entry Systems’ first machine was one that
an operator can ride and maneuver inside the tank. It continues to make
this model, but it also makes models like the
version that can be operated remotely from a control panel.
The relatively inexpensive adaptation for use in the
waste tanks focused primarily on the construction materials and specific
features for application in a radioactive environment. Unlike the models
used in the petroleum industry, the Hanford
crawler parts are mostly stainless steel, which makes it easier to
ORP and CH2M HILL are conducting crawler demonstrations using simulated
sludge waste in the large, to-scale simulated waste tank at
’s Cold Test Facility. The first series of tests is being conducted with
simulants, which are similar in particle size and viscosity to radioactive
and hazardous sludge waste stored in several
tanks. Preliminary tests on each subsystem have been successfully
completed, and integrated system testing is under way.
“We are working toward accelerating the retrieval
of waste from
Hanford’s older tanks with innovations such as the tank crawler,” said Jim
Thompson, manager of ORP’s Single-Shell Tank Project. “We will put the
crawler through the paces and evaluate its potential for real tank cleanup
Working with ORP, CH2M HILL is developing methods for
removing solid waste from
Hanford’s 149 single-shell tanks. Most of the liquid waste has been moved from
these older tanks to 28 newer, safer double-shell tanks.
Methods are being developed to remove the remaining solid waste - more
than 31 million gallons by volume — from the single-shell tanks. That
waste consists of sludge that looks like fine mud and dries very hard, and
saltcake which is somewhat like wet beach sand but can dry to an almost
The challenge is to mobilize the sludge and saltcake
with enough liquid to move it through pipes to newer tanks, while using as
little liquid as possible to reduce the possibility of a tank leak.
That’s where the tank crawler comes in.
The crawler must be small enough to fit through a
relatively narrow opening on top of the tank, agile enough to maneuver
over an uneven waste surface and around obstacles in the tank, and durable
enough to withstand the highly radioactive environment and a rigorous
decontamination process. Remotely operated, the crawler will be lowered
into a tank, where it will push the sludge toward a specially designed
vacuum pump. An operator will sit at a bank of monitors in a mobile
facility outside the tank farm and use multiple camera views to maneuver
the machine. A pump-and spray mechanism on the crawler will help move the
waste to the central pump.
The central pump vacuums up the thick waste, which is
expected to contain 30 percent to 80 percent solids, and moves it
approximately 50 feet to a holding tank on the surface. During testing,
the central pump has been removing about 25 gallons of simulated waste –
kaolin clay – per minute.
As the crawler is removed from a tank, it goes through a vigorous
decontamination process. First it is hit with a low-pressure spray, then a
high-pressure spray to loosen and wash
off most of the material. Finally, the crawler enters an ultrasonic
decontamination chamber with several banks of ultrasonic generators that
create strong vibrations, and a final wash removes the smaller particles
“The crawler is designed to be sturdy enough to handle the challenging
environment of a real
waste tank.” said Joel Eacker,. CH2M HILL Hanford Group vice president
of Projects. ‘We think it shows promise for accelerating the removal of
waste from several of Hanfords tanks.”
Single-shell tank C-104 is currently scheduled for the first deployment of
the crawler; however ongoing
evaluations may support accelerated deployments in other waste tanks.
Friday January 17th 2003
Hanford tests tank cleanup ideas
Miniature bulldozer, huge vacuum
cleaner likely to be used to remove radioactive sludge
By John Stang Herald
From a remote operating site, project engineer Dave Smet
manipulates the controls as he pulls a sludge crawler out of the muck
Thursday at the HAMMER test facility in
. The 1,300- pound, $1.2 million crawler will be used to move radioactive sludge
inside 60 or more of the 177 underground storage tanks on the
Call it the milk shake strategy. Like
a kid attacking a really thick shake — sucking
mightily on the straw, then poking and prodding
the goo — that’s how
expects to get thick radioactive sludge out of 60 or more of its huge underground
Thursday. CH2M Hill Hanford Group began the first coordinated
test of all the pieces of its
“tank crawler” waste removal system at a mockup tank.
The test is expected to be completed today.
The system has two basic pieces
— a miniature bulldozer teamed with a
monster-sized vacuum cleaner. Months of testing
and training remain, with the system expected
to begin work in a real underground radioactive
waste tank C -104
— late this year or early in 2004.
has 55 million gallons
DOE recently set a goal to remove
all liquid and solid wastes from 26 to 40 older
single-shell tanks by the end of 2006 and then
close those tanks.
That means removing almost all
solids and sludges, a task never attempted before.
The tanks are huge, capable of holding
500,000 to 1 .2 million gallons. The problem is that
the only way to enter them is through pipes
ranging from 4 inches to 42 inches in diameter.
Squeezing cameras and equipment through the
pipes is a major hurdle.
The Department of Energy and
CH2M Hill have proposed three ways to break up and
remove the solids and sludges:
• Using a powerful upside-down sprinkler
to spray and breakup radioactive salt cakes into liquids to
be pumped out. DOE and CH2M Hill are experimenting
with this technique in Tank U -
• Shooting water through big hoses
to break up and dissolve solids, then pump them out.
plans to begin trying this in Tanks S-102 and 5-112 late
• The “milk shake” method, which
CH2M hill borrowed from the petroleum industry and began
A huge vacuum cleaner, with a through one of a tank’s pipes to reach
close to the bottom and begins sucking out wastes.
Water is periodically squirted through the
tube to keep it unclogged.
The problem is the vacuum can
cover only a few square feet of the tank floor,
which is 75 feet in
Consequently a 6-foot-long, 1,300-pound
bulldozer is inserted
its front end hanging straight down — through the 42-inch
pipe to be slowly lowered by a cable into wastes. In the
As soon as the bulldozer is
the bottom, aided by a small water
cannon. The crawler’s job is to push the wastes
within the vacuum’s reach.
Hill and DOE engi
‘For engineers, this is a fun job.
Driving your little robot around, testing it with
different thicknesses of wastes,” said Joel Eacker,
CH2M Hill vice president for projects.
Thursday’s test dealt with 40 cubic
feet of mud like clay — two feet deep in a
35-hy-20 concrete tub. By comparison, Tank c-I 04 holds 263,000 gallons of
radioactive sludge, eight to 10
For Dave Smet, the CH2M Hill project
engineer operating the bulldozer and vacuum by remote
control in a nearby trailer, “it’s an intense
Thursday, he and other engineers
watched their choices of 10 cameras, numerous lights
and gauges, called up information on a
computer screen and nudged
numerous jovsticks — getting a feel
for the system and figuring out how to improve it.
listened closely to the
crawler’s engine and other equipment
noises through a loudspeaker, pricking their ears
for sounds something could be wrong.
Tank cleaning work will be slow.
Eacker estimated it will take two to five months to
remove all the sludge from one tank.
Each $1 .2 million tank crawler is
expected to last possibly six tanks before it
becomes too radioactive for workers to safely maintain
Eacker said CH2M Hill might try
operating crawlers simultaneously in several tanks
if it’s cost effective.
• Reporter ,John Stang can be reached at 509-582-1517 or via e-mail at
Monday Sept 23rd 2002
Raymond, director of technology integration for CH2M Hill Hanford Group,
looks over a tank crawler the company is testing at
’s Cold Test Facility. The 6-foot long,
1,300- pound remote-controlled machine costs $1 million and is expected to
clean six waste tanks at
before it needs to be replaced.
Tank crawler on cleanup duty
• CH2M Hill Hanford Group testing
robot bulldozer, vacuum designed to enter,clean radioactive waste tanks
By John Stang Herald
of it as an atomic-age broom and dustpan. CH2M Hill Hanford Group is
testing a miniature tank crawler” as a way to get semi-solid
radioactive wastes out of the The company has begun testing a tank
Crawler - a miniature bulldozer teamed up with a huge quasi-vacuum
cleaner at Hanford ’s tank mockup site next to the HAMMER facility.
Hill expects to use this system to first clean out a tank – single-shell
C- 1 04 in 2005, said Joel Hacker, CH2M Hill Hanford Group’s vice
president for projects.
has 55 million gallons of highly
radioactive wastes in 149 old single-shell tanks and 28 newer and safer
double-shell tanks. CH2M Hill has pumped most of the liquid wastes from
the single shell to the double-shell tanks to await eventual
glassification. It is supposed to finish the job by 2004.
even after the liquids are pumped out, about 31 million gallons of thick
sludges, salt cakes and solid wastes will remain in the bottoms of the
single-shell tanks. Hanford
is researching ways to remove those final
materials so the tanks can be permanently closed.
tank crawler and its sister equipment are one of the methods being
developed to remove solids from some tanks.
most of this technology is borrowed from the oil industry, which
uses it in underground petroleum tanks.
vacuum pump will be inserted into a
waste tank through one of its narrow pipes
- which are the only avenues through which someone on the surface can put
something in an underground waste tank. Then a small bulldozer – the
tank crawler – is inserted through another tank pipe opening, hanging by
a cable perpendicular to the tank’s bottom. This tank crawler is 6 feet
long. 2 feet high, and has a blade that can unfold to expand from 24 inches to
40 inches wide.
bottom line: The tank crawler has to fit through a narrow vertical pipe,
then unfold its blade to become a bulldozer.
tank crawler has a pump and -spray mechanism to enable it to burrow
through peanut butterlike wastes in
order to get to the bottom of the tank, dig itself a hole, set itself
right-side-up and begin work. Then the tank crawler just pushes wastes to
the vacuum pump, which sucks the materials out of the tank.
tricky part is that the crawler won’t have any cameras on it. Instead, cameras
will have to be inserted through another pipe opening in the tank’s
ceiling. That means the crawler’s human operator on the surface must
cope with odd angles and perspectives to guide the crawler by remote
going to take a little bit of art to get our operators trained,” Eacker
combined pump, crawler and auxiliary equipment cost about $2 million. CH2M
Hill believes a crawler will last through cleaning maybe six tanks before
the radioactivity and wear-and-tear make it unusable.
CH2M Hill believes that ultimately 10 tank crawlers may have to be built.
Its immediate plan is to have one primary crawler and one backup crawler
• Reporter John Stang can be reached
at 509-582-1517 or via e-mail at
Vehicle will aid
Department of Energy’s Office of River Protection in
, is testing a new robotic tool this month for
retrieving highly radioactive tank waste. Resembling a tiny tractor, the
In-Tank Vehicle (ITV) weighs 1,500 pounds and is five feet long. A suction
pump and nozzle assembly sucks up sludge-like waste and shoots it to a
central pump, called an articulating mast assembly, which then pumps the
waste out of the tank.
tool was built by Non Entry Systems Limited,
. A similar piece of equipment called the Houdini was
used to remove tank waste at the Department’s Oak Ridge National
Laboratory (ORNL). ORNL provided assistance to Office of River Protection
personnel as they evaluated the robotic system for use at
ITV will undergo three months of rigorous testing at the Hanford Site’s
Cold Test Facility—a life-sized model of an actual Hanford waste tank.
Personnel will push the ITV to its limits to determine operating
capabilities and to decide if the tool needs further manufacturer
the article on the Reach website
Hanford tank cleanup crawler
Geoff Tyree, CH2M HILL Hanford Group.
demonstrations of a new remote-controlled cleanup machine are under way in
the simulated waste tank at the Cold Test Facility. Called the Tank
Crawler, the machine is a sturdy and agile 1,300-pound system that looks
like a small bulldozer with treads and a folding blade.
With the push
of a button, hydraulics fold the crawler to just 27 inches wide, narrow
enough to enter a tank through a 36-inch-wide riser that has been fitted
with a protective sleeve. Once inside the tank, the crawler will pump and
push its way through thick sludge, moving the waste toward a central
pump that will transfer the contents of the tank.
the Office of River Protection, CH2M HILL Hanford Group is developing
methods for removing solid waste from
’s single-shell tanks.
Most of the liquid waste has been moved from these older tanks to newer,
safer double-shell tanks.
bejng developed to remove the remaining solid waste – more than 31
million gallons by volume.
waste consists of sludge that looks fine mud and dries very hard, plus
saltcake, which is somewhat like wet beach sand but can dry to an almost
The challenge is to mobilize the sludge and saltcake with enough
liquid to move it through pipes to newer-tanks, while using as little
liquid as possible to reduce the possibility of a tank leak. That’s
where the Tank Crawler comes in.
The crawler must be small enough to fit
through a relatively narrow opening on top
of the tank, agile enough to maneuver over an uneven waste surface and
around obstacles in the tank, and durable enough to withstand the highly
radioactive environment and a rigorous decontamination process.
Remotely operated, the mobile retrieval system will be lowered into a
tank, where the crawler will push the sludge toward a specially designed
vacuum pump. A pump and spray mechanism on the crawler will help the
in-tank vehicle move through the waste.
the coming months, the crawler will undergo demonstrations with simulated
sludge waste in the large simulated waste tank at
’s Cold Test Facility.
The first test will be conducted with mud that is similar in particle size
and viscosity to sludge tank waste.
We are-working toward
accelerating the retrieval of waste from
tanks with innovations such as the Tank Crawler,”
said Joel Eacker, CH2M HILL Hanford Group vice president of Projects.
“Using simulated waste in this tank, we will put the crawler through its
paces and prepare it for real tank cleanup work.”
The crawler has
already undergone some preliminary factory testing. One included pushing
around a 600-pound container of concrete. Another included wrapping the
crawler up in steel tape to simulate its ability to break up the tangles
of debris from previous operations in a tank, including discarded
lengths of metal tape used to measure tank levels.
Single-shell Tank 0-104 is currently
scheduled for the first deployment of thE crawler by 2005. This tank was
selected because it has not leaked in the past and it contains the most
contaminants of concern for their potential long-term health risks. The
crawler is designed to be capable of retrieving sludge waste from as many
as 60 single-single-shell tanks.