Researchers Design Robot For Faster, Safer Pipe Cleanup at Uranium Plant

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 14:11

Researchers have design an autonomous, radiation-measuring robot that will roll through kilometers of large overhead pipes to spot potentially hazardous residual uranium.

The RadPiper robot was developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for the U.S. Department of Energy, which envisions using similar technology at other nuclear complexes such as the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington, Phys.org reports.

Roboticist William "Red" Whittaker, who began his career developing robots to help clean up the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident and now directs Carnegie Mellon's Field Robotics Center, said technology like RadPiper could transform key tasks in cleaning up the country's nuclear legacy.

The technology development director for the energy department's Office of Environmental Management, Rodrigo Rimando Jr., said every hour RadPiper operates will save an estimated eight hours of the conventional method.

That method is a slog: Once insulation and other materials are cleared to access the pipes, a worker elevated on scaffolding and wearing protective gear holds up a heavy detector, takes a reading, writes it down, and then repeats that for the next foot of pipe.

Workers did that 1.4 million times in one building over three years, said Marty Reibold, director of strategic initiatives for Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, the contractor decommissioning the site.

Now they're focused on an even larger building, big enough to house 58 football fields on its two levels, Reibold said.

George Hornberger, director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment, said the challenge of cleaning up industrial facilities that processed radioactive materials is addressing health and safety risks in a way that protects workers but is also cost-effective. RadPiper sounds beneficial on both fronts, said Hornberger, who wasn't involved in the project.

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