PIKE COUNTY, Ohio – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and contractor Fluor-BWXT are partnering with United Steelworkers (USW), using technology and remote applications to make a physically demanding and potentially high-hazard job safer and more efficient using remotely operated cutting equipment and a virtual reality interface.
The virtual reality system allows job planners and workers to test out the cutting process before placing workers in a radiologically controlled work zone at the DOE Portsmouth Site in Piketon (PORTS).
One of the most challenging efforts currently being planned on the massive PORTS D&D Project is cutting open 33-ton steel components in order to remove internal material. Between two of the three major process buildings known as the X-333 and X-330 there are more than 1,700 components, known as converters, that will need to be removed.
The project has numerous benefits in that it removes materials that may have value in the future and it allows these massive pieces of process gas equipment to be size-reduced before being placed in the Onsite Waste Disposal Facility (OSWDF). Size-reducing this equipment saves valuable space in the OSWDF.
“It’s been gratifying to see the integration of high tech methodology with traditional labor intensive activities to create a safer work environment,” DOE Site Lead Joel Bradburne said. “Size reduction of the process gas equipment will be cost effective to the project and provide efficiencies for OSWDF operations.”
USW workers from a variety of job backgrounds are being trained to use new equipment made available through the DOE under their Science of Safety program. The premise is that the best way to keep workers safe is to remove them from potential hazards. A training facility has been set up in a former waste storage facility known as X-700. Here workers are training on the use of Brokk work platforms that have multiple tools including a cutting device that can process an entire component in 24 hours.
“There is a lot of really useful technology across DOE, as well as prominent universities and agencies like NASA that we studied and tested,” Fluor-BWXT Project Director Dennis Carr said.
“We focused on existing technologies that weren’t flashy but could be applied to the physical hazards facing our workers in a large industrial setting. This entire program has strong support from USW leadership like Herman Potter and his safety leads. They were key in bringing this technology to PORTS.”
As workers train to use the equipment, the construction of a Material Sizing Area is underway in the X-333 building. Construction workers have cleared out an area the size of two football fields for this operation. The sizing area will include multiple work stations with special ventilation systems and hazard controls. While the workers will be using remote-powered equipment they will still be along-side the operations, thus normal anti-contamination equipment and respirators will be required for this work.
Fluor-BWXT anticipates having workers fully trained and ready to begin converter segmentation in the X-333 building by January 2018.