Cleanup Site Gets Tagged

MicroWireless RFID technology saves government time and money at DoE site

Over the last four years, Axcess International has been providing Washington Closure Hanford with a MicroWireless tagging system that continues to increase worker safety and efficiency while reducing time on task and the cost of operations.

The Department of Energy’s Hanford Site, a 586-square-mile decommissioned nuclear production complex along the Columbia River in southeastern Washington state, was created in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for an atomic bomb. The plutonium manufactured at the site was used in the bombs tested at Trinity and the first bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, which contributed to the end of the World War II, five days later.

During the Cold War that ensued, Hanford expanded its facilities to nine nuclear reactors, five massive plutonium processing facilities, 177 underground waste storage tanks and hundreds of support facilities. Hanford scientists made numerous technological achievements, but many of the safety procedures and waste disposal practices were not as stringent as they are today. As a result, Hanford’s operations left behind 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste, hundreds of contaminated buildings and thousands of contaminated waste sites.

A 1989 agreement between DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology governs the Hanford cleanup.

The 1,100 employees and subcontractors working for Washington Closure, one of DOE’s contractors cleaning up the Hanford Site, face numerous challenges on the $2.2 billion River Corridor Closure Project. They must demolish 370 contaminated buildings and transport nearly 1 million tons per year of cleanup debris to the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site. The contents and quantity of each waste shipment to ERDF must be documented accurately.

Manual Process
Prior to using Axcess’ technology, the workers drove the transport trucks to the weigh station more than 200 times daily, climbing in and out of their trucks and recording the weight using pencil and paper.

“The paper had to follow the waste containers from the cleanup site to the disposal site and had to be handled many times. The data then had to be entered into the computer,” said Todd Nelson, a spokesman for Washington Closure. “The process had too many opportunities for error.”

Axcess’ patented MicroWireless system uses small, battery-powered dual-frequency RFID tags that, when automatically activated by a wake-up signal, transmit a wireless ID message typically 30 to 100 feet to nearby, often with hidden palm-sized receivers. The receivers are connected via an industry-standard interface to existing security alarm equipment and a gate controller to automatically open a gate when an authorized tag is present. Data is relayed to system software that automatically generates reports.

Specific details include:

Metal-mounted FleetTags are affixed to the 28 transport trucks and 720 waste containers.

As the trucks are driven across the scales into the staging area, Axcess’ reader reads the fleet tag signals, identifying the trucks and containers and their profiles, which includes tare (empty container) weight.

Simultaneously, the containers’ tags are being read to determine the weight of the load (waste management tracking).

All the information is transferred in real time to the database without human intervention.

Technology Saves Time, Money, Errors and Injuries
An average of 250 containers or 6,500 tons of waste is disposed of daily. In 2009, drivers logged more than one million miles while disposing of nearly 1 million tons of waste into the landfill.

Staff reduction. Prior to automating the processes, Washington Closure employed drivers on two shifts, plus a person whose job it was to enter the data from the paper trail. Automating the data collection eliminated the need for a data entry person.

Worker safety. “One of the biggest hazards for the truck drivers was the repetitive motion of getting in and out of the truck and climbing the five feet up and down to record information on the scales,” said Frank Farmer, deputy operations manager for waste operations at Washington Closure. “Automating that process has completely eliminated the potential fall hazard at the weigh station. What was an injury-prone, repetitive process with errors became a transparent operation.”

Time savings. Automating the process of weighing the loads decreased that process time from about 10 minutes to 30 seconds, and the data entry time was eliminated.

Real-time reporting. The technology automatically identifies the trucks and containers. As the trucks go through the scale to be weighed, the truck and container weights, the load weight and the load contents are automatically reported and accessible.

“This is a much more efficient way of recordkeeping,” Nelson said. “It gives us a record of exactly what was transported and placed in the disposal facility.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Security Products.

About the Author

Kenni Driver is a freelance writer based in Dallas.

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