Cleanup Site Gets Tagged
MicroWireless RFID technology saves government time and money at DoE site
- By Kenni Driver
- Nov 01, 2010
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.
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
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
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
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 issue of .