Morning Briefing - January 24, 2023
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January 23, 2023

Hanford contractor seeking tiny ‘pit vyper’ robots

By ExchangeMonitor

Amentum-led Department of Energy contractor Washington River Protection Solutions asked for expressions of interest from makers of robots that could provide a better view of the pits that lead to underground radioactive waste tanks at the Hanford Site in Washington state.

“The robotic solution will be referred to as the Pit Vyper in this document,” must be small enough to fit inside a space of less than six inches in diameter, the Hanford contractor said in a Jan. 19 filing, posted on a federal procurement website.

“Initial deployment of the Pit Vyper will be to visually inspect underground valve and pump pits without removing the cover blocks” that typically consist of two feet of concrete, according to the document.

Washington River Protection Solutions said the expression of interest should include information on the size, durability and maneuverability of the robotic devices that would ideally be able to provide pictures or 3-dimensional images throughout the pits. The contract also asks if the device has been vetted by a “Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory.”

Prospective contractors should “provide a description of similar projects where your technology was used, if possible,” according to a three-page description.  The pits house equipment needed to remove liquid or transfer waste from underground tanks that hold Hanford’s 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left over from decades of plutonium production.

The nuclear industry and DOE’s $8-billion Office of Environmental Management in particular, have expressed growing interest in recent years over the potential of robotics to help address areas too small or too contaminated for human workers to venture.

The DOE Environmental Management office has financially supported robotics research for a number of years. Last May Environmental Management said Florida International University was working with DOE and Washington River Protection Solutions to test what the agency described as “a miniature magnetic rover” at Hanford’s AP Tank Farm. Both Florida International University and Washington State University have worked with DOE on “pipe crawler” technology at Hanford.

Last month the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported a robotic drone got stuck inside a highly-radioactive calcine storage facility, but that this should not prevent the eventual removal of waste there. 


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