A group accumulates around a dark wooden box that looks like a short fridge, hanging tight for the movement of a couple of mechanical arms sitting right there. At Idaho National Laboratory, when the arms move, a wave of excited energy in the room shows how this simple action may alter the removal and disposal of international radioactive sources in the future.
The group was attending the very first demonstration of a mobile hot cell that had the potential to fundamentally alter the handling of a particular class of radioactive materials. The hot cell’s robotic and mobile nature has the potential to boost economic growth, employee security, and national security.
Kathy McBride, the project manager for INL’s Radioactive Source Recovery Project, stated, “In some of the areas where we plan to use this mobile hot cell, radioactive sources are just left on the shelf once they’ve been spent, where they are extremely vulnerable to theft and producing harmful emissions.” Many of these facilities and their staff could greatly benefit from having access to a suitable disposal method.”
“In some of the areas where we intend to use this mobile hot cell, radioactive sources are simply left on the shelf after they’ve been used, leaving them extremely vulnerable to theft and emitting harmful emissions,”Kathy McBride, the project manager for INL’s Radioactive Source Recovery Project.
How does source recovery work?
Across the world, radiological materials play a significant role in clinical exploration and business offices. They could be used in a radiological dispersal device (a dirty bomb) or in other terrorist attacks if these radioactive sources were misused. New methods and fabricated containers are required for the safe removal of used radioactive sources, which expands the possibilities for secure transportation.
INL has received funding to develop a mobile hot cell from the Office of Radiological Security (ORS) of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“Our responsibility is to recuperate utilized, deserted, and undesirable radioactive sources,” said Kevin Kenney, the relationship administrator for INL’s Radioactive Source Recuperation Venture. “Domestic removals have already been our specialty. Nonetheless, this hot cell will empower our program to take these endeavors globally.”
Behind a lot of shielding, the mobile hot cell can be controlled and watched from the outside. Credit: Idaho National Laboratory.
Why use a mobile hot cell?
This versatile hot cell project started quite a while ago, fully intent on manufacturing a first-of-its-sort portable source recuperation instrument, or hot cell. By providing expertise and tools to international partners to help them improve radioactive source end-of-life management, ORS leaders hope to use this tool to reduce global radiological threats. While principles for securely recuperating and dealing with radioactive sources are severe in the US, numerous different nations don’t have any significant bearing on a similar meticulousness.
The hot cell’s mobility resembles more of a carnival than a recreational vehicle, as Kenney put it. It is made to be shipped in multiple pieces, each of which is designed to be as light as possible for shipping. The shielding walls are constructed like Russian stacking dolls, with four to five walls of varying sizes that can be added or removed depending on the irradiators’ maximum source activity.
Ted Reed, a mechanical engineer working on the project, stated, “Another thing that distinguishes this from traditional hot cells is that it uses robotics rather than manipulator arms.” Along these lines, we can situate our administrators 50 feet from the hot cell.” Because of this distance, less shielding is required to safeguard source handlers, the cell weighs less, and radioactive material handling principles are adhered to.
Despite the fact that it’s a huge improvement over current techniques, the robot is still somewhat flawed. The radiation from the sources can cause damage to the joints, rendering them inoperable. The source recovery team prefers to preprogram the robot to perform discreet tasks to reduce the amount of time it must spend moving around inside the hot cell in order to mitigate this issue.
The team showed a mockup of the mobile hot cell with all of its parts in place at the end of September 2022. Over the next year, the mockup will be used to evaluate and improve the design features.
During the demonstration, members of the source recovery team had access to the mobile hot cell’s interior. Credit: Idaho National Laboratory.
The shielding in the current designs is made of sand, and it takes a lot of work to set up and take down. The mobile hot cell enables a secure and quick deployment because hot cell operators can stand a safe distance from a source thanks to the INL design.
The mobile hot cell will also make it possible to combine radioactive sources from multiple devices into a single transportable cask. This is a significant advancement over the current method of recovery. It will reduce the amount of resources needed to complete a source recovery mission to remove multiple devices from a nation’s inventory.
The design will be finalized by the research team and put through safety tests during fiscal year 2023. The hot cell will be demonstrated and put into use both domestically and internationally if everything goes according to plan.
According to Kenney, “Occasionally, we will encounter an irradiator in the United States that cannot be shipped in a cask due to limitations on the amount of material that can be shipped at once.” Another scenario in which a deployable mobile hot cell would be absolutely necessary
The importance of working together to complete the mobile hot cell project was emphasized by Eric Egan, the principal investigator on the source recovery team. This amazing achievement could never have been conceivable without help from inside and outside INL. This incorporates the specialized ability and guidance of the Southwest Exploration Organization, as well as the priceless expertise of our INL mechanics, office, and atomic security engineers.”
Provided by Idaho National Laboratory