Federal site cleanup workers reported in August that they had begun removing contaminated sludge and debris from tanks, sumps, and valve boxes at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s liquid and gaseous waste operations using a powerful, new trailer-mounted vacuum.
The equipment has already enhanced safety and operational efficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management.
“Without the vacuum, personnel would be required to fully dress in personal protective equipment and remove the sludge and debris with shovels and buckets,” DOE said. “In addition to being closer to contaminated materials in confined spaces, workers would face an increased chance of slips and falls while climbing in and out of slippery areas in the protective suits.”
Using the vacuum technology has eliminated the risk of heat stress for employees, who would otherwise perform manual labor in protective suits during the hot Tennessee summer, DOE said.
The disposition of accumulated sludge and debris is important to maintain liquid and gaseous waste operations at ORNL. The waste treatment facilities are essential to ongoing operations of the nation’s largest multi-program national laboratory, DOE said.
“We are constantly searching for new technologies that can advance our mission and benefit our employees in the field,” ORNL Portfolio Federal Project Director Bill McMillan said. “This new equipment checks both of those boxes, and it’s helping ensure that we can maintain one of the most important EM facilities at ORNL.”
Accumulations of debris are often found during operations and maintenance of the facilities, and sludge is frequently encountered during tank cleanouts. EM expects to use the vacuum system during cleanout and maintenance of the facilities.
The vacuum trailer will also result in cost and labor savings, DOE said. Prior to purchasing the equipment, personnel at the liquid and gaseous waste operations had to enter a tank and manually shovel sludge into a wheelbarrow and transport it to a waste container.
“This type of challenging labor will be avoided with the new equipment,” the department said.
The new trailer allows crews to eliminate multiple steps by its unique ability to dump the sludge and debris directly into a dewatering box. The dewatered waste can then be placed into a waste container and shipped to an approved off-site disposal facility, DOE said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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