Photo By Inria via Wikimedia Commons


Decontamination of facilities that contain high levels of radiation is extremely dangerous and outrageously expensive. One facility in Ohio has this problem as it requires decontamination before it can be decommissioned and demolished. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing two autonomous robots that can help with the said operation.

Autonomous Robots for Decontamination Mission

Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion plant in Pike County, Ohio was previously used to produce enriched uranium for the US Atomic Energy program, but in May 2001 the US Enrichment Corporation ceased the uranium enrichment operations. Several locations on-site were found contaminated with uranium, such as former cooling towers and other buildings.

Researchers at CMU are creating two robots to help the US Department of Energy decontaminate the uranium enrichment plant in the said state. The robots are called RadPiper, and they are ]['equipped with the new disc collimated radiation sensor. The sensor uses a standard sodium iodide to measure gamma rays emitted by uranium.

The robots are tetherless and capable of detecting obstacles using the LIDAR system and a fisheye camera. The pair also possesses data analysis and report generation capabilities to help nuclear analysts.

"This will transform the way measurements of uranium deposits are made from now on," stated William Whittaker, director of the Field Robotics Center at CMU.

The RadPiper robots will first operate in pipes of the plant that measure 30 inches and 42 inches in diameter. The initial task is to determine the radiation levels for each foot-long segment of the pipes. Any segments detected with hazardous levels of uranium-235 will be decontaminated and removed. Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope of uranium used in nuclear reactors and weapons. The larger parts of the piping and the rest of the facility will be demolished safely after the decontamination process.

The RadPiper robots are also useful to other nuclear cleanup missions by the DOE. There are other sites in the country, such as the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Hanford Site in Washington, which also require nuclear cleanup.