Robotics for Nuclear Material Handling at LANL:Capabilities and Needs Page: 3 of 10
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2. NUCLEAR MATERIAL PROCESSING
Gloveboxes are connected to form processing lines. Where
each glovebox hosts one or more manufacturing processes, a
glovebox line acts like a manufacturing production line. The
Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES)
is a typical example of a glovebox line at LANL. ARIES also
has evolved into a demonstration of the potential of glovebox
automation at LANL.
The ARIES line consists of five gloveboxes connected
through a common spine and an external non-glovebox
operation. This design, as opposed to an end to end connection,
has enabled the ARIES line to be modified and upgraded over
the years with new processes and technologies while
minimizing the disruption to the remaining processes. More
detail on the processes on the line is given in Fig. 2.
NDA Module - Performs a non-
destructive assay measurement
on the cans produced by ARIES
(Not a glovebox operation).
Electrodecon Module -
Decontaminates and leak checks
the cans produced by ARIES.
Hydride Module - Performs a
hydride/dehydride process on
the nuclear materials.
Disassembly Module -
machines nuclear components
into their constituent parts.
RIPS Module - automated
canning and decontamination
Direct Metal Oxidation
Module - produces oxides from
nuclear material components.
Conveyor, Drop Box, Hood -
links the individual gloveboxes
to each other and the facility.
Figure 2. The ARIES Glovebox Line.
2.1. TASK STUDIES
The manual operations in the ARIES line were studied in
1999 by The University of Texas at Austin. The ARIES line
was selected as a typical glovebox line at LANL. Each
operation was documented and classified into six categories:
movement, orientation, sensing, inspection, process control and
other unclassifiable complex tasks [Turner, 1999]. A total of
58% of the operations in ARIES involved either moving an
object from one location to another, or changing the orientation
of an object at a location. These tasks are considered to be
easily automated and represent a significant opportunity for a
reduction in ORE if these manual operations are automated.
The results of the task study are summarized in Table I.
Table 1. ARIES Task Analysis Summary [Turner, 1999].
Classification Percentage Automation Potential
Movement 49.5% High
Orientation 8.5% High
Sensing 7.3% Moderate
Inspection 2.7% Low
Process Control 19.0% Moderate
Other 13.0% N/A
2.2. ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS
Individual glovebox operations pose different
environmental hazards. Several processes are conducted under
inert atmospheres (typically helium or argon), and even when
air is used, it is typically a dry air box with the moisture levels
significantly reduced. Consequently, the seals and electrical
components of automation systems are subjected to an unusual
environment. Seals may break down at an accelerated rate and
electrical components may experience arcing problems.
Consideration of both factors must be given during the design
phase, although typically mil-spec components seem to prevent
many of these issues.
The radioactive nature of the materials also can cause
problems although the effects are often overstated. Except for a
few applications, radiation hardened electronics are not
necessary. The typical glovebox environment does not reach
the radiation levels necessary to cause error in most electronic
systems. However, as component size and the proximity to the
materials decrease, there is an increased susceptibility. Small
sensors in particular can have issues, although it is not always
clear whether these issues are due to radiation. This is also not
the case in hot-cell applications such as the processing of fuel
rod materials [Heyward, 1990; Hintenlang, 1990; Cox, 1999].
Radiation also contributes to the deterioration of polymer
and elastomer components such as seals, pneumatic tubing and
electrical insulation. While hard data is not available
concerning the failure rates attributable to these causes in
ARIES, material degradation due to radiation effects is
considered to be of significant concern.
Radioactive materials such as plutonium, which are
handled in the ARIES glovebox line, also represent a
particulate hazard. The decay energy of plutonium is
sufficiently high that decays a few atoms below the surface
produce dust particles. These plutonium particles spread as
particulates and can cause excessive wear on mechanical
components and affect electrical components such as
microswitches and sensors.
Often chemical processes are a part of the glovebox lines.
Corrosive chemicals and thermal hazards from furnaces can
add additional requirements to automation systems that must
operate in proximity to these processes.
Finally, the isolated glovebox environment also introduces
design challenges. Unexpected failures are undesirable and can
significantly impact operations. Unfortunately, the reliability of
early robotic systems was insufficient for glovebox
applications, which delayed subsequent automation projects. In
addition, the limited accessibility of equipment within a
glovebox makes maintenance and repair operations on
Copyright 2009 by ASME
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Harden, Troy A; Lloyd, Jane A & Turner, Cameron J. Robotics for Nuclear Material Handling at LANL:Capabilities and Needs, article, January 1, 2009; [New Mexico]. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc934538/m1/3/: accessed April 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.