Bring in the Bots

Refueling Outages Use Robots for Specific Tasks

If SUSI had an online dating profile, it would most likely read, “Likes to swim. Loves to travel. Very flexible. One of a kind.”

Peak your interest?

The submarine robot SUSI swims in the spent fuel pool during Oconee Nuclear Station's recent refueling outage.

The submarine robot SUSI swims in the used fuel pool during Oconee Nuclear Station’s recent refueling outage.

Well, despite SUSI’s curious tagline, she’s hardly got time to create a dating profile. In fact, if she’s not resting, she’s most likely jet-setting around the world or diving through radioactive water.

SUSI, which stands for SU(bmarine) S(ystem) (for) I(nspection), is a one-of-a-kind submarine robot, provided by the German subsidiary of AREVA, that travels around the world assisting nuclear plants during refueling outages and in-service inspections – she is the most flexible submarine tool in the nuclear industry thanks to her wide range of applications for under-water component handling.

Most recently, she assisted Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station during its unit 3 refueling outage. At Oconee, SUSI provides visual inspections of primary components, such as the reactor vessel, pressurizer, steam generator and main coolant lines.

She is also used for foreign object search and retrieval (FOSAR) when things are found where they shouldn’t be.  SUSI is one of many unique robots that aid nuclear plants during refueling and maintenance outages and in-service inspections – Duke Energy uses a diverse fleet of robots for a wide range of jobs.

For instance, the 510 PackBot, used at Robinson Nuclear Plant, is a tracked system with a manipulator arm that can accurately manipulate objects as small as a watch battery – its arm can reach up to seven feet. Equipped with a thermal camera, the 50-pound robot can enter areas where it may be unsafe to send plant personnel, such as inside the containment building during plant operations. Personnel at Robinson Nuclear Plant and McGuire Nuclear Station have used the 710 Warrior robot during outages, as well. The Warrior is a rugged robot capable of carrying up to 200 pounds, and is primarily used to handle radioactive materials, such as filters used to clean water in the reactor vessel.

While these robots can do it all (i.e., swim, lift, crawl – and best of all, they don’t talk back!), robots are especially beneficial in radiological areas to reduce and/or completely eliminate the radiological dose workers receive during specific tasks.

Before bots, personnel handled these specific tasks in specialized protective clothing using poles to manipulate objects. While the manual process is still used when robots aren’t available, it presents a variety of challenges, such as the potential for human error and increased radiological dose. While receiving radiological dose is an expected part of the job for workers trained to work in certain areas, nuclear safety drives the industry to ensure workers receive as little radiological dose as possible.

The 710 Warrior is one of many robots that can take care of specific tasks during nuclear refueling outages.

The 710 Warrior is one of many robots that can take care of specific tasks during nuclear refueling outages.

Technology has made it possible for robots to not only help reduce radiological risk among workers, but they also improve work processes and job efficiency, which directly impact cost savings. When time is critical and the job is risky, robots lend helpful hands in getting the job done.

 

Educators Go “WILD” at McGuire Nuclear Station

20140429_173507McGuire Nuclear Station recently hosted 21 local educators for Project WILD Aquatic, an interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education program led by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commissions (NCWRC), which emphasizes awareness, appreciation and understanding of wildlife and natural resources.

In addition to classroom training and activities, educators toured the nature trail at McGuire and spent time at the site’s ecology pond searching for insects and other aquatic wildlife by using butterfly nets and sifting trays.

Participants spent nearly eight hours between classroom and outdoor training earning continuing education credits through the NCWRC. The program is a great way for educators to gain the experience and confidence needed to work with students and integrate Project WILD into their teaching. “Learning about wildlife outside of the classroom is a great benefit for educators like me. Incorporating outdoor sessions like Project WILD into my lessons allows student experiences to be the source of the teaching,” said Gail Chapp, a teacher at a local high school.

“Kid-tested, teacher approved” is a simple way to summarize the Project WILD program. Since its launch 31 years ago, more than 1.3 million educators have been trained nationally through the Project WILD curriculum. Through a longstanding partnership with the NCWRC, countless numbers of educators have benefited from the free teacher workshops at McGuire. CC King, an instructor with the NCWRC for nearly five years, has experienced the value of the program firsthand. “We appreciate Duke Energy for realizing the importance of reaching out to educators in the community. One of the many goals of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission is to teach all North Carolinians about wildlife management and wildlife populations and we’re doing just that by our continued partnership with Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station.”

Project WILD is one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school. It is based on the premise that young people and educators have a vital interest in learning about our natural world.

In addition to hosting free, teacher workshops like Project WILD, local educators are encouraged to attend other events held throughout the year. The site’s energy education center, the EnergyExplorium, is a great resource for educators, offering hands-on exhibits on nuclear power, electricity and energy efficiency. Printed material is also available providing useful information like lesson plans and experiments for the classroom. For more information about the resources available for teachers, please visit www.duke-energy.com/energyexplorium.com.

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Nuclear embraces robotic technology

The nuclear industry is always searching for even safer and more efficient technologies. One such trend is the use of robotics at plant sites. Robots are used across the Duke Energy nuclear fleet as way to strengthen personal and operational safety.

RNP RobotsThe robots, however, may not look like what you imagine. Many are repurposed designs originally intended for use in war zones to search for explosive devices. They are nimble, agile, equipped with track tires that allow them to easily navigate any terrain on site and give them the appearance of miniaturized tanks with arms. The robots are equipped with several cameras allowing for multiple viewpoints.

A cultural cornerstone of the nuclear industry is strictly limiting the amount of radiological exposure nuclear workers encounter while performing work. While all radiological exposure at a nuclear facility is closely monitored and tracked, both in the short term (a single work project) and long term (over the entire career of the worker), the industry’s approach to radiation reduction is that any tool or technology that prevents worker exposure should be used. Nuclear workers could safely perform tasks without the assistance of robots, but using robots reduces or even fully eliminates exposure for many tasks.

Robots offer a number of creative solutions for limiting exposure from remote viewing of radiological areas within the plant to collecting and storing radioactive materials.

Recently, workers at Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station, located north of Charlotte,robot N.C., utilized the iRobot 710 Warrior robot (710) to lower collective radiological exposure of workers during the replacement of radioactive waste filters. These filters act in a similar fashion to your home HVAC filters, and like those filters, need to be changed on a regular basis.

Previously, removing the filters required professionals using a six-foot pole to grasp the filters and move them into temporary storage prior to transport. The same process was used for installing new filters. As you can image, using a six-foot pole to do precise work can be very challenging.

In other cases, robots simply make the work more efficient. At the Robinson Nuclear Plant, in Hartsville, S.C., robots were used to place material into storage. In order to complete this task without the assistance of robots, an enormous amount of planning and preparation would have to be performed, including the placement of barriers and other safeguards to reduce radiation exposure. By using the robots, workers were able to eliminate exposure and work more safely and efficiently.

These are just a couple of the instances, in which robots are being used throughout the Duke Energy fleet for maintenance, examination and worker protection. Robots reduce the risk of human error, providing for consistent, high-quality results. We expect the application of robots at nuclear sites will only continue to increase, as we continue to find new and innovative ways to make work safer and more efficient.