Respirator Reduction Aids ALARA Programs At DOE and Utility Nuclear Facilities

Worker using Squirrel III floor scabbler

The SQUIRREL-Ill floor scabbler incorporates high-speed tungsten carbide tipped bits to pulverize protective coatings and concrete substrate, while vacuum flow design provides high efficiency control of dust and debris.

Safety professionals have expressed concern that excessive respirator usage can cause pulmonary damage based upon studies indicating that standard air purifying respirators raise breathing resistance from 20-mm to 50-mm water pressure. Dead air space is also increased, forcing a worker to breathe deeper to obtain necessary oxygen, which contributes to dizziness, accelerated fatigue, and heat stress over the course of a workday.

Recognizing the health and safety problems associated with respiratory protection, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) published their Guidelines for Radiological Protection at Nuclear Power Stations stating: “Because respirators can increase external exposure by affecting worker efficiency, their use should be minimized. Too often, respirators are used when engineering controls could be used to eliminate or reduce the source of airborne radioactivity.” Unfortunately, this recommendation often goes unheeded by industry professionals.

Savannah River Site

The DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) is a large 325 square mile (842 km²) facility in Aiken, South Carolina, that produced nuclear materials for national defense. Over 1,000 candidate areas will be decommissioned there over the next 30 years. Savannah River has implemented a Respirator Usage Reduction (RUR) program, and has sought out more effective engineering controls to reduce reliance on respirators as well as reduce exposures.

Pentek’s dustless decontamination system was originally deployed at SRS eight years ago at an on-site tank farm to ascertain whether it matched criteria for effective engineering controls. During this early experiment, health physics personnel determined that Pentek’s self-contained system effectively eliminated the need for respiratory protection, relieving the health concerns of respirator over-usage and permitting the decontamination work to continue in longer shifts. As a result, crews employing Pentek equipment typically work without the burden of respirators or the need for expensive containment structures. “We are very happy with our Pentek system,” said Vernon Davis, high level waste supervisor. The success of WSRC’s Respirator Usage Reduction program relies heavily on the engineering controls selected to maintain exposures within acceptable levels.

Worker using Corner Cutter needle gun

The CORNER-CUTTER s adjustable vacuum shrouds provide the flexibility to hold the tool in different positions against the surface and still maintain vacuum integrity; the pivoting head enhances access to hard-to-reach areas. Note: no respirators!

Pentek has supplied many additional systems to support the efficient removal of contaminants from concrete and steel at the Savannah River site.

Increased Worker Efficiency at Consolidated Edison of New York

A major goal for the Consolidated Edison utility company is the minimization of areas in the plant that require protective clothing for entry. Con Edison’s commitment to worker and environmental protection includes an aggressive As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) program to reduce radiological exposures to the lowest feasible levels. This requires systematic and periodic decontamination, resurfacing, and maintenance of accessible floor space. Con Edison’s Radwaste Department at the Indian Point Station, located in Buchanan, NY, researched commercially available technologies before choosing Pentek’s dust-less decontamination system. During one Christmas outage, they contracted Pentek’s full-service decontamination team to remove paint and concrete substrate in sixteen areas—approximately 18,000 square feet (1,600 M²), to release Radiological Contaminated Areas (RCAs) from controlled status.

“I got what l needed: a decontamination system that prevents cross-contamination without sacrificing the performance results I wanted. The Pentek system will have a permanent place in our ALARA programs”

The majority of the flooring was flat and unobstructed—ideal for the MOOSE®, Pentek’s remotely operated, floor scabbling robot with on-board VAC-PAC® HEPA vacuum that collects and packages waste in a single-step dustless procedure. The MOOSE® is capable of high production rates and complies with ALARA program goals by allowing the operator to remotely guide the scabbling robot from a vantage point in a low radiation area. While the MOOSE® scarified floors to a uniform 1/8-inch (3 mm) depth, crew members attended to harder-to-access areas with hand held Corner-Cutter® needle guns and SQUIRREL®-III floor scabblers. Rooms contaming chemical volume control system (CVCS) equipment and the waste holdup tank pit were congested with tanks, pumps, piping, and grating and could only be accessed by manual tools. SQUIRREL®-III’s extended pivoting handle allowed for guided entry under CVCS tanks without increasing unnecessary exposure, and the Corner-Cutter®, designed for corner and trim work, proved especially helpful in penetrating tight spaces.

Once Con Edison’s health physics department determined that respirators were unnecessary due to the strict emissions controls built into the Pentek system, the burdensome, full-face gear was immediately removed. “Wearing respirators while working in the contaminated areas only slowed us down,” said Pentek’s Project Manager, John Sotiriou. “Once allowed to remove our respirators, we increased productivity 50% and minimized our exposure.”

The high quality construction of the Pentek system is engineered to facilitate decon following project completion—Pentek has never lost equipment to latent post-project contamination.

“I got what I needed: a decontamination system that prevents cross-contamination without sacrificing the performance results I wanted,” said Gene Cubeta, Con Ed’s Health Physics Manager. “The equipment appeared to enhance worker performance and health and safety issues. The Pentek system will have a permanent place in Con Ed’s ALARA programs.”

For more information please email us, see our contact page or visit our vacuum tool and robotics product pages.

Reprinted from Pentek Ink, Vol 11

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