Work crews at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina recently replaced a motor on a crane in the 70-year-old H Canyon Chemical Separations Facility. H Canyon is the only production-scale, radiologically shielded chemical separations plant in operation in the United States.
H Canyon: The facility is the only one of its kind, according to the DOE, and the cranes are essential to its operations.
For performing work where personnel cannot go in the facility’s radioactive areas, the cranes are controlled remotely. Because of their importance, the cranes regularly undergo preventive maintenance, but this was the first time a part replacement of this magnitude has been performed on the crane used for the most radioactive operations, the DOE noted.
“This work was more involved than a lot of maintenance work we do because mechanics had to deal with lifts, asbestos, tight spaces, and numerous other hazards, all while [working] in [the] hot crane maintenance area,” said Jeff Bickley, H Canyon maintenance manager for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the managing and operating contractor at SRS.
The replacement: Mechanics working on the crane project wore fall protection equipment due to the crane’s height, in addition to two pairs of coveralls under breathing air suits to protect them from contamination.
“We worked very deliberately and carefully to make sure no one tripped over any of the hoses and that everyone was safe during all aspects of the job,” Bickley said.
Replacing the approximately 850-pound motor took weeks of planning and preparation, as well as integration between many different departments at SRS, including rigging, radiation protection, and operations.
“We found old videos of the original motor assembly from the manufacturer and watched them as a group to aid in the planning of the work,” said Bickley. “Because of the planning and communication between departments, the job went off flawlessly.”
Work areas: H Canyon is divided into three sections: the hot side, where there are higher levels of radiation; the warm side, with lower levels of radiation; and the middle section, where there is no radiation. Both the hot and warm sides are where operations are performed using cranes. No personnel have entered the hot or warm canyons since material was first introduced to the facility in the 1950s, according to the DOE.
History: H Canyon, which began operations in the early 1950s, historically recovered uranium and neptunium from fuel tubes used in nuclear reactors at SRS to produce radioactive materials used in making weapons. After the end of the Cold War, the facility’s mission changed to one of nonproliferation and environmental cleanup.