Industrial Packaging for Critical Contents

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Posts Tagged ‘packaging of hazardous materials’

Using Lasers to Examine Overpack Drums

January 26th, 2018 by Natalie Mueller

Filed under: Cool Stuff, HazMat

Overpack drums are used to contain a wide variety of hazards, from harsh chemicals to combustible materials. One of the more dramatic uses of these drums is to store spent nuclear fuel.

The fuel rods are confined in a welded stainless steel canister that is shielded and protected by a concrete and steel overpack drum, then placed into storage. While this may be the best solution we have right now for our nuclear waste, this process requires regular maintenance and examination to ensure safety. These storage casks need to be frequently inspected for degradation such as stress corrosion cracking. Unsurprisingly, inspecting hundreds of tightly packed irradiated barrels is not the safest task for a human to undertake.

That’s where the lasers come in.

By utilizing laser ultrasonics, a fancy method of shooting pulse lasers at an object, researchers have combined that process with fiber optics and a very specially-developed lens, integrating it into a robot system. That way, their compact set up can provide a clear, nondestructive inspection of the degradation happening to each barrel, specifically pitting. What that all means is that inspectors will have tools that can operate in the harsh, confined and hazardous spaces that are generated situations such as nuclear waste storage, piloting the robot from a safe distance.

This technology can be applied further than merely overpack drums. It’s suited for any environment that is cramped, high temperature, highly irradiated; anywhere that’s unsafe for humans. In particular, the system is great for inspecting defects in pipelines exposed to high temperatures and radiation inside nuclear power plants and inspection of inaccessible, cramped and hazardous areas for preventive maintenance.

Lasers and nuclear waste? Sounds like a dystopian sci-fi plot, but it is very much a current scenario. At this point, research is still ongoing to perfect the system, and it’s unclear how close they are to becoming commercially available tools. As long as we continue to store waste in the current, overpack method, the importance of technology to reduce the risk of hazard will only become more critical as time goes on.

The DOD Addresses its Hazmat Transportation Issues

August 31st, 2017 by Natalie Mueller

Filed under: HazMat

According to a recent study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Defense (DOD) has started efforts to correct the root causes that have caused the improper documentation and packaging of HAZMAT in the U.S. in past years. While this is certainly a positive and promising development, and the DOD is taking GAO’s advice on the issue, it is too early to tell how effective any changes will be.

Back in 2014, the GAO found such inefficiencies as improper documentation and packaging of hazardous materials, which lead to delays of about 27 percent more hazardous materials received at major domestic military airports than in the past 5 years. Additionally, the DOD was determining which carriers were eligible to transport its most-sensitive HAZMAT shipments using a safety score that lacked sufficient. In a 2015 report, the DOD studied these issues, agreed with GAO, and found that the main issues in their transportation practices were documentation-related issues, as well as human error such as inadequate reporting.

At the time, the GAO had also asked the DOD to examine their use of Transportation Protective Services (TPS) for shipments that could have used less costly methods. The DOD claimed they utilized TPS infrequently on shipments for which they weren’t required; only 518 of more than 31,000 HAZMAT shipments. However, in their report, GAO noted that the DOD didn’t disclose what led them to use TPS, and claimed that the DOD could have saved $126,000 of unnecessary costs.

While the DOD and GAO agree on what corrective actions to take, such as establishing ways to prevent future unnecessary uses of TPS, the gears of bureaucracy are slow turning. Most actions were not implemented until late in 2016, and their efficacy will not be assessable until late 2017.

Considering that the DOD contracts about 90% of their HAZMAT shipments out to commercial carriers, the final assessment of how well these changes work will certainly have an impact on any future business with the Department of Defense.