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Kurion teams up with Areva to win Hanford work


Kurion has teamed up with Areva to move more of its technology into use on Department of Energy environmental cleanup projects, starting with Hanford.

Kurion’s technologies that have been used for cleanup after the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster could also be used to help with Hanford cleanup, said Dave Brockman, executive vice president of Kurion’s North America operations.

The joint venture is designed to meld the strengths of global nuclear powerhouse Areva, with 4,300 employees in North America, and small business Kurion, which was founded in 2008.

Kurion has proprietary technologies for high-level radioactive waste, including in robotics, waste separation and small-scale waste vitrification.

It opened a facility in Richland in 2012, to take advantage of local expertise, from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to companies that fabricate nuclear equipment. The move also put the company next door to Hanford, the Department of Energy’s largest environmental cleanup site.

Areva already has work at Hanford, which could be helpful in leveraging work for Kurion. Although Areva is best known in the Tri-Cities for its commercial nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Richland, it also employs 70 people at Hanford.

Areva is on the teams of two Hanford contractors, the Hanford tank farms and central Hanford cleanup contractors, as a fee-sharing subcontractor. It also was awarded a subcontract to engineer a system to dig up soil contaminated by concentrated cesium and strontium beneath the 324 Building just north of Richland.

Kurion has been awarded contracts at Fukushima to remove radioactive cesium and strontium from contaminated water using chemical compounds it developed for use in ion exchange systems.

At Hanford the Department of Energy is developing plans for a new facility that would prepare some of the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks to be fed directly to the vitrification plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility.

The plan could get some waste treated starting as soon as 2022 as work continues to resolve technical issues at the vit plant’s Pretreatment Facility, which is intended to separate waste into low activity and high-level radioactive waste streams.

Cesium dissolved in the liquid waste must be removed for the waste to be treated, providing a possible opportunity for Kurion’s technology.

There also may be opportunities to remove other fission products from secondary waste produced at the Low Activity Waste Facility once it begins operating. Kurion also could pitch its small-scale, modular vitrification process to turn that secondary waste into a stable glass form for disposal.

The Hanford vitrification plant will use large melters with electrodes that send electricity through a mixture of waste and glass formers to melt the mixture. It then will be poured into log-shaped canisters to harden.

The Kurion system works more like a kitchen slow cooker. The waste is vitrified in the canister by heating the liner, which radiates heat into the waste. The process is designed to quickly melt the waste in layers, eliminated a long heating time that gives more opportunity for radioactive isotopes to escape the glasssification. It can be customized to the isotopes present in small batches of waste.

Kurion also will be pitching its robotic arm technology, like the custom-made system it deployed to Japan, to also inspect Hanford’s underground tanks.

It acquired Vista Engineering Technologies of Richland last year, which included robotics technology originally developed by S.A. Robotics in Colorado.

Kurion deployed a robotic system to inspect reactor containment damage at Fukushima and then was awarded a second contract to develop an advanced robotic arm to repair primary containment leaks in one of the reactors, which could be deployed next year.

It is planned to allow workers to remotely operate it to open holes, clear debris and obstacles and plug cracks in the reactor’s vent tubes. It will be outfitted with advanced cutting, water-jet and grouting tools and will have automatic control sequences to guide complex tasks.

Kurion has the capabilities to make customized, carbon fiber robotic arms that could fit down the 12-inch diameter risers of Hanford’s underground waste tanks, Brockman said. Among their uses could be inspecting the space between the shells of Hanford’s double-shell tanks after a leak contained within the shells of Hanford’s oldest double-shell tank raised concerns.

With other complex Hanford work remaining, the robotics might be useful for the waste processing canyons, the tanks associated with the canyons, the radioactive sludge in the Hanford K West Basin and underground caissons, where radioactive waste was dropped for disposal.

“We see a bright future where we can add value with our technology,” Brockman said.

Kurion also has worked with Areva on design of the remotely operated system to retrieve the highly radioactive waste under the Hanford 324 Building.

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