Project Literature

WM Conference 2019 Papers

At the 2019 WM Conference we also presented our poster on the paper “Automated Analysis, Reporting and Archiving for Nondestructive Assay of Holdup Deposits” and it won best in track!

Check out a digital version of the poster here!

Check out the paper below!

Commissioning of Robotic Inspection and Automated Analysis System for Assay of Gas Diffusion Piping


Robotic, in-pipe, nondestructive assay (NDA) is a revolutionary and important means for measuring, analyzing, and reporting radioactive holdup deposits in enrichment piping. This innovation promises vast advantages for efficiency, safety, and cost savings. Payoff, however, lies in utilization much more than innovation. Crossing that threshold from a technical capability to an everyday tool occurs only after rigorous commissioning, adoption, and infusion. This must meet the highest standard, and there can be no compromise. Certification of a new NDA technology must meet the highest standards for quality, safety, and efficacy. Prior to this work, there was no precedent of procedure and method for certification of a robotic methodology for this purpose. The best of robotics had not certified NDA. The best of NDA had not certified robotics. Hence, a great deal of discovery, resourcefulness, and collaboration contributed to this success. This paper chronicles the first-of-kind chartering, co-development, testing, documentation, and site integration that certified this trailblazing in-pipe, robotic NDA.

Commissioning had to demonstrate and certify end-to-end NDA automation from robot traversal to computer analysis to report generation of contaminated process piping at the Portsmouth, Ohio gaseous diffusion facility. This was a rigorous campaign of tests, evaluations, and documentation. Highlights included multiple tests in four elevated pipes exercised the gamut of NDA and robotic capabilities. Each of the four test pipes presented a unique loading of U-235. The tests demonstrated operations in both 30- inch and 42-inch diameter pipes with varying lengths and terminated by a variety of valves and fittings. Tests in a fifth pipe at floor level demonstrated deployment and applicability for pipes at this ground height and robot recognition of another fitting type. All operations, calibration, deployment, auto- reporting, and analysis were handled by Portsmouth site personnel. These tests concluded a series of component-level acceptance tests which certified all constituent technologies and operational features. Test metrics included comparison of reported to ground truth results and assessment of data quality from quality assurance and replicate measurement comparison.

Beyond the radiometry associated with any NDA method, this unique commissioning path exercised and evaluated all the robotic features that are intrinsic to automation. These include odometry, geometric modeling, autonomy, remote launch and recovery, and end-to-end data flow. Each of these required verification and certification. These evaluations were first-of-kind for the decommissioning community, requiring innovation and resourcefulness in their own right.

Novel Radiometry for In-Pipe Robotic Inspection of Holdup Deposits in Gaseous Diffusion Piping


Summary: This paper details the first complete, DOE approved, deployed and operational radiometry for robotic nondestructive assay (NDA) of holdup deposits in gaseous diffusion piping. Some features, like peak-finding, Compton correction, detector efficiency, and material properties are characteristic of typical manual methods. Most features are specific to in-pipe robotic deployment. These include in-motion radiometry, self-determined location, geometric modeling of thick deposits, bounding of self-attenuation thickness and auto-checking of replicate measurements. Significant are the means for determining all the properties, equations, and constants for automatically computing and displaying all the quantities, uncertainties and information needed for NDA reporting, analysis, and review.

Earlier work by this team demonstrated rudimentary but convincing robotic in-pipe NDA of holdup deposits in pipes. Cold testing with high-enrichment mat sources and hot tests with low U-235 loadings together succeeded to exhibit convincing proof-of-principle. This research-grade radiometry implementation lacked accurate odometry, efficiency calibration, high-fidelity detector modeling, attenuation modeling, forward geometric modeling, auto-segmenting, uncertainty modeling, replicate checking, deconvolution and much more.

This work explains the technical basis behind robotic in-pipe NDA. It includes discussion of a new method for modeling of self-attenuation using in-pipe deposit geometry information, detail of the method’s total measurement uncertainty, and explanation of calibration methods and results.

Beyond development of automation-specific radiometric elements, the paper highlights analyses, testing, and technical bases specific to and supportive of the methodology. Examples include collimation characterization, detector efficiency determination, auto-calibration methodology, and odometric replicate-checking.

Results of this methodology are formalized in a DOE EM Technical Basis Document, implemented in software, formally verified in review and acceptance testing and proceduralized as a means for D&D NDA at the Portsmouth enrichment facility.

A Robot for Nondestructive Assay of Holdup Deposits in Gaseous Diffusion Piping


Miles of contaminated pipe must be characterized as part of the decommissioning effort at deactivated gaseous diffusion enrichment facilities. The current method requires cutting away asbestos- lined thermal enclosures and performing repeated, elevated operations to manually perform nondestructive assay (NDA) on pipe from the outside. The RadPiper robot, part of the Pipe Crawling Activity Measurement System (PCAMS) developed by Carnegie Mellon University and commissioned for use at the DOE Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Enrichment Facility, automatically measures U-235 in pipes from the inside. This improves certainty, increases safety, and greatly reduces measurement time.

The heart of the RadPiper robot is a sodium iodide scintillation detector in an innovative disc-collimated assembly. By measuring from inside pipes, the robot significantly increases its count rate relative to external through-pipe measurements. The robot also provides imagery, models interior pipe geometry, and precisely measures distance in order to localize radiation measurements. Data collected by this system provides insight into pipe interiors that is simply not possible from exterior measurements, all while keeping operators safer.

This paper describes the technical details of the PCAMS RadPiper robot. Key features for this robot include precision distance measurement, in-pipe obstacle detection, ability to transform for two pipe sizes, and robustness in autonomous operation. Test results demonstrating the robot’s functionality are presented, including deployment tolerance tests, safeguarding tests, and localization tests. Integrated robot tests are also shown.

Automated Analysis, Reporting, and Archiving for Robotic Nondestructive Assay of Holdup Deposits 
(Due to the PDF size, this file is kept on google drive.)


To decommission deactivated gaseous diffusion enrichment facilities, miles of contaminated pipe must be measured. The current method requires thousands of manual measurements, repeated manual data transcription, and months of manual analysis. The Pipe Crawling Activity Measurement System (PCAMS), developed by Carnegie Mellon University and in commissioning for use at the DOE Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Enrichment Facility, uses a robot to measure Uranium-235 from inside pipes and automatically log the data. Radiation measurements, as well as imagery, geometric modeling, and precise measurement positioning data are digitally transferred to the PCAMS server. On the server, data can be automatically processed in minutes and summarized for analyst review. Measurement reports are auto-generated with the push of a button. A database specially-configured to hold heterogeneous data such as spectra, images, and robot trajectories serves as archive.

This paper outlines the features and design of the PCAMS Post-Processing Software, currently in commissioning for use at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Enrichment Facility. The analysis process, the analyst interface to the system, and the content of auto-generated reports are each described. Example pipe-interior geometric surface models, illustration of how key report features apply in operational runs, and user feedback are discussed.

© Copyright 2019 by WM Symposia. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission

WM Conference 2018 Papers

Note: The following papers pertain to development prototypes that innovated the robotics industry as groundbreaking proof-of-concepts paving the way for RadPiper, the production robot that is deployed at Portsmouth Ohio. Please feel free to explore the PipeDream photo galleries as well as enjoying these papers on the innovative science that drove this advancement in nuclear pipe-inspection robots.

Robotic NDA of Holdup Deposits in Gaseous Diffusion Piping by Gamma Assay of Uranium-235


This research exploits in-pipe access to develop robotically deployed, high-cadence, accurate, certain, paperless assay of U-235 in holdup deposits within process piping. Prior radiometric assay from outside the pipes suffered from manual deployment challenges, attenuation of detection through pipe walls, long counting times, approximate modeling, and shortfalls associated with transcription and human interpretation. These downsides limited the speed, quality, and economy of assay resulting in vast cost and budget consequences to D&D. D&D of outdated facilities cuts into these pipes as part of the demolition process, creating the unique, previously unexploited possibility of robotic in-pipe assay.

The assay collimates radiation emanating from all but a short segment of pipe wall from reaching a gamma detector. Hence, the detector only views and measures source from a short segment of pipe at a given time. This is achieved by an innovative pair of collimating discs that are coaxial with the pipe and positioned fore and aft of the detector.

The detector assembly is translated through pipes by an autonomous mobile robot. Beyond radiometric assay of U-235, the robot images and geometrically models the pipe interior and deposit appearance. The robot is recovered from the same pipe opening from which it is launched, hence it drives the same distance out and back, measuring the same deposits twice. This achieves redundant radiometric and odometric measurements which adds further to statistical significance of the method.

Robotic Measurement of Holdup Deposit Volume in Gaseous Diffusion Piping to Quantify U-235 Content


During D&D of old gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment facilities, radiometric assay of U-235 holdup in pipes is a costly, time consuming, and labor-intensive process. Subject to human interpretation using approximate modeling, radiometric assay introduces significant challenges. Taking advantage of routine demolition activities in which D&D cuts pipes open, robotic in-pipe assay is explored. The novel method introduced here generates models of the internal pipe and deposit surface geometries that are used to derive volumetric quantities. The pipe surface is sensed using a non-contact inductive proximity sensor and the deposit surface is sensed using an optical laser triangulation sensor. These sensors are mounted on a spinning disk and driven down the pipe to construct a helical point cloud of discrete measurements. Surfaces are fit to each of the two point clouds to create a watertight volume that represents the holdup. This provides the location and volume per foot of pipe that is used to compare against criticality incredible (CI) thresholds during evaluation. The robotic system collects data autonomously, deploying and returning to the same pipe opening from which it is launched. This provides redundant measurements of the pipe and deposit surfaces as well as odometry used in localization. 

Results of Robotic Evaluation of Uranium-235 in Gaseous Diffusion Piping Holdup Deposits


Measurement of U-235 in pipes within old uranium enrichment facilities is time-consuming and very costly. Radiometric assay from outside the pipes suffers from manual deployment challenges, attenuation of detection through pipe walls, long counting times, approximate modeling, and shortfalls associated with transcription and human interpretation. The D&D process of cutting into these pipes creates a unique possibility of robotic in-pipe assay to address these problems. This paper presents the results of testing a first-of-kind radiometric non-destructive assay (NDA) robot for high-cadence, accurate, certain, paperless assay of U-235 in holdup deposits within process piping. The robot’s enabling capability is an innovative radiometric collimation method that views only a one-foot moving annulus of pipe wall. This exploits the internal axisymmetry of pipes to provide a direct measurement of industry-standard grams per foot U-235.

The initial proof-of-application robot was successfully hot tested by operators at the Gaseous Diffusion Enrichment Facility in Piketon, Ohio, in late 2017. This testing achieved all goals of traversing pipe, measuring U-235, deployment by facility personnel, and displaying analyzed radiation, visual, and geometric information. The success was a Kitty Hawk moment. The system demonstrated robotic in-pipe measurement of holdup deposit to a resolution, accuracy, and speed unachievable by alternate methods.

Hot Test 2017 Results

Results and Perspectives from Testing at Portsmouth


A team from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Nevada, Reno developed two robots for evaluation of holdup deposits in deactivated gaseous diffusion piping. The effort was supported by DOE EM. Facility expertise throughout development, as well as robot operation at the DOE Portsmouth site, was provided by Fluor-BWXT. The RadPiper robot conducts radiation-based assay. The PipeDream robot conducts volumetric deposit characterization. Both robots were demonstrated in tests conducted at the DOE Portsmouth site on 19 and 20 September 2017. An additional test of the RadPiper robot was conducted on 17 October 2017. Results from these tests are presented below, with RadPiper discussed first, followed by PipeDream.

WM Conference 2017 Paper

Automation Toward Tetherless Robotic Operations in Nuclear Facilities


Automation capabilities that enable communication-denied nuclear robotic operations have come of age. These layer over tethered operation or enable untethered systems for some operations. Teleoperated, tethered devices are traditionally preferred for nuclear remote systems. The tethers provide comm, power, and a means for mechanical extraction - especially for nuclear operations. Tethers, however, are the bane of some mobile operations, since long tethers restrict mobility, tethers are failure points, and some circumstances preclude mechanical recovery by tether. Tethering has superb advantages where it is viable, but a subset of nuclear EM challenges compel mobile remote systems that forego tethering. Tethering was essential at a time when autonomy or wireless comm could not accomplish viable operations. The possibility now is an emerging class of untethered exploration and service robots that are compelling for situations where tethers compound waste and exposure, or are not viable. Technical advances in localization, modeling, planning, autonomy, integration and reliability have made it possible to augment tethered operations or operate altogether without tether in selective operations. Tether preclusion technologies include localization, perception, navigation, safeguarding and task prescription. These effectively accomplish tasks like waypoint following, wall-following, coverage patterning, navigate-to-goal, next-best view and many others. Although these are not yet general for the broad agenda of the nuclear complex, these are already useful for many operations. These are a foundational base that can be built upon over time for more complex operations yet to come. As a context and analog study, the technologies are exhibited by robotically (without tether) modeling a coal mine with tracks and train car. This is analogous to technology and operation that might apply for inspection of waste storage at WIPP or the PUREX tunnels. Autonomous exploration of this nature is within state-of-art and possible with or without tether. Even simple autonomy like wall-following and waypoint following prescriptions succeed in operations of this type.