Dismantling a Cold War nuclear legacy

May 2014 » Project + Technology Portfolio » Energy
Idaho Cleanup Project lays the groundwork for $2 billion, multi-year Calcine Disposition Project.
IMAGINiT Technologies
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CH2M-WG Idaho, LLC (CWI), a partnership of CH2M HILL and URS Corporation, directs the Idaho Cleanup Project at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site located 45 miles west of Idaho Falls. Launched in March 2005, the seven-year, $2.9 billion project, funded through the DOE Office of Environmental Management, focuses on early risk reduction and protection of the Snake River Plain Aquifer.

In operation since 1949, the INL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the DOE’s missions in nuclear and energy research, science, and national defense. INL’s mission is to ensure the nation’s energy security with safe, competitive, and sustainable energy systems and unique national and homeland security capabilities. By 2015, INL’s vision is to be the pre-eminent nuclear energy laboratory with world-class, multi-program capabilities and partnerships.

The laboratory’s Cold War energy and defense missions left behind contaminated sites and radioactive waste posing risks to workers, the public, and the environment. Cleanup effectively began when the site was added to the Superfund National Priorities List in 1989 and continues to this day.

From 1952 to 1991, spent nuclear fuel was reprocessed at the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant. Between 1963 and 2000, this liquid high-level waste was converted to a granular solid called calcine. As part of the Idaho Cleanup Project mission, CWI will remove targeted transuranic waste from the Subsurface Disposal Area and remove more than 200 structures, including reactors, spent nuclear fuel storage basins, and labs used for radioactive experiments. As part of its contract, CWI also manages 4,400 cubic meters of high-level waste calcine, while preparing conceptual design for calcine treatment and an associated permit application.

The goal is to design a new waste treatment process, along with the facilities and equipment to produce a stable glass-ceramic from the calcine, making it suitable for transport to a permanent repository or interim storage facility outside Idaho by 2035.

The plan involves retrofitting an existing waste treatment plant to accommodate the new process and related equipment as well as building a new packaging and shipping annex from which waste will be shipped to an underground repository. Calcine handling, storage, and treatment must be performed remotely inside shielded hot cells. This requires remote processing and maintenance through the use of robots, master-slave manipulators, and automated guided vehicles.

Systems planning for new processes


​A new waste treatment process will produce a stable glass-ceramic from the calcine, making it suitable for transport to a permanent repository or interim storage facility.

A project of this scale and scope — one that includes four years of preliminary design, two years of final design, four years of construction, and 12 years of operation — required a consulting partner that could see into the future in terms of building, mechanical, and process manufacturing technologies with longevity and dependability. The government also wanted to work with a well-established company — one that would be around throughout this multi-year project. To start, they needed a team member to create a strategy that would take engineers into a new realm of design, collaboration, and effectiveness through a detailed implementation and adoption plan.

After a six-month evaluation, the team selected IMAGINiT Technologies and Autodesk because of their depth of knowledge, market share, expertise, and the comprehensive solution proposed. During the next year, IMAGINiT, Autodesk, and CWI worked together to plan how the new systems would integrate. Then they customized, configured, implemented, and trained the project team on AutoCAD Civil 3D, Autodesk Revit Architecture, Autodesk Revit Structure, Autodesk Revit MEP, Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, AutoCAD Plant 3D, AutoCAD P&ID, AutoCAD Electrical, and Autodesk Vault, as well as advanced visualization tools, including Autodesk 3ds Max.

​At the outset, senior management understood that Building Information Modeling was required to enable the high levels of integration necessary to coordinate a large design and construction team working across multiple disciplines. They also knew the importance of this information moving forward for both the management and maintenance of the facility. While they saw the benefits that BIM would bring to the project, they were concerned because almost everyone involved ― more than 100 engineers and technical staff ― currently worked in AutoCAD or 2D equivalents. To become BIM-enabled, they had to completely overhaul project management and daily workflows. This transition needed to occur with every project team member.

Overhauling a workflow

Together, CWI, IMAGINiT, and Autodesk examined the potential collaboration, project management, and workflow processes from start to finish. Then they designed a new system to manage the project to take advantage of the BIM technologies and to optimize the project team’s expertise. IMAGINiT then provided training for everyone on the team to introduce the BIM workflow and associated technologies. After training sessions, several IMAGINiT professionals were embedded into the discipline teams for two months to help on a day-to-day basis during this transition period.

“As a technical achievement, this project is a first-of-a-kind nuclear waste process facility. For us, using BIM and involving so many people over the project timeframe, it is also likely a first at the Idaho National Laboratory,” said Vondell Balls, project engineer, CWI. “When we got through the initial implementation and training, the team could see that it was intuitively the next step going from 2D to full 3D and BIM. When you give talented people training and the best available tools to perform their work — that are designed for integration and collaboration — it was no surprise that productivity increased rapidly.

“As the project engineer, I could watch the facility and process system modeling develop weekly using Navisworks,” Balls said. “Navisworks has amazing capabilities to read in 3D files from multiple software packages. As an example, in the early 1990s, the CWI Design Engineering Group modeled the existing Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) tank farm using the first versions of Autocad 3D. This existing model represented two years of modeling for the Tank Farm Closure Project and Navisworks read it in directly. Some of the existing calcine storage facilities also had been modeled during that time frame and they were read into the Navisworks model. We now have a Navisworks model of the existing conditions that represents a large portion of the INL INTEC site, which represents a significant amount of historical labor that is now available to the CDP [Calcine Disposition Project] and other INTEC projects. ”


Calcine handling, storage, and treatment must be performed remotely inside shielded hot cells using robots, master-slave manipulators, and automated guided vehicles.

Two years into the project, the team is approaching the end of conceptual design and the start of preliminary design. The conceptual design documents include reports, engineering design files, system design descriptions, facility design descriptions, and approximately 1,000 drawings. These documents are stored in an Autodesk Vault database and are linked to the facility model using a plant-wide system engineering numbering (SEN) scheme. Since all the project data is stored in the Autodesk Vault project data management system and exists in only one place, this information is always current and available within the model. Significant efficiencies are gained in creating an integrated design, which ensures accurate cost estimating, construction management, and follow-on facility operations.

Enabling project transparency

With an overall model as large as this one, the project management team needed a way to gain a comprehensive project overview. To achieve this, CWI’s Tim O’Connor and IMAGINiT linked the model with the Autodesk Vault database and an external database to make all design data accessible through the master model.

“We can click on an object in the master Navisworks model and view that object’s metadata, which includes object definition, status, external manufacturer, links to the object’s design files (drawings, calculations, specifications, reports), and more,” Balls said. “We wanted the Federal Integrated Project Team to be able to click on the model and review the project status with weekly postings to Navisworks during the follow-on design phases to facilitate project development and review.”

The team will use the same 3D plant model for construction scheduling, cost estimating, and later on, for facility management. “Without the Vault and external database implementation it would take months for a team of estimators to produce the take offs from a traditional 2D drawings and specs format for a project this size,” Balls said. “Not only will the integration allow us to generate a more accurate bill of materials, but we can also produce cost estimates far more rapidly, and the P6 construction schedules integrated with the model showing virtually the facility construction. When something in the design changes, we can immediately extend the change to costing and schedules.”

A total of 31 major process and facility systems and more than 600 subsystems form the new plant design. To keep the numerous components structured, CWI developed a hierarchy to organize the design into five functional areas — retrieval, treatment, packaging, shipping, and plant facility and support systems. Each functional area is divided into systems, subsystems, assemblies, and components representing major unit operations and assigned a SEN.

“The SEN allows team members to organize, identify, and relate information about components and equipment across the project. In the DOE system, the authorization basis for facility operation is in the configuration control of the critical facility data. This SEN system is at the heart of our project organization and allows the retrieval of critical information for future reviews by system, subsystem, assemblies, components, and parts,” Balls said.

Collaboration provides cost savings

On a typical project without modeling, many changes are not detected until a collaboration meeting. Hours are spent trying to fix issues caused because a design element changed and that in turn affected many other design elements. By working simultaneously and collaboratively using real-time models, all team members are automatically up to date and hours of rework are completely avoided.

“Our ability to design without creating clashes for each other improved tenfold, thanks to IMAGINiT’s experts working with our teams,” said Kris Keller, CAD manager, CWI. “At the same time, we are able to proceed quickly because discipline designers can all work simultaneously, instead of sequentially.”

IMAGINiT is also assisting CWI in customizing software, synchronizing shared data points as well as creating new workflows so that models and teams work together. An application allows push-pull connectivity via an external central database so that all equipment, lines, and instrumentation from the P&ID drawings can be synchronized completely and automatically with the same entities represented in the AutoCAD Electrical and Plant 3D files, which will then push data to AutoCAD Revit models. Changes to the P&IDs will be updated in the Revit and Plant 3D models and all project lists (piping, equipment, vessels, instruments, etc.).

Seeing is believing


3D CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment technology at the INL Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

CWI also is integrating the CDP model using “Inventor and 3ds Max” models within an immersive 3D Computer Assisted Virtual Environment (CAVE) Automatic Virtual Environment technology at the INL Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES). The four-panel CAVE uses rear projection to display computer graphics on three walls and the floor. By wearing stereo glasses to create depth perception and holding a “wand” to manipulate and control data, users can tour a building still under design, plot a new transmission route over the terrain, and open a valve or delve into the core of a nuclear reactor.

“We have been able to produce high-quality fly-throughs and live model presentations, which we used to help visualize difficult areas of the project,” Balls said. “This is a great benefit for us in the project office as this helps us to easily explain and present the project development to the Department of Energy and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, as well as corporate and other stakeholders.”

Information provided by IMAGINiT Technologies (www.imaginit.com)


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