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ORAU performs characterization survey of Georgia Tech’s Neely Research Center

Successful characterization leads to additional decommissioning and decontamination work

ORAU health physicist performs characterization scan at the Neely  Research Center at Georgia Tech

ORAU Health Physicist Nick Altic performs characterization scanning at the Neely Research Center on Georgia Tech’s campus. The research center, which previously was connected to a five-megawatt, heavy-water-cooled research reactor, was characterized by ORAU. Click image to enlarge.

ORAU’s environmental assessment team completed a characterization survey of Georgia Institute of Technology’s Neely Research Center, a structure that at one time was connected to the school’s five-megawatt, heavy-water-cooled research reactor.

Originally in operation for more than 30 years, the two structures were used frequently by the school’s nuclear engineering students until the reactor was shut down amid various concerns in the late 1980s—including the possibility that the reactor might become a terrorist target during the upcoming 1996 Summer Olympics. The Georgia Tech Research Reactor was eventually torn down to make way for what is now the Marcus Nanotechnology Research Center. However, the reactor’s companion facility, where source encapsulation and other broad-scope research activities were conducted, still remained intact.

In order to safely demolish the abandoned Neely Research Center, Georgia Tech enlisted the Knoxville-based radiological services company Ameriphysics to perform a comprehensive characterization of the facility. ORAU was brought onboard to write the characterization plans and conduct the field characterization activities to determine to what extent the Neely Research Center’s systems and surfaces were contaminated.

ORAU’s five-person team who traveled to Atlanta to conduct the survey had to tackle several challenges—not the least of which was having less than three weeks to characterize the three-story research center, including all systems and soils found within a 15-foot perimeter of the structure, according to ORAU Project Manager Erika Bailey.

In addition to the compressed timeframe, the environmental assessment team faced a second type of challenge, one that required some clever adaptation skills.

The Neely Research Center has several networks of embedded piping, drain lines and ventilation runs where characterization was needed. “While we already had custom-built equipment available for surveying these complex systems, we realized that some of these smaller drain lines would require a unique approach, which is why our team built another custom detector,” said Bailey.

3-D representation of the Georgia Tech Neely Research Center.

Results from the scan were displayed visually on a 3-D representation of the facility and provided to the customer. Click image to enlarge.

Another unique challenge was how to go about scanning the research center’s former source storage pool. When the reactor was in operation, the source storage pool was used for cooling spent reactor fuel—in addition to other high-activity sources—and for keeping radiation levels below acceptable levels. Using a Trimble Spatial Station with a tracking prism, ORAU Health Physics Technician Adam Kirthlink and Health Physicist Nick Altic were able to precisely collect geo-referenced scan data, which were then used by ORAU Geographic Information Systems Specialist James Viars to map the collected data over a 3-D representation of the facility. The resulting scan accurately represented the dimensions of the room and provided a more precise illustration of just where the contamination was located.

During the three-week characterization survey, Georgia Tech officials asked if ORAU could also collect additional final status survey data for previously unplanned areas of the facility. Doing so would allow the project’s decommissioning and decontamination contractor to use ORAU data and not have to perform any additional work, thus saving time and money in the long run.

Ultimately, even with the additional request, the project was completed on-time. ORAU once again teamed with Ameriphysics to bid on Phase 2 decommissioning and decontamination and was awarded the new contract work.

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Customer testimonial

“The characterization plan that [ORAU] put together for this
project is one of the best I’ve ever reviewed, and the quality of work they have done to date even better. To say I’ve been blown away is an understatement.”

-Tom Hansen, President Ameriphysics, LLC (Prime contractor on Georgia Tech Neely Research Center Characterization Project)

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