The Saw That Cut Through Contaminated Metallic Debris

The Saw That Cut Through Contaminated Metallic Debris

At HE&M Saw, we have created a number of innovative custom saws, but none more unique than the custom saw we designed for a decommissioned Plutonium manufacturing facility located in Colorado. With the capability to cut through large blocks of compressed scrap, the custom saw can also be dissembled and reassembled to allow for transportation into the required facility for the job.

In the early 1990s a Plutonium manufacturing facility in Colorado was decommissioned. The facility had produced Plutonium for a nuclear ordinance since the 1950’s. As part of the deconstruction efforts, over 800 structures were demolished, and 21 tons of weapons-grade materials were removed. The demolition resulted in 1.3 million cubic meters of waste that was compressed into 3-foot cubes and buried underground. Today, the plant is completely gone. However, it was recently discovered that some of the buried material was contaminated and leaking into the environment. This required the material to be dug up and disposed of properly.

For proper disposal, a saw would need to cut the 3-foot metal cubes into pieces small enough to fit in 55-gallon drums. The cubes were deemed hazardous and radioactive, and could only be processed in a radiation containment facility. The facility was isolated within 3-foot-thick walls and only accessible through a service door. Unfortunately, a saw with this capability usually stands at 12’ high, far larger than the human-sized service door.

As a solution, our engineering team designed a saw that could be dissembled by the customer, carried through the service door, and then reassembled to cut the compressed cubes.

Incidentally, due to the risk of radiation exposure, the saw operators could only work for a fraction of their eight hour shift—a mere 30 minutes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the branch of government that oversees the site, later reported that after analyzing more than 100 samples of soil, the contamination levels were below what is considered a risk to human health.

This project provided our HE&M Saw team the opportunity to think outside the box and design a saw that could cut the product while also fitting within specific facility constraints.

Paul Beha, HE&M Saw’s Products Manager