Digital twin aids hazardous clean-up on huge US site

A digital twin has been developed to aid the clean-up of a vast contaminated site in the State of Washington on the US west coast.

Consultant Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) manages one of the US government’s most challenging nuclear waste clean-up projects. It is responsible for the Hanford Site, a 586 square mile area in Washington state with 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste dating back to World War II.

For over three years, Lanner, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV, has helped the WRPS engineering team develop and use predictive digital twins to support and speed up clean-up operations and help it determine the fastest, most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to manage complex clean-up processes 

The Hanford site clean-up began in 1989 and is expected to take another 30 to 40 years. Since 2009, WRPS has been contracted to treat and stabilise waste stored in 177 tanks. The team’s mission is to reduce the time associated with clean-up, given that hoteling and operation costs add up to millions of dollars a day.

“We had been using predictive models for years, but they didn’t account for delay, failure, repairs or maintenance,” said Douglas Hendrickson, mission analysis engineering team leader at WRPS. “We carry out highly complex processes, manage large data volumes and have long lead and repair times for speciality machinery. Because the models we were using didn’t account for this real-world variation, they weren’t helping us understand how processes and projects actually affected timescales. We wanted a stronger evidence base that would help us make more informed decisions.”

Lanner has been using its predictive simulation that gives accurate answers quickly. “Using our WITNESS Horizon predictive simulation software, Douglas and his team developed a new suite of digital twins to provide accurate insight and speed up decision-making,” says Hendrickson.

“Our objective has been to bring reality into the models, providing consistent insight into how scenarios affect mission life – and therefore cost. We needed the ability to analyse ideas and what-if scenarios, so we could understand the facilities, personnel, environmental impact, spares and instrumentation needed to achieve our mission in the shortest time possible,” he added.

Lanner has provided ongoing consultative support, helping WRPS find better, more efficient ways to model concepts, control outputs and results, and extract value from what-if analysis.

“Our focus was on helping WRPS get evidence-based answers more quickly,” said John Beadsmoore, head of delivery at Lanner. “We trained their in-house team on using WITNESS Horizon and have supported them with deploying their digital twin solutions – including regular visits to Hanford. As a result, the team has developed an ecosystem of models that are answering crucial questions facing engineering, operations, maintenance and project teams.”

Over the past three years, the models have helped direct operations and investment more efficiently, challenging assumptions and uncovering bottlenecks.

The first fully built model related to Hanford’s effluent treatment facility. It was a complex project incorporating 2,870 twinned elements, input data from a wide range of systems and each simulation outputted over a gigabyte of results data. The operational team had scoped out $30m of upgrade projects.

By using WITNESS to model the changes and conduct a debottlenecking analysis, Hendrickson and his team observed that the upgrades would deliver negligible improvement unless a major filtration issue was addressed. Using evidence drawn from the digital twin, the team was able to get rapid approval for $6m of essential filter improvements that eliminated bottlenecks and enabled the upgrades to double throughput, achieving full demand.

Another model looks at waste stored in double-shell tanks. The tanks have mission-critical pumps installed to send waste downpipes, but there are historical problems with breakdowns. Repairs regularly took at least six months due to the complexity of dealing with radioactive waste and the special nature of the equipment.

WRPS used the WITNESS model to understand the impact of installing redundant pumps on each tank. The analysis revealed that having a redundant pump would save 45 days a year, leading to millions in cost savings. To help the team present these findings to internal stakeholders, a 3D animated video was developed with Lanner that illustrated the effect on gallons processed, time and cost.

“The effluent treatment plant and redundant pump modelling garnered high levels of recognition internally and made significant contributions to operations,” said Hendrickson. “Other models provide ongoing impact and value by supporting predictive maintenance and challenging process assumptions. Predictive simulation is helping us remove blind spots, preempt issues and proceed with our mission more efficiently.”

John Beadsmoore added: “As WRPS continues to develop their suite of models, we’re helping them explore ways to get more value from predictive simulation. These include using cloud computing to vastly speed up scenario experimentation and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to manage vast data volumes and automate analysis.”

Hendrickson concluded: “We’ve worked closely with Lanner to grow our understanding and application of models over the past few years. Using the models, we’ve demonstrated significant gains in facility designs, operations and production, and we look forward to continuing this momentum.” 

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