Virtual reality, Fluor calcine

An image of the calcine bin set "Cyclone Vault," as a Fluor employee would see it wearing virtual reality goggles at Fluor's virtual reality laboratory.

Fluor Idaho is using a virtual reality simulator to help train for some waste disposal challenges.

Fluor, the Idaho National Laboratory cleanup contractor, recently opened the virtual reality laboratory in its facility on Sawtelle Street in Idaho Falls, said Fluor spokesman Erik Simpson.

The simulator is helping Fluor workers who are part of the Calcine Retrieval Project, or disposing of dry radioactive waste that was produced in the course of reprocessing spent liquid nuclear fuel decades ago. The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed with the state of Idaho to retrieve, repackage and prepare the 4,400 cubic meters of calcine waste for disposal out of state by 2035.

The calcine waste is stored in six bin sets at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. A virtual reality headset puts the user in the first bin virtually.

"It allows the user to physically be inside the bin set, or at least in a virtual setting, and see piping, the vaults, and any impediments that the engineers might have to account for in developing the retrieval technology," Simpson said. "The images that are used in this virtual reality environment are so detailed that you can even read writing on the pipes from when the bin set was constructed."

Fluor has been working on technology to transfer calcine from one bin to another, after which an emptied bin set could be closed under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The project was put together with three-dimensional computer models of the calcine storage facilities, which makes it possible to put the likenesses of engineers, technicians and management into a virtual mock-up of hazardous areas and simulate the work tasks without the risk of exposure to radiation, Fluor said in a news release.

“It gives us a more complete picture of the challenges that exist within the bin set and how to overcome them,” Fluor Idaho Calcine Retrieval Project Manager Howard Forsythe said in a statement. “Using VR technology gives us a distinct advantage that we wouldn’t have otherwise had even a few years ago.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.