Los Alamos, NM — A smart computer system developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory can now provide an almost instant alarm signal when nuclear waste transport drivers waver off course.
For waste-carrying trucks bound for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, this is a timely addition to their on-board shipment-tracking systems. Ever since a WIPP truck took a wrong turn in Santa Fe last fall, the drivers have been under closer scrutiny than ever. The existing system tracks their progress toward the plant, but does not provide alarms for course deviations or stopped shipments. Operators in the WIPP Central Monitoring Room (CMR) had to observe the shipment’s path on screen, recognize if a deviation had occurred, and then respond, resulting in several miles of inadvertent travel on the wrong road, in one case.
The Guardian system, developed by the Advanced Surveillance Technology team at Los Alamos, had already been developed to “reason”; learning to track anomalies from an established transport route or a set pattern of behavior for personnel and material in nuclear material facilities. Adapting it to alert WIPP’s monitoring staff was inexpensive and quickly achieved. Guardian now links with the TRANSCOM satellite tracking system, and as soon as it recognizes a stop, communication failure or route deviation, it sounds alarms and posts message windows on the computer screens for the monitoring room operators. The new system was modified for WIPP within just weeks of the initial off-course truck incident, thanks to support from the Department of Energy’s Albuquerque Operations Office for National Transportation Program.
“We realized that with our advanced surveillance experience, we could deploy a Guardian-based system to provide route assurance for WIPP quickly and effectively, and so far it’s successfully tracked seven shipments,” said Sharon Seitz, a technical staff member on the project.
Not only can Guardian keep track of the trucks, but in a safety-related application it has already been in use in the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Los Alamos, where it is remotely monitoring a capacitor bank room. Guardian is also in place at the Los Alamos Applied Monitoring and Transparency Laboratory as part of a prototype system to monitor nuclear weapons dismantlement, a project in support of arms control and nonproliferation treaty research.
Guardian, as deployed for the new WIPP Route Assurance Program, or WippRAP, has a four-part approach. The computer reasoning system first establishes the location of all active WIPP shipments from their varied departure points all the way to the WIPP site in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Guardian then verifies that the TRANSCOM location signals are being received properly and continuously. Third, it determines whether a truck has stopped or not. Fourth, Guardian constantly verifies that the shipment is on route.
Should a truck display anomalous behavior, such as stopping or turning in an unplanned location, the system sets off an alarm that requires the WIPP site Control Monitoring Room operator to respond. If the driver’s stop is for an extended period of time, the system can be told the length of that period, and it will refrain from additional alerts until that time is up, or when the shipment begins moving again. An example of an extended, unplanned stoppage would be poor road conditions or bad visibility due to rough weather.
Los Alamos is working with the Department of Energy’s National Transportation Program-Albuquerque to implement an enhanced version for route assurance on all shipments tracked by TRANSCOM for DOE/NTPA.
World Wide Web site: http://www.lanl.gov/