On February 14, 2014 a 55-gallon drum of contaminated material burst at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
(WIPP), releasing a small cloud of radioactive material. The event occurred deep within a stack of waste containers in the confined
space of a disposal room carved into a geologic salt deposit nearly 2,100 feet underground. Following the incident and appropriate
safety responses, a full accident investigation commenced.
Given the remote location of the disposal room, and the delicate nature of the contents, WIPP required a means to insert a 90-ft cantilevered boom capable of deploying a 15-lb sensor package within an operating window of only 30 vertical inches above the waste
stack. To add to the complexity, the boom was required to provide self-driven motion in both lateral directions so as to permit survey of the entire chamber, and had to be operable by workers in full-body protective suits with allowable time at the contaminated site of less than an hour. Further, the entire system had to be transported to the deployment location in sections less than 10 feet in length, and no individual component could weigh more than 100-pounds.