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Hanford Workers Training On Robot Arm To Clean-Up Tank Waste

The MARS, or Mobil Arm Retrieval System, costs $20 million and is supposed to clean-up radioactive sludge out of WWII-era underground tanks at Hanford.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Last fall Hanford Nuclear Reservation managers showed off a massive robotic arm that’s meant to clean up tanks full of radioactive sludge.

The multi-million-dollar tool is not in use yet, but workers are training how to operate the arm known as MARS.

The Mobile Arm Retrieval System is supposed to clean radioactive sludge out of massive underground tanks at Hanford.

That caustic gunk is described by many environmentalists as some of the worst, most dangerous stuff on earth.

Now picture this: You’re the guy with the joysticks in charge of not messing up.

That’s Mike Guinn’s job. He spends 8-hour-a-day training on this robot arm. He says it’s “intense,” but nothing compared to when he starts cleaning out real tanks.

Anna King / Northwest News Network
Mike Guinn works as a nuclear chemical operator on the MARS at Hanford in southcentral Washington.

Mike Guinn: “Yes, I do get a little uptight. Truly. I’ll tell you it’s serious business. It’s important for the people to know that Hanford might be slow but Hanford is plugging along in the safest manner that they can to protect the environment and the people.”

Cheryl Whalen looks on as Guinn and other operators move the arm around. She’s part of the team that watches over Hanford cleanup for the state of Washington.

Whalen concedes this $20 million arm might work for a few tanks. But she says others will likely need different solutions, that are also likely to be expensive.

Cheryl Whalen: “We’d like to think that this is going to be the one, but I think we’re going to need more technologies in the future depending on what they find in other tanks.”

A robot arm is being installed in a tank known as C-107. Crews are expected to be trained and start operating it for real by July.