Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, March 19, 1999  |  Number 6
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

A little money Goes A Long Way Toward Waste Minimization

by Mike Perricone

Some solid waste issues defy any ready solution.

"We did have someone ask us about all the Canada geese on the site, and the amount of waste they create," Rod Walton said with a grin. "There’s not much we can do about that."

But in matters ranging from low-mercury lamps to refurbished 10-foot magnets, from recycled plastic pallets to separating out low-level radioactive waste, Walton is in a position to encourage creative solutions with funds from the Department of Energy earmarked for solving tricky waste problems or heading them off.

"We get a special block of money, a little over $2 million per year, to do anything that’s waste-related," explained Walton, of Fermilab’s Environment, Safety and Health Section. "It could apply to packaging waste, radiation waste, or chemical waste. Or it can be used to clean up the environment. Now part of that money is going to be allocated specifically to waste minimization and pollution prevention."

Walton estimates the available funds for waste minimization will be between $100,000 and $200,000 for next year. He identified two main goals: first, to minimize the amount of waste that the Lab produces, wherever possible preventing pollution and contamination before they start; and second, to use the funds as "seed money," investing in projects that will save money over the long term.

A case in point is last year’s $30,000 project to replace the lighting fixtures on three floors of Wilson Hall. The old fixtures were removed and replaced by a smaller number of fixtures with lower mercury levels and sealed bulbs. The new lamps are easier and less costly to dispose of than the originals, since the lower mercury levels mean they are not subject to federal regulations. And there are fewer lamps to be disposed of.

Recycling equipment is not just environmentally responsible, but it can hold down the cost of an experiment. MiniBooNE, a neutrino experiment using Fermilab’s Booster accelerator, demonstrated that principle by rejecting new dipole magnets in favor of 20 magnets that had once been used for fixed-target experiments, but were languishing in storage.

"These are 10-foot magnets that will be used to direct the beam from the 8-GeV transfer line through the Booster enclosure and on to the MiniBooNE target horn," said Al Russell of the Particle Physics Division, who is coordinating the renovation work. "We have to make sure the cooling path is open, verify the electrical integrity and make magnetic field measurements. We’re also replacing the manifold and connections at the ends of the magnets to make them more consistent for hooking up with cooling and power connections in the tunnel."

The contribution of $20,000 from the minimization would barely meet the price of one new magnet.

"In dealing with just about anything in high-energy physics," said MiniBooNE collaboration member Ray Stefanski, "the cost issues become paramount very quickly."

Issues of cost are paramount not only in experiments, but in the experiments’ aftermath. What do you do with a calorimeter after its useful lifetime?

"We had a 15-foot steel frame with an estimated 4,000 pounds of steel and 21 tons of lead," said T. J. Sarlina of the Particle Physics Division. "It wasn’t radioactive. If we had scrapped the whole thing together, the lead would have brought four cents a pound. Separating it out would bring us 20 cents a pound for the lead."

The waste minimization fund paid for the labor to do the separating, bringing in $8,000 for the scrap instead of the first estimate of $2,000. Even with the added labor cost, Sarlina estimated the Lab came out $4,500 ahead.

Another project was even more fruitful. Removing more than 200 chambers (each 78 inches by 80 inches by two inches) from the CDF collision hall resulted in a mixed bag of aluminum, fiberglass, copper, wires and connectors. The problem was a small square (17 inches by 17 inches) in each chamber that was slightly radioactive.

"If we had tried to dispose of it all together as radioactive waste, that would have cost us about $13,000," Sarlina said.

Instead, waste minimization funds paid for the labor and tools (primarily saw blades) needed to cut out the contaminated sections, which could be disposed of separately while the rest of the material was sold at various salvage prices. The result: about $16,000 in net savings for the Lab, instead of $13,000 paid out for disposal costs.

But not all costs and savings are figured strictly in bottom-line dollars.

Rudy Dorner, who manages the warehouse for Fermilab’s Business Services Section, noted the stacks of big, solid concrete blocks that were stored on wooden skids outdoors after being used in experiments for shielding. What he noticed was that the wooden skids deteriorated in two to three years, meaning the concrete blocks had to be re-stacked on new skids–with the resultant threat of injury, from lifting and possible tip-overs, to the people who did the re-skidding.

Dorner proposed using skids made of recycled (and recyclable) plastic, which last for an expected seven to 10 years. An $8,000 outlay bought more than 100 skids, which are now replacing the wooden skids for outdoor storage.

"In the long run, the economic impact is important," Dorner said. "But in the short run, reducing the number of times we have to move these concrete blocks by hand is an even bigger consideration."

Walton expects the requests for funds soon will exceed the available funds. The ES&H Section and the Environmental Protection Subcommittee are formulating procedures for peer reviews in an award system based on merit.

"The plan is to go out and talk to people who actually do the work," Walton said. "They have some good ideas."

Now about those geese….

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