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WITS is Central to a Cradle-to-Grave Waste Management System

Innovative Tracking System Improves Accountability, Eliminates Paper Trail, Reduces Inventory Time

Researchers in the Waste Management and Environmental Compliance Group (NMT-7) have developed an innovative system for tracking the Nuclear Materials and Technology (NMT) Division's radioactive and contaminated waste. It will store this retrievable information in a central database accessible to other Laboratory organizations.

The Waste Inventory Tracking System (WITS) is central to NMT's "cradle-to-grave" approach to waste management because it provides one source for information gathering and archiving.

WITS also minimizes the possibility of human error by automating the characterization process through the use of bar codes and a hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) to track waste shipments. This information is also vital to staff at the TA-54 Waste Disposal Site, where the waste is received and staged or disposed, depending upon its classification.

WITS was designed in collaboration with Beta Corporation International and Intelligent Programming, LLC, over a two-and-a-half-year period beginning in 1998. The PDA is used to read the bar code on each container of waste. This bar code, which is created at the waste source, identifies the contents of each container; exactly what's in it and how much of it there is by weight. This information goes directly into a database that prints out a complete inventory of each container and maintains a searchable archive that is available to all authorized employees.

Egan McCormick of the Waste Management and Environmental Compliance Group (NMT-7) performs a field inventory of low-level waste boxes using a hand-held personal digital assistant—or PDA. The PDA has a built-in bar code reader that scans a bar code on the container and uploads the information to a database. This bar code, which is created at the waste source, identifies the contents of each container; exactly what's in it and how much of it there is by weight. The technology is part of the Waste Inventory Tracking System (WITS) developed by NMT-7 to track radioactive and contaminated waste.

The system eliminates the paper trail and all the shortcomings associated with cumbersome files and human error.

Besides streamlining the information-building process, WITS also drastically reduces the time it takes to create the inventory. Bernadette Martinez, the technical lead for information management in NMT-7, says that it used to take about three hours to characterize one dumpster shipment of 90 low-level radioactive waste boxes and fill out the per-dumpster waste acceptance forms.

This process now takes about 20 minutes and includes an electronic-signature feature. The waste acceptance form is still used, but a printout of the waste contents as well as photographs to document the shipment now accompanies it. The increased accuracy and overall cost-saving benefits are substantial.

WITS also reduces the time and effort to process the waste data at TA-54. Before WITS, NMT-7 personnel completed a Chemical Waste Disposal Request (CWDR) for each waste package. The information on the CWDR was entered by hand into the computerized Chemical/Low-Level System at TA-54. To ensure accuracy, the data was entered a second time and compared. The paper copy of the CWDR was filed and maintained as a waste management record.

WITS eliminated the need for double data entry and the management of the paper CWDR. Martinez says, however, that the "key thing about WITS is its ability to integrate information among divisions." This across-the-Laboratory integration is important for several reasons: It creates a database that is accessible to anyone who needs it; it increases the Laboratory's accountability; and it decreases the time and effort involved in delivering, maintaining, and retrieving paper-only records.

Currently, WITS is used for compactable waste such as low-level radioactive room trash and noncompactable waste containing metal and wood. However, the incorporation of chemical and hazardous waste into WITS requires additional refinements in the system.

WITS may have many applications outside of waste management. Martinez has been contacted by other national laboratories, several British companies, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America, Incorporated, for information about WITS and its possible applications to general inventory management.

One notable, nonwaste use of WITS was made last year when a contamination incident at TA-55 resulted in workers having to check every compression fitting in the production building. WITS' functionality was used to document the checking of approximately 25,000 fittings with a "fitting tracker" software module. After the fittings were documented as tight, check/leak verifications were performed. The estimated 50,000 total checks performed over a three-month period resulted in a quick resumption of operations. Members of NMT Division won a Los Alamos Achievement Award for their effort.

This innovative system may have other uses at the Lab, says Martinez. Because WITS requires only a two-hour operator training to use the system, it could be used as a cost- effective tracking system in any number of work situations, including a basic inventory of everything from computers to lock-out/ tag-out accounting. Ed Lorruso


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