Kaiser-Hill Charges Through Nuke Site Demo

Tue July 26, 2005 - West Edition

Reliable equipment performance is a key element in most demolition projects. But when the demolition involves removal of more than 700 structures on a site that once housed a nuclear weapons production facility, performance quickly becomes critical.

A fleet of Hitachi excavators has come through in a big way for Kaiser-Hill Company LLC, the joint venture team heading up decommissioning and demolition of the $4.3-billion Rocky Flats Environmental Technology site.

Rewriting the Books

To say cleanup of Rocky Flats is challenging would be an understatement of megaton proportion. The site, which once assembled plutonium-based nuclear trigger devices, covers more than 6,500 acres. It includes a 385-acre industrial area with a 6,000-acre buffer zone surrounding it.

Initial projections estimated it would take 60 to 70 years to do the cleanup, with costs as high as $200 million. Mike Flannery, Kaiser-Hill’s general superintendent, said they’ve rewritten those estimates thanks in part to their careful choices on equipment.

“We started in 1995, and learned the best approach to this project,” said Flannery. “We’ve really been in high gear since about 2000. Since then, we have taken down all but about four major facilities and 60 to 70 minor ones. We just completed demolition of a two-story structure with over a half-million square feet. Other similarly sized buildings are slated for the final phase of the project, so we’ll really be ramping things up in the next nine months.”

Maximizing Excavator Time

To make that revised timeline a reality, Kaiser-Hill has equipped its Hitachi fleet with a host of attachments including breakers, pulverizers, grapples, bucket/thumbs, shears and hammers.

“The Hitachis are fitted with some of the best-producing attachments available today,” said Flannery. “We have six Rammer RB 42 processors mounted on everything from an EX370 to a Zaxis 800. That tool was designed for munching concrete, but we’ve found a good operator can use it like a hand to grab material, pull it apart, and set it aside. So, we use it as a primary tool, right alongside our Genesis shears.

“We also have a couple of Genesis GCP 610 processors — one fixed and one rotator — that have proven excellent in bringing down structures and processing the debris once it’s on the ground. The Allied Rammer hammers, mounted on both EX400s and a Zaxis 450, are tackling many of the extremely thick concrete vaults and slabs. And Genesis XPR Series rotating mobile shears on EX330s, EX450s and a Zaxis 450 are processing tens of thousands of tons of structural steel,” he added.

Flannery said maximizing the use of its excavators has really helped move things along. And while the company still uses other brands of excavators, the performance of its Hitachi units has proven invaluable.

“We used other machines when we started,” noted Flannery. “But once we stepped up our evolutionary process and identified our needs for a large fleet, we knew we needed to affiliate ourselves with a dealer that would best meet our needs. Power Equipment’s Denver office has really done the job for us. Not only do they have great parts availability, their maintenance and support is second to none. To make sure downtime is never a concern for us, they assigned two full-time mechanics to this project.”

Similar, Not Equal

Excavator performance can dictate the success of a project. As Flannery likes to say, all machines are not created equal.

“When laying out our excavator demands, we looked for a machine that could do the work reliably,” he said. “Most machines are designed to do the same type of work, but better hydraulics and more power give Hitachi a huge edge over competitive machines.”

You might think downtime wouldn’t be a concern on a project that lasted more than a decade, but Flannery disagrees.

“If we should lose one of the Zaxis 800s for an extended period of time, we would definitely notice it,” he said. “That would force us to use a smaller machine with neither the reach nor weight of the 800. We’d have to change our methods and techniques, which could have an adverse impact on safety, which we never want to do. For that reason, we are extremely pleased with the reliability of the machines and our dealer’s ability to maintain the fleet.”

Back to Nature

After completing the demolition phase, Kaiser-Hill will do the final grading, contouring and vegetation work. Then it will turn the site over to the Department of Energy, which will hand it over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.

“It’s really amazing that this site will soon house a wildlife refuge,” said Flannery. “We are proud of the effort everyone in our organization has put forth to make this cleanup happen. Their commitment to this job has been unbelievable; 60-plus-hour workweeks are common for most of us. At the same time, we also recognize the key role our equipment has played in our success. We will beat initial estimates by a long shot, and Hitachi has been a big part of that.”

Kaiser-Hill Co. LLC is serviced by Power Equipment Company in Denver, CO.

(This story appears courtesy of Hitachi Breakout Magazine.)