Drones working on Sellafield decommissioning

10 August 2023

Drone pilots have successfully completed two flight firsts on a UK nuclear site. Deploying the Elios 3 drone equipped with a LiDAR sensor, the drone enabled Sellafield Ltd to achieve new efficiency in mapping and 3D modelling. 

The Elios 3 drone was subsequently flown with a RAD (Radiation Activity Detection) dosimeter which Sellafield hope will allow them to map radiation hotspots in areas before colleagues go into unused areas of the site. 

Amanda Smith, UAV Equipment Programme Lead, based at Sellafield Ltd’s Engineering Centre of Excellence in Cleator Moor, highlighted the safety and financial benefits of deploying a drone for the mapping: “This first flight of Elios 3 with the LiDAR payload was a success and the data collected is now being processed in a Computer Aided Design system which will produce a 3D model of the area in question, helping to inform engineering decisions going forwards. Sending a drone into this tight and unused space rather than an employee in the first instance reduces risk, and also saves time and money.”

Sam Jay, UAV equipment engineer and chief pilot, added: “The flights can be very intense and in this case there was pipework everywhere. The drones fly in a cage with sensors so if they do happen to touch anything they won’t be damaged.”

“Now that we have scanned the area the engineers can design scaffolding before they go to unblock a pipe which has been causing an issue in this particular area. By deploying the drone, and speeding up the process we have potentially saved the company, and the taxpayer, hundreds of thousands of pounds,” Jay concluded.

There is still significant testing to do in a controlled environment by exposing the drone to varying dose profiles. This testing will build confidence in the radiometric performance of the combined system.

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