Switzerland’s Flyability on 5 August launched the Elios 2 RAD, an indoor drone equipped with a radiation sensor made specifically for inspections at nuclear stations. “The Elios 2 RAD represents the first chapter in our efforts to create indoor drones targeted specifically for each of our key verticals, accelerating our mission to use robots instead of people for dangerous indoor inspection jobs,” said Patrick Thévoz, CEO of Flyability. “The Elios 2 RAD has the potential to significantly reduce the need for inspectors to be exposed to harmful radiation or to the hazards of confined space entry for the purposes of conducting routine inspections.”
Nuclear stations typically have personnel devoted to maintaining low radiation exposure levels following the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) requirements. The Elios 2 RAD is designed to help them in their mission to reduce radiation exposure wherever possible. It does this by replacing personnel where possible for visual and radiation data collection, and by providing high-quality data for planning interventions that do require exposure, so that it can be kept to a minimum.
Elios 2 RAD is equipped with an energy Geiger-Muller detector and can detect radiation while in flight through Flyability’s piloting app.
After the inspection flight, nuclear engineers can use Flyability’s Inspector 3.0 software to map the radiation along the flight path of the drone, showing the exact location of dangerous dose levels within a nuclear facility. They can also play back the inspection flight within Inspector 3.0, using it to see dose rate measurements displayed synchronously on top of the video footage.
Flyability already has a strong presence at nuclear facilities around the world, where its Elios 2 has been tested. Nuclear inspectors have reported using the Elios 2 to save six figures in a single inspection flight by reducing downtimes and avoiding the need for scaffolding and other costly temporary structures. Further, inspectors state that these results are not unique, but are in fact repeatable and a regular part of the new workflows the Elios 2 enables.
“Over 80% of US nuclear operators already use Flyability’s indoor drones for their visual inspections,” said Alexandre Meldem, Vice President of Sales at Flyability. “Now we can expand that support by allowing engineers to collect actionable, high quality dose data. Helping nuclear inspectors collect this data remotely means that less people will be exposed to the potential harm of radiation.”
Last year, Flyability released footage of a flight taken with its Elios drone at the Chernobyl disaster site. The goal of that mission was to collect visual data within Reactor 5, which was never activated, in order to confirm that no nuclear fuel bars were present. Now, with the Elios 2 RAD, it would be possible to return and not just see whether any bars remained, but also record the amount of radiation present throughout the entire site.
“The Chernobyl mission was stressful, because the wall we had to fly over was 70 metres high, so there was no way we could get the drone back if the signal was lost,” said Charles Rey, the Training Manager at Flyability and one of the mission’s leaders. “But the mission was a great success, and the people in charge at Chernobyl were very happy with the video and images we were able to collect. The Chernobyl decommissioning team had little experience with using drones to collect visual data remotely. The Elios 2 presented a unique tool for the work, since it sits inside a protective cage, allowing it to enter confined indoor spaces to collect visual data for inspection purposes.
Other drone developments
Many other companies are also developing drone technology for use in the nuclear industry. Belgian aeronautical firm Sabca and Belgian nuclear research centre SCK CEN, have developed a technology that enables drones to carry out radiological measurements. The drones will be used as part of the monitoring programme, or during decommissioning projects or emergency planning, to carry out radiological measurements without any human intervention.
A new technology using drones has also been developed by the IAEA for use by the authorities of Fukushima Prefecture in Japan, making possible radiological measurements in contaminated areas. An IAEA-developed instrumentation and methodology for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) equipped with radiation detectors, cameras and GPS devices has been tested and validated under real conditions in the Fukushima Prefecture and is now available for practical use in routine or emergency situations.
In 2020, Russia’s Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) in Seversk began to use a drone for equipment inspection. UAV are being used to inspect the condition of equipment and structures, and to analyse heat losses of buildings and structures. The UAV is being used to examine the structure of firefighting equipment and external metal ladders, which previously required the use of an aerial platform, the issue of a work permit and the involvement of at least four specialists.
Similarly, the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) working with manufacturer RADeCO and Exyn Technologies, a developer of aerial robot systems, has demonstrated an autonomous drone at Exelon’s Peach Bottom NPP in Pennsylvania. The drone was used to inspect components in elevated hard-to-access areas, search for temperature anomalies, and collect dose rate surveys in radiological zones.
Canada’s Ontario Power Generation has been using drones since 2015. A five yearly inspection of the NPP containment dome traditionally required construction of a tall crane. Unlike the traditional method the aerial survey provides a 100% photo record, which can be referred to in the future.