Drones for radiation monitoring
In depth

Drones for radiation monitoring

A new technology for radiological measurements using drones has been developed

Radiological protection is  the sets of norms, methods and actions taken to limit the adverse effects of ionizing radiations on people, or the physical or chemical effects induced by radiation in materials. Using several measuring systems, radiological protection guarantees that the legal limits of radioactive emissions to the environment are not exceeded.

This is particularly important in nuclear sites, where there are very sophisticated systems in place to protect people and their environment. Now, a new and promising technology will make it possible to make even more exhaustive, immediate and complete measurements.

A new technology

Belgium’s Nuclear Research Center (SCK-CEN) and the Belgian aeronautical firm Sabca have developed the technology that make it possible to make radiological measurements with drones.

A technology has been developed to make radiological measurements with drones

According to Johan Camps from SCK-CEN, a scintillation counter is attached to the drone. The device measures radioactivity by counting flashes of light caused by the influx of ionising radiation, which in turn indicates the magnitude of the radiation dose. “The more light, the more radiation,” he says.

SKC-CEN drone with a scintillation counter on its base (Photo: SKC-CEN)
SKC-CEN drone with a scintillation counter on its base (Photo: SKC-CEN)

SCK-CEN and Sabca anticipate the nuclear sector will soon be able to rely upon these devices. The drones could be used as part of a monitoring programme, or during decommissioning proyects or emergency planning, to carry out radiological measurements remotely. In the words of SCK-CEN Director General, Eric van Walle, this new technology “will result in a significant step up in terms of radiological protection.”

This new technology is a significant step up for radiological protection

Better access and real time measuring

“Drones allow us to chart every last nook and cranny, which is something we cannot achieve using measurements carried out by hand or from a helicopter,” Camps said. “In contrast to traditional measurement techniques, the information is actually already being received whyile the drone is still in the air. We therefore receive information in real-time from a larger number of specific locations.”

These measurements will be indispensable, the project partners say, to detect forms of radiation and cary out radiological monitorig of nuclear sites and their surroundings.

Sabca offers two types of drones:

  • A fixed-wing drone that can hover autonomously in the air for hours.
  • A multicopter drone which can carry heavier detectors without sacrificing flexibility.

Annelies Verlinden, Belgium’s Minister or the Interior, has highlighted the importance of this project: “Innovative projects with the aim improving the protection of the population, the environment and collaborators have my full support,” she indicated during the presentation of this technology.

Annelies Verlinden, Belgium's Minister of the Interior, in the presentation of this new technology (Photo: SCK-CEN)
Annelies Verlinden, Belgium's Minister of the Interior, in the presentation of this new technology (Photo: SCK-CEN)

The first use of the drones will be for preventive measures to study areas in search of potential radioactive pollution. Thanks to their detectors, the measurements can be carried out without human intervention, which maximizes the protection of the staff.

Measurements can be carried out without human intervention, which maximizes the protection of the staff

In the future, it is expected to extend this technology to other nuclear sites worldwide.

Sources: World Nuclear News, SCK-CEN, Foro Nuclear

Cover photo: Wirestock