Japan is using a new technology of remote-controlled drones to prevent crews from having to be exposed to harmful levels of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011. Ultimately, 15,000 people were left dead and several thousand went missing in what was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
“The remote-controlled drone took off from Namie, a city about six kilometres from the power plant, and measured radiation levels for about 30 minutes, providing real time data to scientists,” according to AU news. “The unmanned aircraft can fly much lower than manned aircraft, which must stay at a minimum altitude of 300 metres.”
The drone’s low-altitude flight and maneuverability allows scientists to register accurate live readings of radiation levels.
Similar drones designed to monitor radiation after a release of radioactive material are being tested for commercial development and typically come equipped with thermal cameras, on-board sensors and micro-computers. One such prototype, funded by the firm Sellafield, was created in the Interface Analysis Centre in the University of Bristol’s School of Physics.
“By using lightweight and low-cost unmanned aerial vehicles systems, we can immediately and remotely determine the spread and intensity of radiation following any such event,” said Dr. Tom Scott, the project lead. “The systems have sufficient in-built intelligence to deploy them following an incident and are effectively disposable if they become contaminated.”
The drone used in Fukushima this weekend was jointly developed by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Chief JAEA researcher Tatsuo Torii says his team plans to use the drones to measure the radiation levels in the forests surrounding Fukushima.