Drones Outfitted For Radiation Monitoring

Belgian researchers at Sabca and the Belgian nuclear research center SCK CEN say they have developed a drone-based technology that measures radiation levels on the ground.

Sabca drone"Very soon, the nuclear sector too will be able to rely upon the assistance of these unmanned aircraft. The drones will be used as part of the monitoring program, or during decommissioning projects or emergency planning, to carry out radiological measurements without any human intervention," the research teams announced..

Eric van Walle, the Director-General of SCK CEN, pointed out the technology is "a significant step up in terms of radiation protection.”

The technology was demonstrated this week in the presence of Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden, who said the drones will be first used as a preventive measure to study areas for potential radioactive contamination.

"We are also preparing for possible remediation. Thanks to the detector, measurements can be performed during crises without any human intervention. This maximises the protection of collaborators.” she said. 

Aviation specialists at Sabca. have created two types of drones, including a fixed-wing drone that can fly autonomously for hours and the multicopter, which can carry heavier detectors without sacrificing flexibility. Currently, the company is testing the transportation of medical samples above cities, the possibility of inspecting wind turbines at sea and the integration of drones within commercial airspace.

Radiation monitoring starts by attaching a scintillation counter to the drone. “The device measures radioactivity by counting flashes of light caused by the influx of ionizing radiation, which in turn indicates the magnitude of the radiation dose. The more light, the more radiation,” explains Johan Camps.

As an added benefit, drones are flexible enough to allow the technology to "chart every last nook and cranny, which is something we cannot achieve using measurements carried out by hand or from a helicopter.
said Camps. "In contrast to traditional measurement techniques, the information is actually already being received while the drone is still in the air. We, therefore, receive information in real-time from a larger number of specific locations.” 

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