Why Nuclear Power Plants Need a Drone Program

Nuclear power plants provide a critical source of electricity, but pose significant challenges. Drones provide the perfect solution for safety & security concerns, in a cost-effective package.

The global need for energy continues to rise. Industry estimates calculate the world’s demand for energy to reach 660 quadrillion BTUs by 2050, a 15% increase from 2021.

The growing population of the planet could require even more of a need for energy, especially as the availability and demand of electricity becomes more widespread.

Currently, energy production is generated using fossil fuels, solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power, natural gas, and other sources, including nuclear energy.  

Currently, roughly 10% of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power, with over 400 active nuclear power plants globally. Of that, approx. half of them exist in the United States, France, and China.

And, despite unfortunate public perception, nuclear power plants actually provide some of the cleanest, safest energy available – as long as they are properly maintained and operated professionally, of course. 

Like all facilities, nuclear power plants need effective monitoring, maintenance, and security. And, that’s exactly where drone technology shines.

Drone technology can help keep nuclear power plants safe through facility inspections, monitoring radiation levels, physical security, and operating in dangerous environments – should an accident ever occur.

Let’s take a closer look at what drones are capable of, and why nuclear facilities benefit from drone programs.

Drones Provide Safer Facility Inspections

Like all industrial facilities, nuclear power plants are a complex integration of many components.

In addition to the reactor, plants have cooling systems, steam generators, turbines, electrical energy generators, and containment structures. That means keeping a plant operational and safe requires continuous maintenance.

Drone technology has only recently become available for use in nuclear power plants. In the United States, for example, most plants were built between 1970 and 1990.

For decades, manual methods of inspecting these facilities were the only available option. That meant the techniques used placed workers in hazardous situations on a regular basis.

Workers often operated at dangerous heights, in cramped quarters, or even in toxic environments. 

But now, drones can take the place of humans in many inspection roles. For instance, visual and thermal inspections of towers, transformers, and other equipment can be performed quickly, accurately, and in a cost-efficient manner.

UAV payloads can carry high-resolution RGB cameras and thermal optics. Together, these payloads provide essential data to maintenance teams. In many cases, you can identify potential problems before components fail – critical in such an environment.

In this way, drones can lower cost while also improving the safety of your site.

Drones Effectively Monitor Radiation Levels

While in the military, I spent a few months on nuclear submarines. As you can imagine, the heart of modern submarines is the nuclear reactor.

A great deal of care and attention was given to monitoring radiation levels. In fact, everyone on the sub wore dosimetric devices to calculate individual exposure.

Like submarines, monitoring radiation levels around all nuclear reactors is essential.

Thankfully, drones can now help conduct this critical task. In the wake of the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2012, the IAEA began looking at UAV solutions to monitor radiation levels. 

In February 2021, the IAEA announced they had developed instrumentation and methodologies for UAVs equipped with radiation detectors, cameras, and GPS devices to monitor radiation levels.

And, it’s a method already tested and validated in the Fukushima Prefecture in Japan.

That means drones can now operate as radiation detection platforms in both everyday operating situations and emergencies.

Physical Security of Nuclear Power Plants

Given the nature of nuclear facilities, they continue to present tempting targets to criminal and terrorist organizations.

In 2021, for example, the United Kingdom reached a 12-year high for formal reports documenting security issues at the UK’s civil nuclear facilities. There were over 400 reported incidents, ranging from physical security breaches to cyber-attacks. That marks a 30% increase from 2020. 

Drones are excellent platforms for monitoring the physical security of a plant.

The aerial perspective drones provide can identify threats long before personnel on the ground can. Threats can be followed in real-time using the video feed from a UAV, communicating the data to teams on the ground.

With drones, you have a 24-hour all-weather platform for physical security operations.

Sign that reads Warning Drone Surveillance
Related: Could Drones Provide the Security Solution You're Missing? (click image to laern more)

Drones Safely Navigate Dangerous Environments

It’s an unfortunate truth that several serious accidents have occurred at nuclear power plants around the world. Some of these, like Fukushima Daiichi and Chornobyl, have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and destroyed the environment for thousands of years. 

In the immediate aftermath of such an incident, radiation levels are often at their highest concentrations.

Why send a person into harm’s way? Drones are more than capable of entering hazardous environments.

The loss of a UAV is nothing compared to the injury or loss of a person. When nuclear accidents occur, or when data needs to be collected from areas with high levels of radiation, send in the drones, and keep people protected. 

Key Takeaways

Nuclear energy is a critical resource for meeting global energy needs. And, they’re largely among the safest forms of power generation in existence.

That said, these essential sites must be properly maintained and kept secure from internal & external threats and dangers. Drones are excellent platforms that benefit nuclear plants.

Whether you’re looking for a faster way to inspect cooling towers, a safer method of inspecting cramped quarters, or looking for 24/7 security monitoring, drones provide a critical and effective tool for the job.

So, are you ready to take advantage of drones for your organization? If so, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

Picture of David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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