A drone carrying radiation-mapping technology is to provide new details of the contamination inside the reactor building at Japan’s damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The drone, dubbed RISER (Remote Intelligence Survey Equipment for Radiation), will be able to perform autonomous flights into areas beyond the reach of GPS signals, allowing for mapping of parts of the structure that have thus far been unreachable. It will then send back a high-definition 3D map of the contamination.

Measuring less than one metre in diameter, the drone uses laser positioning to navigate complex environments and avoid obstacles.

Developed in the UK by UAV specialist firm Blue Bear (responsible for the drone technology) and electronics engineering outfit Createc (responsible for the radiation-mapping software, called N-Visage), the RISER drone project has received R&D funding from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and innovation agency Innovate UK.  

The combination of drone and software has been trialled at the UK’s Sellafield nuclear site, where the system has collected information about conditions inside a chimney that has been contaminated since a 1957 fire.     

The N-Visage software, sans drone, has already been used inside one of the reactor buildings at the Fukushima plant.

NDA technology head Melanie Brownridge said the agency was “thrilled to see RISER put to work in Japan, and delighted that our early-stage support for the N-Visage system enabled Createc to develop its potential further.

“The subsequent collaboration with Blue Bear, again funded by the NDA through an initiative with Innovate UK, led to RISER. This shows the importance of funding innovative ideas through their journey from the drawing board to the market – not just for the NDA’s decommissioning mission but for the wider UK and overseas economy.”