Flying Inspectors at Nuclear Plants

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Drone-mounted technology can be used to inspect concrete structures at nuclear power plants with the same degree of accuracy as traditional inspection methods, an EPRI field demonstration showed.

Historically, when nuclear plant technicians inspect containment buildings, cooling towers, and other large concrete structures, they may use scaffolding, hanging platforms, orpersonnel baskets to gain access—or even rappel from the top. These approaches increase risk of worker injury. The use of drones can reduce risk, costs, and disruption of plant operations.

EPRI field-tested the use of drones equipped with various payloads to inspect a containment building at a nuclear plant in the United States. Inspectors used the drones to collect photos, thermal images, and videos, then analyzed them to locate areas of degradation. The results were compared with those from traditional visual inspections performed a few months earlier, and the accuracy of defect detection was comparable.

In a separate lab study of various camera systems, EPRI found that image sharpness varied widely, pointing to the importance of considering specific inspection needs when selecting a drone.

In related research, EPRI is investigating:

  • Automated drone flight paths for recurring nuclear plant inspections
  • Drone payloads such as thermal sensors,microwave transducers, and radiation detectors to provide more information on nuclear plant conditions
  • Automated analysis of data from drone inspections to provide actionable insights on plant maintenance needs
Key EPRI Technical Experts:

Sam Johnson, Tony Cinson
For more information, contact techexpert@eprijournal.com.