A Scottish nuclear power facility has turned to unmanned aerial solutions in a bid to reduce the costs and risks associated with manual surveying.
A camera mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle is taking over tasks previously carried out by workers on elevated work platforms at Dounreay station near Thurso.
Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), the company in charge of decommissioning the nuclear site, carries out about 50 inspections a year of buildings that continue to play an important role in clean-up and waste management functions. It estimates manpower savings of £100,000 as a result of the switch to drone technology.
John Moar, senior electrical engineer at the site, is behind the initiative and undertook a course run by a Civil Aviation Authority authorised training company and secured a specific exemption from the no-fly zone.
DSRL spent £6,000 on a drone to carry out an inspection of two 20-metre high stacks for a project to modernise the ventilation of a facility. Previously, this would have required the site to erect scaffolding and hire a mobile elevated work platform at a cost of thousands of pounds a week.
“The project manager was delighted at the quality and detail of the images and how easy and safe it was to get them,” said Moar. “It also gives us 360 degrees inspections, which often isn’t possible when doing the inspection manually. Clearly there are very strict rules in place to protect the safety and security of nuclear sites, so we had to follow a detailed process to get all required agreements.”
“It also has the potential to develop applications in other areas, such as 3D modelling, thermographic, environmental and land remediation surveys, and PR footage.”
Dounreay’s tallest structure is 55 metres high. The drone can fly up to heights of 120 metres.