IAEA drone for emergencies

15 April 2021

A new drone-based technology, developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for use in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, enables radiological measurements to be done in contaminated areas

Above: Drone in use (Photo: Fukushima Prefecture)


AN IAEA-DEVELOPED SYSTEM EMPLOYING unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones, equipped with radiation detectors, cameras and GPS devices has been tested and validated under real conditions in Fukushima and is now available for use in routine or emergency situations.

The IAEA says it is now ready to assist interested member states to develop and implement the technology.

An article by Aleksandra Peeva, from the IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, describes deployment of the technology for radiological mapping following a nuclear or radiological emergency (https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/now-available-new-drone-technology-for-radiological-monitoring-in-emergency-situations).

After the UAV takes off, radiation readings and other relevant data are synchronised with exact GPS position and sent in real time to the pilot at the ground station and stored on-board. After landing, all detailed data is recovered, which means that the photographic/geographic information can be reconstructed together with the corrected data of the radiation measurements. The satellite-like photographs and the analysed radiation data measurements are then made available to decision-makers for further action.

Developing UAVs for Fukushima

IAEA and Fukushima Prefecture began developing and applying UAVs for radiological monitoring in 2012. Through the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, IAEA assisted Fukushima Prefecture through two consecutive cooperation projects from 2012 to 2020. This involved:

  • Providing a complete UAV-based instrumentation system for radiation measurements — a radiation detection system with data processing and storage capability— developed and built at the IAEA Nuclear Science and Instrumentation Laboratory (NSIL);
  • Providing post-measurement analysis and interpretation methodology as well as training personnel both at Fukushima Prefecture and at NSIL in Seibersdorf, Austria, in how to apply the UAV and its instrumentation system as well as in how to use the software for obtaining and interpreting data.

The data collected using the UAV systems developed by the IAEA and validated by Fukushima Prefecture can be used to assess potential radiation risks and help establish appropriate remediation, decontamination and nuclear waste management plans and strategies.

The IAEA says there have been recent breakthrough advances in UAVs, and further major developments are expected in the near future, including larger payloads, integrated detectors and sensors, improved self-navigation and the ability for the vehicles to work in cooperation with other UAVs as well as ground systems. The IAEA is currently working on the integration and testing of new, improved instrumentation, including its adaptation to the next generation of UAVs.

“These novel developments will allow both longer flight time for the UAV and determination of the dose equivalent rates and gamma spectra in a single measurement,” notes Danas Ridikas, Head of the IAEA Physics Section. “When combined with high quality camera capabilities, the new system will allow a full 3D aerial photogrammetry model to be superimposed with the radiological maps and radionuclide identification.”


Above: Full 3D aerial photogrammetry superimposed with a radiological map obtained using a single drone in two consecutive flights (Photo: IAEA and Fukushima Prefecture)


UAV-based technologies will be crucial for advancing radiation monitoring, including enhancing the application of environmental mapping and improving long-term monitoring of contaminated areas, explains Miroslav Pinak, Head of the IAEA Radiation Safety and Monitoring Section.

A detailed IAEA technical document of the project results, including instrumentation calibration, methodology validation, in-situ dose rate measurements and mapping of the radioactive waste temporary storage sites in Fukushima Prefecture will be made available publically.

The developed technology, methodology and training opportunities are available to IAEA member states upon request and are already being implemented in some countries, IAEA says.

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.