EMPIR project carries out field trial within Chernobyl exclusion zone

Test flight in Chernobyl, outside the exclusion zone. Photograph courtesy of BfS

New airborne radioactivity measurements will support fast radiological surveillance, following nuclear events and an effective protection of the early responders

After a nuclear or radiological event, radiation protection authorities and other decision makers need quick and credible information, based on reliable radiological data, on the areas affected. However, the potentially large areas affected and risks to people in the vicinity pose difficult measurement challenges.

The project

EMPIR project Metrology for mobile detection of ionising radiation following a nuclear or radiological incident (16ENV04, Preparedness) developed new measurement techniques and traceable calibration methods for determining ground surface activity concentrations using data collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and for radioactivity in air measurements using transportable air-sampling systems. This will support timely, effective action that protects the public and environment against the effects of ionising radiation in the aftermath of nuclear and radiological emergencies. The project will also ensure the new instrumentation and procedures are taken up by nuclear regulatory bodies, environmental agencies and international standards organisations.

The field trials

In this project, several mobile ionising radiation detection systems were developed that can be transferred easily and quickly to areas such as contaminated zones. The research of the project included field trials at the following locations:

  • The 30 km exclusion zone around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, where an on-site comparison exercise of UAV based radioactivity and dose rate measurements organised and performed by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) in Germany took place. The exercise was based on spectrometric detectors, for example a cadmium zinc telluride semiconductor detector, carried by a drone. This region with real contamination offers the best training conditions for emergency situations and provides valuable insights into the use and further development of ground based mobile and small-scale airborne measurement systems.

Video showing UAV flights during a measurement campaign over the city of Pripyat in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Video taken during a measurement exercise in September 2016 at three different locations in the exclusion zone. The gamma dose rates varied between 1 and 40 μSv / h.

  • The Mollerussa aerodrome in Spain, where drone-flights with small and medium size spectrometers on board were carried out in a comparison campaign using a Cs-137 point source in order to determine the capability of the systems to detect, identity and localise artificial radioactive sources, as relevant in case of a nuclear or radiological emergency. In addition, a novel detection system used to locate sources was tested in the Barcelona Drone Centre using the same Cs-137 point source. The detector, in combination with the drone, was programmed to fly directly to the detected source. These trials were carried out by UPC with the participation of PTB, BfS and JSI.
  • The enhanced natural radioactivity area in Thuringia in Germany (the former Wismut Uranium mine) where UAV based measurement campaigns with the naturally occurring extended radioactive sources creating an increased dose rate were carried out. The measurements were performed by several project partners under the guidance of BfS.

Project Coordinator Stefan Neumaier from PTB said

‘the various UAV based measurement campaigns demonstrated the capability to measure dose rates and activity concentrations on the ground by remotely operated airborne detector systems. This is of key importance for the protection of health and life of early responders in case of a nuclear or radiological accident’.

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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