Drone carries out world first nuclear inspection

A drone has completed a world first by carrying out a fully detailed inspection of a nuclear plant in the US.

Cyberhawk Innovations used the drone to inspect two concrete pressurised water reactor containment domes for American Electric Power at the Cook Nuclear Plant, on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. Although drones have previously been used in the nuclear industry, this was the first time one has been used to perform an inspection to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Section XI Code. The code refers to several American Concrete Institute standards for conducting an examination. The inspection has been recognised in the nuclear industry as representing best practice, based on these standards.

Traditionally, inspections of this type would involve using a man basket with a 60m crane, incurring significant time and cost just to get the equipment to site and set up for the inspection. It took just one week for Cyberhawk to inspect both containment domes using a drone, with minimal site disruption. The inspection reduced direct costs by a factor of three, in addition to cutting indirect costs through reduced site disruption.

The inspection involved capturing images of the entire dome surface to the ASME code standard.

The final report provided 100% visual coverage of the dome with exact sizing of defects and a 3D model of the structure, creating using Cyberhawk’s cloud based visual asset management system, iHawk. The 3Dmodel will allow direct digital comparison for any future inspections.

Cyberhawk has been using drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, for inspections since 2009 in a range of industry sectors and particularly in hazardous areas. The company is based in Scotland with offices in Houston, the Middle East and south-east Asia. Its team for this project included an experienced pilot and a highly qualified inspection engineer.

A detailed hazard and operability study beforehand allowed AEP and Cyberhawk to overcome a range of operational challenges, including working around the plant’s other scheduled projects without causing any disruption.

Cyberhawk chief executive Chris Fleming, said: “This was a challenging but very interesting project to be part of”, adding “It’s important to remember that while drones can collect a huge volume of data, a high-quality engineering report is what makes all the difference. This allows the client to assess the condition of the structure and plan any maintenance based on the data.”