The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), have announced a project where they will jointly develop a drone to be used for measuring radiation in the environments around the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. After last year’s tragic earthquake and tsunami resulted in the worst nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl 25 years earlier, scientists and atomic energy authorities have had improve and invent new methods of finding and measuring radioactive contamination.
While things like remote-controlled helicopters have been used in the past, JAXA points out that they are not suitable for areas that are more remote and mountainous. Helicopters have to fly low and the operator needs to be able to maintain a line of sight. The areas around Fukushima are overgrown and dense with trees, and an unmanned drone would ideally be able to fly at higher altitudes where it can survey contaminated areas below.
Early designs of the drone reveal an aircraft measuring 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) long, and a wingspan of 4.2 meters (13.8 feet). Analysts estimate that the Fukushima nuclear disaster spread radiation as far several hundred kilometers from the power plant, and the area has only widened as contaminated materials have been scattered by wind and rain. While clean up efforts have already begun, it believed that in some areas, evacuated residents may not be able to return to their homes for 10 years or more.