SRS Drones, Reactor

A small drone with a high-resolution camera hovers above a larger drone that identifies where to spray herbicide on the rooftop of a closed reactor building at the Savannah River Site.

Using drones to monitor conditions and control vegetation atop shuttered reactor facilities at the Savannah River Site has proven to be quite the money saver.

By relying on and deploying specialized drones – instead of helicopters and photographers, as was the practice – an SRS team has managed to save more than $170,000 a year, according to a new announcement made jointly by the site and the U.S. Department of Energy.

"Using aerial drones to inspect the roofs of closed reactors high above the ground using high-resolution video cameras provides for significant improvements in our efficiency and effectiveness," Savannah River Operations Office physical scientist Philip Prater said. "The drones also allow post-closure surveillance and maintenance activities to be performed remotely at these facilities, keeping our workers safe."

Using a drone to capture footage of the P and R reactor rooftops cut costs in half, according to the announcement. The reactors were decommissioned years ago – certainly enough time for some greenery to take hold.

SRS Drones 1

A view of an aerial drone gliding above the rooftop of a sealed and closed reactor building at the Savannah River Site.

"With the discovery of vegetative growth on the reactor roofs, that may allow root intrusion," said Chris Bergren, the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions director of environmental compliance and area completion projects.

A herbicide-spraying drone was developed to battle exactly that.

The drone program at the Savannah River Site is done with the help of Virginia Tech; the university is home to an unmanned systems lab, where air- and ground-vehicle research is done.

The Energy Department recently recognized the SRS drone program with a sustainability award.

"We've recognized for some time now the tremendous potential drone technology offers us in multiple areas within the missions SRNS is contractually tasked to achieve at SRS," Bergren said.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions is the management and operations contractor at the site.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin