Nuclear Decommissioning Authority funds have helped two UK businesses develop a small drone that to measure radiation levels in the damaged reactor building of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

The lightweight drone uses lasers to self-navigate deep inside hazardous facilities where GPS signals cannot reach, and has already been used successfully at Sellafield.

The drone, called Remote Intelligence Survey Equipment for Radiation or Riser, carries a sophisticated radiation detection and mapping system which has been collecting vital information about conditions in the remaining Windscale Pile chimney.

More than 60 years after the 1957 fire, the chimney remains highly contaminated.

Using remotely operated equipment is the only way to establish how the chimney can be cleaned out and finally dismantled.

The drone combines two separate pieces of cutting-edge technology: drones and radiation-mapping software.

Each received research and development funding through the NDA and fellow government agency, Innovate UK.

In 2009, Cockermouth-based Createc’s N-Visage radiation mapping software project was boosted during its critical early stages by a £50,000 investment from the NDA’s research and development portfolio.

Three years later, the NDA joined other government organisations to invest further funds in a wide range of innovative nuclear projects.

This led to the collaboration between Createc and aerial systems specialist Blue Bear, from Bedford.

After a series of on-site trials at Sellafield, the drone was put into decommissioning action.

The NDA’s head of technology, Prof Melanie Brownridge, said: “We are thrilled to see Riser put to work in Japan, and delighted that our early-stage support for the N-Visage system enabled Createc to develop its potential further.

“The subsequent collaboration with Blue Bear, led to Riser.

"This shows the importance of funding innovative ideas through their journey from the drawing board to the market – not just for the NDA’s decommissioning mission but for the wider UK and overseas economy.”