City man’s invention will help Japan’s disaster zone

Inventor Steven Stanley with the Radball, which is used to detect radioactivity.
Inventor Steven Stanley with the Radball, which is used to detect radioactivity.

A Lancaster man’s invention is to be used to help seek out dangerous nuclear waste within the highly contaminated nuclear reactors site in Japan.

Dr Steve Stanley’s Radball may weigh just 10kg and be similar in size to a grapefruit, but it can be used to detect and locate radiation hazards in buildings unsafe for humans to enter.

It is currently the only piece of equipment in the world which can withstand the radiation levels expected from within the old damaged reactor cores on the Fukushima site.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

It was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and only the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

As a result, the site is currently deserted and highly contaminated.

Radball will be used to find contaminated areas within the old reactors, so that it can gradually be cleaned up and made safe again.

RadBall is a radiation detection device which provides 3D visualisation of radiation from areas where effective measurements have not been previously possible.

It uses a radiation sensitive polymer material which becomes permanently opaque when exposed to radiation.

The degree of opaqueness depends upon the absorbed radiation dose.

Scanning the polymer once removed from the radiation allows the user to create a three dimensional visualisation of the deployment environment and the radiation sources found.

Steve, 36, works as a business manager for the government-owned National Nuclear Laboratory in Preston, where he helps develop new inventions for the nuclear industry.

His Radball is based on similar material to that which is used to detect x-rays.

“I saw the material it’s based on being used in hospitals for x-rays and I thought it could be adapted to be used in the nuclear industry,” he said.

“The device will tell you where all the contamination is; it detects and locates it, so that the contaminated site can then be cleaned up.”

Having already been used at Sellafield and in America, it is hoped that the contract with Japanese firm Hitachi GE for Fukushima will help spread the word about teh Radball into the Japanese market.

“We went out to Japan a few months ago to see the site that the technology will be deployed on and spoke to them about the project,” Steve said.

“The Japanese have a real challenge on their hands regarding the clean up of the damaged reactors...it will not be easy!”

“We will go out there again in the New Year to train them how to use it.”

It has taken about three years to develop and patent Radball, and it costs around £10,000 for a firm to hire it out.

Steve, who has been living in Lancaster with his partner Louise and their two daughters for about four years, has a degree in chemical engineering and a PhD in physics.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to go over there and help them, because it’s very challenging for them,” he added.

“As an inventor I just want to see it used for a good cause.

“This is the only device in the world currently which could be used to locate radiation hazards within the old reactor cores at Fukushima.”