Automated object detection for visual inspection of nuclear reactor cores

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Downloads (Pure)


Remote visual inspection is a common approach to understanding the health of key components and substructures within nuclear power plants, particularly in difficult to access and high dosage areas. Interpretation of inspection footage is a manually intensive procedure and challenges arise in localizing and dimensioning defects directly from a video feed, which may be subject to uncertainty from a range of sources such as lens distortion, nonuniform lighting, and lack of depth from a monocular camera system. A common approach to addressing these issues is to develop a scaling factor based on identifying a reference object of known dimensions in the image and using this to size regions of interest. Manual, accurate identification of these reference objects is onerous, time consuming, and prone to variation across different human experts, therefore, robust identification of suitable reference objects in an automated, reliable, and repeatable manner is of significant value. In this paper we evaluate two approaches for the automated detection of reference objects in the inspection of graphite cores in the United Kingdom’s fleet of advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs). The first method is a multistep approach using tools from mathematical morphology. The approach uses a genetic algorithm to “grow” suitable structuring elements, refine the order of operations, and remove operations proposed by the human designer that have a negative impact on performance. The second approach uses semantic segmentation, a technique which is normally applied to scene labeling in computer vision applications, applied to produce a binary mask, separating the reference object from the background. We show that this second method performs significantly better than the mathematical morphology approach when applied to the identification of brick interface keyways in AGR inspection images. Though improved in terms of accuracy, it is recognized that a greater initial effort is required to train the approach, and as it utilizes black-box neural network approaches, the greater transparency offered by the mathematical morphology approach is lost. While explicability of techniques is often a highly desirable characteristic of automated analysis techniques applied to health assessment within nuclear power plants, the results of the reference object detection can be made explicit to the end user, ensuring that the human analyst is retained within the decision-making process thus mitigating the need for transparency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-128
Number of pages14
JournalNuclear Technology
Issue number1
Early online date31 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2022


  • visual inspection
  • nuclear reactor
  • object detection


Dive into the research topics of 'Automated object detection for visual inspection of nuclear reactor cores'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this