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Industrial radiography is the use of ionizing radiation to view objects in a way that cannot be seen otherwise. It is not to be confused with the use of ionizing radiation to change or modify objects; radiography's purpose is strictly viewing. Industrial radiography has grown out of engineering, and is a major element of nondestructive testing. It is a method of inspecting materials for hidden flaws by using the ability of short X-rays and gamma rays to penetrate various materials. Two ways to inspect materials for flaws is to utilize X-ray computed tomography or Industrial computed tomography scanning.
Radiography started in 1895 with the discovery of X-rays (later also called Röntgen rays after the man who first described their properties in detail), a type of electromagnetic radiation. Soon after the discovery of X-rays, radioactivity was discovered. By using radioactive sources such as radium, far higher photon energies could be obtained than those from normal X-ray generators. Soon these found various applications, with one of the earliest users being Loughborough College. X-rays and gamma rays were put to use very early, before the dangers of ionizing radiation were discovered. After World War II new isotopes such as caesium-137, iridium-192 and cobalt-60 became available for industrial radiography, and the use of radium and radon decreased.
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Inspection of products
Gamma radiation sources, most commonly iridium-192 and cobalt-60, are used to inspect a variety of materials. The vast majority of radiography concerns the testing and grading of welds on pressurized piping, pressure vessels, high-capacity storage containers, pipelines, and some structural welds. Other tested materials include concrete (locating rebar or conduit), welder's test coupons, machined parts, plate metal, or pipewall (locating anomalies due to corrosion or mechanical damage). Non-metal components such as ceramics used in the aerospace industries are also regularly tested. Theoretically, industrial radiographers could radiograph any solid, flat material (walls, ceilings, floors, square or rectangular containers) or any hollow cylindrical or spherical object.
For purposes of inspection, including weld inspection, there exist several exposure arrangements.
First, there is the panoramic, one of the four single-wall exposure/single-wall view (SWE/SWV) arrangements. This exposure is created when the radiographer places the source of radiation at the center of a sphere, cone, or cylinder (including tanks, vessels, and piping). Depending upon client requirements, the radiographer would then place film cassettes on the outside of the surface to be examined. This exposure arrangement is nearly ideal – when properly arranged and exposed, all portions of all exposed film will be of the same approximate density. It also has the advantage of taking less time than other arrangements since the source must only penetrate the total wall thickness (WT) once and must only travel the radius of the inspection item, not its full diameter. The major disadvantage of the panoramic is that it may be impractical to reach the center of the item (enclosed pipe) or the source may be too weak to perform in this arrangement (large vessels or tanks).
The second SWE/SWV arrangement is an interior placement of the source in an enclosed inspection item without having the source centered up. The source does not come in direct contact with the item, but is placed a distance away, depending on client requirements. The third is an exterior placement with similar characteristics. The fourth is reserved for flat objects, such as plate metal, and is also radiographed without the source coming in direct contact with the item. In each case, the radiographic film is located on the opposite side of the inspection item from the source. In all four cases, only one wall is exposed, and only one wall is viewed on the radiograph.
Of the other exposure arrangements, only the contact shot has the source located on the inspection item. This type of radiograph exposes both walls, but only resolves the image on the wall nearest the film. This exposure arrangement takes more time than a panoramic, as the source must penetrate the WT twice and travel the entire outside diameter of the pipe or vessel to reach the film on the opposite side. This is a double wall exposure/single wall view DWE/SWV arrangement. Another is the superimposure (wherein the source is placed on one side of the item, not in direct contact with it, with the film on the opposite side). This arrangement is usually reserved for very small diameter piping or parts. The last DWE/SWV exposure arrangement is the elliptical, in which the source is offset from the plane of the inspection item (usually a weld in pipe) and the elliptical image of the weld furthest from the source is cast onto the film.
The beam of radiation must be directed to the middle of the section under examination and must be normal to the material surface at that point, except in special techniques where known defects are best revealed by a different alignment of the beam. The length of weld under examination for each exposure shall be such that the thickness of the material at the diagnostic extremities, measured in the direction of the incident beam, does not exceed the actual thickness at that point by more than 6%. The specimen to be inspected is placed between the source of radiation and the detecting device, usually the film in a light tight holder or cassette, and the radiation is allowed to penetrate the part for the required length of time to be adequately recorded. Lead is often placed behind the film to reduce the 'back scattered' radiation which can lead to the film becoming over exposed.
The result is a two-dimensional projection of the part onto the film, producing a latent image of varying densities according to the amount of radiation reaching each area. It is known as a radiograph, as distinct from a photograph produced by light. Because film is cumulative in its response (the exposure increasing as it absorbs more radiation), relatively weak radiation can be detected by prolonging the exposure until the film can record an image that will be visible after development. The radiograph is examined as a negative, without printing as a positive as in photography. This is because, in printing, some of the detail is always lost and no useful purpose is served.
Before commencing a radiographic examination, it is always advisable to visually examine the component, to eliminate any possible external defects. If the surface of a weld is too irregular, it may be desirable to grind it to obtain a smooth finish, but this is likely to be limited to those cases in which the surface irregularities (which will be visible on the radiograph) may make detecting internal defects difficult.
After this visual examination, the operator will have a clear idea of the possibilities of access to the two faces of the weld, which is important both for the setting up of the equipment and for the choice of the most appropriate technique.
Non-intrusive cargo scanning
Gamma radiography and high-energy X-ray radiography are currently used to scan intermodal freight cargo containers in US and other countries. Also research is being done on adapting other types of radiography like dual-energy X-ray radiography or muon radiography for scanning intermodal cargo containers.
A high-energy X-ray machine can be used. As an alternative, radioisotope sources have the advantage that they do not need a supply of electrical power to function, but they can not be turned off. Also it is difficult using radioactivity to create a small and compact source that offers the photon flux possible with a normal sealed X-ray tube.
It might be possible to use caesium-137 as a photon source for radiography but this isotope is always diluted with inactive caesium isotopes. This makes it difficult to get a physically small source, and a large volume of the source makes it impossible to capture fine details in a radiographic examination.
Both cobalt-60 and caesium-137 have only a few gamma energies, which makes them close to monochromatic. The photon energy of cobalt-60 is higher than that of caesium-137, which allows cobalt sources to be used to examine thicker sections of metals than those that could be examined with Cs-137. Iridium-192 has a lower photon energy than cobalt-60 and its gamma spectrum is complex (many lines of very different energies), but this can be an advantage as this can give better contrast for the final photographs.
It has been known for many years that an inactive iridium or cobalt metal object can be machined to size. In the case of cobalt it is common to alloy it with nickel to improve the mechanical properties. In the case of iridium a thin wire or rod could be used. These precursor materials can then be placed in stainless steel containers that have been leak tested before being converted into radioactive sources. These objects can be processed by neutron activation to form gamma-emitting radioisotopes. The stainless steel has only a small ability to be activated and the small activity due to 55Fe and 63Ni are unlikely to pose a problem in the final application because these isotopes are beta emitters, which have very weak gamma emission. The 59Fe isotope which might form has a short half-life, so by allowing a cobalt source to stand for a year much of this isotope will decay away.
The source is often a very small object, which must be transported to the work site in a shielded container. It is normal to place the film in industrial radiography, clear the area where the work is to be done, add shielding (collimators) to reduce the size of the controlled area before exposing the radioactive source. A series of different designs have been developed for radiographic "cameras". Rather than the "camera" being a device that accepts photons to record a picture, the "camera" in industrial radiography is the radioactive photon source.
In some rare cases, radiography is done with neutrons. This type of radiography is called neutron radiography (NR, Nray, N-ray) or neutron imaging. Neutron radiography provides different images than X-rays, because neutrons can pass with ease through lead and steel but are stopped by plastics, water and oils. Neutron sources include radioactive (241Am/Be and Cf) sources, electrically driven D-T reactions in vacuum tubes and conventional critical nuclear reactors. It might be possible to use a neutron amplifier to increase the neutron flux.
Since the amount of radiation emerging from the opposite side of the material can be detected and measured, variations in this amount (or intensity) of radiation are used to determine thickness or composition of material. Penetrating radiations are those restricted to that part of the electromagnetic spectrum of wavelength less than about 10 nanometers.
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One design is best thought of as being like a torch. The radioactive source is placed inside a shielded box, a hinge allows part of the shielding to be opened exposing the source, allowing photons to exit the radiography camera.
Another design for a torch is where the source is placed in a metal wheel, which can turn inside the camera to move between the expose and storage positions.
One group of designs use a radioactive source, which connects to a drive cable contained shielded exposure device. In one design of equipment the source is stored in a block of lead or depleted uranium shielding that has an S-shaped tube-like hole through the block. In the safe position the source is in the center of the block and is attached to a metal wire that extends in both directions, to use the source a guide tube is attached to one side of the device while a drive cable is attached to the other end of the short cable. Using a hand-operated winch the source is then pushed out of the shield and along the source guide tube to the tip of the tube to expose the film, then cranked back into its fully shielded position.
Defects such as delaminations and planar cracks are difficult to detect using radiography, which is why penetrants are often used to enhance the contrast in the detection of such defects. Penetrants used include silver nitrate, zinc iodide, chloroform and diiodomethane. Choice of the penetrant is determined by the ease with which it can penetrate the cracks and also with which it can be removed. Diiodomethane has the advantages of high opacity, ease of penetration, and ease of removal because it evaporates relatively quickly. However, it can cause skin burns.
Industrial radiographers are in many locations required by governing authorities to use certain types of safety equipment and to work in pairs. Depending on location industrial radiographers may have been required to obtain permits, licenses and/or undertake special training. Prior to conducting any testing the nearby area should always first be cleared of all other persons and measures taken to ensure that people do not accidentally enter into an area that may expose them to a large dose of radiation.
The safety equipment usually includes four basic items: a radiation survey meter (such as a Geiger/Mueller counter), an alarming dosimeter or rate meter, a gas-charged dosimeter, and a film badge or thermoluminescent dosimeter (TLD). The easiest way to remember what each of these items does is to compare them to gauges on an automobile.
The survey meter could be compared to the speedometer, as it measures the speed, or rate, at which radiation is being picked up. When properly calibrated, used, and maintained, it allows the radiographer to see the current exposure to radiation at the meter. It can usually be set for different intensities, and is used to prevent the radiographer from being overexposed to the radioactive source, as well as for verifying the boundary that radiographers are required to maintain around the exposed source during radiographic operations.
The alarming dosimeter could be most closely compared with the tachometer, as it alarms when the radiographer "redlines" or is exposed to too much radiation. When properly calibrated, activated, and worn on the radiographer's person, it will emit an alarm when the meter measures a radiation level in excess of a preset threshold. This device is intended to prevent the radiographer from inadvertently walking up on an exposed source.
The gas-charged dosimeter is like a trip meter in that it measures the total radiation received, but can be reset. It is designed to help the radiographer measure his/her total periodic dose of radiation. When properly calibrated, recharged, and worn on the radiographer's person, it can tell the radiographer at a glance how much radiation to which the device has been exposed since it was last recharged. Radiographers in many states are required to log their radiation exposures and generate an exposure report. In many countries personal dosimeters are not required to be used by radiographers as the dose rates they show are not always correctly recorded.
The film badge or TLD is more like a car's odometer. It is actually a specialized piece of radiographic film in a rugged container. It is meant to measure the radiographer's total exposure over time (usually a month) and is used by regulating authorities to monitor the total exposure of certified radiographers in a certain jurisdiction. At the end of the month, the film badge is turned in and is processed. A report of the radiographer's total dose is generated and is kept on file.
When these safety devices are properly calibrated, maintained, and used, it is virtually impossible for a radiographer to be injured by a radioactive overexposure. Sadly, the elimination of just one of these devices can jeopardize the safety of the radiographer and all those who are nearby. Without the survey meter, the radiation received may be just below the threshold of the rate alarm, and it may be several hours before the radiographer checks the dosimeter, and up to a month or more before the film badge is developed to detect a low intensity overexposure. Without the rate alarm, one radiographer may inadvertently walk up on the source exposed by the other radiographer. Without the dosimeter, the radiographer may be unaware of an overexposure, or even a radiation burn, which may take weeks to result in noticeable injury. And without the film badge, the radiographer is deprived of an important tool designed to protect him or her from the effects of a long-term overexposure to occupationally obtained radiation, and thus may suffer long-term health problems as a result.
There are three ways a radiographer will ensure they are not exposed to higher than required levels of radiation, time, distance, shielding. The less time that a person is exposed to radiation the lower their dose will be. The further a person is from a radioactive source the lower the level of radiation they receive, this is largely due to the inverse square law. Lastly the more a radioactive source is shielded by either better or greater amounts of shielding the lower the levels of radiation that will escape from the testing area. The most commonly used shielding materials in use are sand, lead (sheets or shot), steel, spent (non-radioactive uranium) tungsten and in suitable situations water.
Industrial radiography appears to have one of the worst safety profiles of the radiation professions, possibly because there are many operators using strong gamma sources (> 2 Ci) in remote sites with little supervision when compared with workers within the nuclear industry or within hospitals. Due to the levels of radiation present whilst they are working many radiographers are also required to work late at night when there are few other people present as most industrial radiography is carried out 'in the open' rather than in purpose built exposure booths or rooms. Fatigue, carelessness and lack of proper training are the three most common factors attributed to industrial radiography accidents. Many of the "lost source" accidents commented on by the International Atomic Energy Agency involve radiography equipment. Lost source accidents have the potential to cause a considerable loss of human life. One scenario is that a passerby finds the radiography source and not knowing what it is, takes it home. The person shortly afterwards becomes ill and dies as a result of the radiation dose. The source remains in their home where it continues to irradiate other members of the household. Such an event occurred in March 1984 in Casablanca, Morocco. This is related to the more famous Goiânia accident, where a related chain of events caused members of the public to be exposed to radiation sources.
- Loughborough University Library – Spotlight Archive. Lboro.ac.uk (2010-10-13). Retrieved on 2011-12-29.
- J. Magill, P. Peerani, and J. van Geel Basic aspects of sub-critical systems using thin fissile layers. European Commission, Institute for Transuranium Elements, Karlsruhe, Germany
- Radiation protection and safety in industrial radiography. Safety reports series No. 13. IAEA, Austria, January 1999 ISBN 92–0–100399–4
- P. Ortiz, M. Oresegun, J. Wheatley Lessons from Major Radiation Accidents. International Atomic Energy Agency
- Alain Biau Radiation protection of the workers in industrial radiography: the point of view of the regulatory body in France. Office de Protection contre les Rayonnements Ionisants