Radiographic Testing (RT), or industrial radiography, is a nondestructive testing (NDT) method of inspecting materials for hidden flaws by using the ability of short wavelength electromagnetic radiation (high energy photons) to penetrate various materials.
Either an X-ray machine or a radioactive source (Ir-192, Co-60, or in rare cases Cs-137) can be used as a source of photons. Neutron radiographic testing (NR) is a variant of radiographic testing which uses neutrons instead of photons to penetrate materials. This can see very different things from X-rays, because neutrons can pass with ease through lead and steel but are stopped by plastics, water and oils.
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 nanometres.
Inspection of welds
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.
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 examine the component with one's own eyes, 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.
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 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.