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Ensuring Safe Structures: a Decade of Using Digital Technology in Industrial Radiography in Viet Nam

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Radiography equipment, such as the one pictured here, can be used to assess the structure of pipes without causing any damage to them. The use of non-desctructive testing equipment has helped Viet Nam's industry perform quality checks more quickly, more accurately and without environmental impact. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Hanoi, Viet Nam – Ensuring the sturdiness of buildings and bridges, and testing for defects in pipes, pressure vessels and pumps became quicker, easier and even more accurate for the Viet Nam Atomic Energy Institute’s Centre for Non-Destructive Testing ten years ago this month, thanks to digital testing equipment acquired with the support of the IAEA.

The Centre replaced traditional X-ray film radiography for checking for faults in piping, concrete and steel structures with digital techniques. Today the Centre has 15 digital radiography machines in operation, which has reduced its testing and evaluation time significantly and enabled the Centre to perform hundreds of tests on structures per year.

“Up until a few years ago this type of testing was something we had to outsource to other countries, because we didn’t have the resources or the required radioactive source to carry it out ourselves,” said Vu Tien Ha, Director of the Viet Nam Atomic Energy Institute’s Centre for Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) in Hanoi. “This ability to carry out digital industrial radiography is good for Viet Nam, because it enhances the accuracy, sensitivity and reliability of our evaluations on structures and with minimal environmental impact. It enables us to carry out testing even in remote areas and it’s faster so we can do much more. It also means more business because we can benefit customers in Viet Nam and meet the demand.”

Non-destructive industrial radiography

Industrial radiography is a method of inspecting materials, such as steel or concrete, for hidden flaws by using short X-rays, gamma rays and neutrons which penetrate the objects and create an image of their internal structure. It helps detect strength, stability and structural flaws without causing damage or leaving any radioactive residue.

Depending on the thickness and density of the object, testing time can take anything from seconds to hours.

The IAEA’s collaboration with the Viet Nam Atomic Energy Institute’s Centre for Non-Destructive Testing began in 2009 to help build the Centre’s digital industrial radiography capacity to improve pipeline corrosion detection and evaluation, the most common cause of piping failure in the oil, gas and chemical industries. Before that, the Centre carried out non-destructive testing and evaluations using only X-ray film radiography. “This involved very long processing times and evaluating the image was more challenging because it was of a lower quality,” said Tien Ha.

Through the project, two types of digital industrial radiography systems were introduced: computed radiography, which involves a type of film that is scanned to be read digitally; and digital radiography, which skips the scanning process and saves the image directly on a computer.

The two systems provide the same quality of result, and the practical choice of which system to use depends on the structure being tested, based on each system’s attributes.

“It’s always a compromise because, for example, computed radiography films don’t use energy, so you can go to a pipe anywhere, place your film and projectors, go to your office or truck and create your image,” said Patrick Brisset, Industrial Technologist at the IAEA. “Electronic detectors, on the other hand, need energy. But their advantage is that the data is easily readable and directly visible a computer.”

Similarly, Brisset explained, that while computed radiography films are flexible in that they can, for example, be put around a pipe, the radioactive source in digital radiography is perfectly stable, compared to less stable X-rays. “Each system has advantages and disadvantages, but both give the same result,” he said.

Promoting Non-Destructive Technology

The project with the Centre involved IAEA experts conducting trainings for technical experts in applying the new technology and providing the necessary equipment to help support its self-sufficiency.

In the last two years the Centre has also started deploying several training courses on advanced Non-Destructive Technology (NDT) to many companies in Viet Nam and in neighboring countries.

The IAEA promotes the use of NDT to help ensure the safe operation of nuclear and other industrial installations. It helps its Member States train staff in applying the technology and provides necessary equipment.

The IAEA’s long-standing involvement in NDT has led to the establishment of national teams that provide services to industries, training centres and certifying bodies that are responsible for the training and certification of personnel involved in non-destructive testing. It also assists developing countries by supporting the creation of expert groups and networks. In the area of NDT, nearly 90 developing countries are currently engaged through various regional and national projects.

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