A Day In the Life of an NRC Materials Inspector
May 23, 2011
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An NRC inspector walks up to a pickup truck that has a strange oversized camper. Next to the truck sits a device that looks like a large metallic lunch box with bright yellow labels, except this lunch box has what appears to be 30-foot-long tubes stretching from each end like tentacles. She takes out her radiation survey instrument and it starts to register a faint, familiar chirp.
The inspector has just stumbled upon a radiographic exposure device (camera) that contains a radioactive source (pill). Radiography is a type of non-destructive testing and can be compared to a type of mobile industrial X-ray service. The dense shielding within the camera surrounds the pill and protects those nearby from excess radiation exposure.
Back to our inspector, she is surrounded by a field of large pipes stretching across the open landscape like capillaries moving the rich natural gas and oil resources from their barren origin in western Wyoming to the urban centers where they are needed. The pressures of the fluids in these conduits is high. Any defects or weaknesses in the system can lead to leaks, failure, or catastrophe.
Similar to going to the doctor to get a chest x-ray, radiographers use the radioactive source to get images of the internal welds connecting the robust pipes. The resulting exposure, or image, can tell the engineers whether the pipe weld is weak and needs to be replaced, or if this one is sturdy and will get the contents to their destination safely.
The inspector completes her surveys; no readings were out of the ordinary. She discusses security controls with the radiographers; the radioactive source must not fall into the wrong hands. She verifies that the public is safe; the procedures were followed to ensure that no one was allowed near the radiation.