The use of radiation in non destructive testing (NDT) techniques during the construction of public buildings, bridges and utility pipelines can minimise the damage caused by natural disasters and save lives. This technology has been used to evaluate the structural integrity of buildings in Nepal, Ecuador and Mexico following natural disasters like earthquakes.
Industrial radiography is the most common technique used for this purpose. This NDT technique uses radioactive waves to evaluate the structural integrity and propensity of any given building to sustain damage. Short wave X-Rays, gamma rays and neutrons are used to test the integrity of structures without damaging them at all. Some rays are absorbed by the building, while others are bounced back onto a receiver which then provides a digital readout of the interior of any closed structures.
NDT techniques like radiography have been proven useful both before and after natural disasters. This technology can be used prior to an earthquake to determine if the shockwaves are likely to cause serious damage to a structure. Similarly, NDT techniques can be used following such a natural disaster to evaluate whether standing buildings are likely to crumble in the immediate aftermath. In this latter context, understanding which buildings need to be supported by renovations is extremely important.
Radiotracers are another useful nuclear technique that can be applied to reduce the damage resulting from natural disasters. This technology is used to evaluate the integrity of buried water distribution pipelines. Leakages can be detected based on a radio signature of liquids found in areas external to a damaged pipeline.
The basic premise for the usefulness of NDT testing is that some structures will suffer hairline cracks or fractures following seismic or other forceful natural activity. These hidden cracks can pose future risks if not dealt with immediately. They are not always visible, which is why having a 3D scan of the interior of a building is extremely useful when deciding where to allocate resources for restoration or deciding which buildings need to be torn down completely.
Having access to NDT technology is crucial in regions of the globe that are heavily hit by earthquakes. Training is being provided by Governments in the use of NDT technology and promises to reduce economic losses and loss of human life in areas that are struck the hardest by natural disaster. “Testing public structures with NDT improved the overall safety of public places and the quality of life [following an earthquake]”, said Mani Ram Gelal, Director General of the department of urban development and building construction at the Ministry of Urban Development in Nepal.
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