Using Non-destructive Testing for Safety of Public Buildings
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Source: International Atomic Energy Agency
The use of radiation techniques in non-destructive testing (NDT) during the construction of public buildings, bridges and utility pipelines can significantly minimize the damage caused by natural disasters and save lives, concluded panellists at a side event during the 62nd IAEA General Conference today. Participants discussed key nuclear techniques for NDT and how the IAEA has assisted governments to use this technology for evaluating the integrity of structures in Nepal, Ecuador and Mexico, following earthquakes.

Industrial radiography, the most common NDT technique, uses short wave X-rays, gamma rays and neutrons to test the integrity of civil structures without causing any damage to them. It relies on the unique absorption characteristics of various materials. Checking the quality of buildings regularly with NDT throughout their entire lifespan, including the building phase, can help avoid unexpected collapses, experts said.

"There are multiple uses of NDT related to the management of natural disasters. This technology can be applied before an earthquake to prevent a possible collapse, during the emergency caused by the earthquake to evaluate the usability of damaged buildings, and after the earthquake for the design of reconstruction interventions," said Dario Foppoli, Technical Director of Foppoli Moretta e Associati Consulting Engineers.

In case of a natural disaster, cultural heritage sites, important public buildings as well as pipe distribution networks can get damaged. Although some structures could remain standing after an earthquake, they may have developed hidden cracks, which could pose further risks if not detected early and remediated quickly. The use of NDT is critical in discovering such hidden flaws in buildings.

In 2017, Japan contributed US$ 725,200 towards an IAEA initiative to use nuclear technology for the verification of the integrity of buildings and other civil structures following natural disasters in Asia and the Pacific. Under the framework of several technical cooperation projects, the IAEA is training NDT professionals and is helping them establish networks in Latin America, Asia and the Pacific for the sharing of experience, expertise and even equipment when disaster strikes. The donations were channelled through the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative.

"Better national NDT capability and regional collaboration can improve the resilience of civil structures affected by an earthquake or other destructive natural phenomena. It can help to address the consequences and support reparation in the aftermath," said Mykola Kurylchyk, Programme Management Officer with the IAEA. "Nuclear techniques can also play a crucial role in disaster prevention and management."

Earlier this year, the IAEA provided Mexico and Ecuador with NDT equipment to test buildings after strong quakes. The new equipment will establish Mexico as a regional centre to provide emergency support in the case of natural disasters in Latin America.

"The IAEA’s support in establishing NDT capabilities, especially in civil engineering, is indispensable," said Eduardo Robles Piedras, Technical Officer with the National Institute of Nuclear Research in Mexico.

The IAEA is supporting Nepal in testing the safety of critical buildings after the devastating earthquakes the country faced in 2015 as well as providing equipment and training local professionals to develop NDT capability in the country.

"After the earthquakes, people were scared to enter buildings and preferred to stay outside or in tents. Testing critical structures with NDT improved the overall safety of public places and the quality of life," said Mani Ram Gelal, Director General of the department of urban development and building construction at the Ministry of Urban Development in Nepal.

Radiotracers are another useful nuclear technique that can be applied following natural disasters. This technology is used to assess the structural integrity of buried water distribution networks for underground leakages.