Photos: Smokey Bear's neutron tool

Photos: Smokey Bear's neutron tool

Summary: A plane swoops toward a wildfire to dump its payload of flame retardant. Dramatic, yes. But heroic pilots are only part of the story.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

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  • The tanks are placed on a robotic platform

    "You can't get inside the tanks to inspect them, and a camera only gives a surface view," says U.C. Davis Radiography Supervisor Hal Egbert, who conducts the safety tests. At the McClellan Nuclear Radiation Center, the tanks are placed on a robotic platform in a special scanning bay and turned through a neutron beam (which comes out of the block to the left).

  • A neutron radiograph pinpoints problems

    The neutron radiograph is recorded on film similar to that used for X-rays. Unlike an X-ray, however, which can see through water but is stopped by metal, a neutron scan penetrates metal but is stopped by water and corrosion. That's enabled Egbert to find flaws that are invisible to the eye and to other systems. And, in some cases, it's allowed him to show that apparent weaknesses are, in fact, stronger than they look.

    This image shows a neutron radiograph of an outlet tube from one of the retardant tanks. Pits of corrosion that have reduced the thickness of the metal are marked.

  • A second radiograph showing flaws

    A second radiograph showing the outlet tube. The radiographs are analyzed with software similar to that used for X-rays, and the files can be e-mailed to relevant parties.

Topic: Tech Industry

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