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Nuclear Techniques in Industry

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Nuclear Techniques  for Quality Products to compete in Global Market
By Cyril Kasige


It is a known fact that consumers and users demand for quality products at reasonable prices. With globalization the producers have to face the challenge of manufacturing quality products, at competitive prices, to survive in the global market.  Modern technology of has to be utilized to produce such products.

Quality of products depends on various factors such as selection of quality material, proper design, efficient production methods, quality control etc.  The cost of producing quality products can be minimized by optimizing the process, minimizing waste of material and saving energy (power consumption used for production) etc.  It has been proven beyond any doubt that modern technology immensely helps to produce quality products, at reasonable cost.

Nuclear technology plays a vital role in industry around the world.  This article describes the use of Nucleonic Control Systems (NCS) employed in industry and aims to create awareness among the local industrialists to consider the nuclear technology for increased productivity in national industries.

NCS have been widely used in industries such as petroleum, gas, mining, chemical, steel, cement, paper, glass, plastic, and cigarette to improve quality of products, optimize the processes, save energy and material in many countries.  It is considered that NCS technology is the most profitably applied technique among other nuclear techniques, which has been employed in developed countries as well as in some developing countries.  Economic benefits have been realized and recognized by the industries where NCS have been introduced.  Many NCS are particularly simple; single parameter measuring gauges are now commercially available.

NCS are used to measure the parameters of interest such as basic weight, thickness, moisture, composition, interface of liquid and vapour, mass flow rate of oil, water and gas in a pipelines. The NCS is applied in on-line measurements, where it provides information, instantaneously and automatically to  a computer control system which helps to keep the measured parameters within the range of fluctuation.

Let us look at how NCS work in industry.  As an example let us consider a single parameter control system. Suppose an industrial process needs to maintain a liquid level of fully closed metal tank, which may be located in a high temperature environment.  In this case a low cost transmission type gamma radiation nuclear control system (Nuclear gauge) can be used.  Basically this system consists of a radiation source, radiation sensitive detector and a signal processing unit.  The radiation source is mounted outside the tank at the level in which the level of liquid has to be maintained.  A radiation sensitive detector is mounted on the other side of the tank, opposite the radiation source.  The radiation detector system monitors the intensity variation of transmitted radiation through the tank due to change of liquid level and provides a signal which can be processed to obtain the control signal required to correct the level.  This control signal can be used to control feeding valve of liquid to bring the level to the original position.


Let us consider another example of NCS employed in paper industry to measure basic weight and maintain the uniformity of thickness, required amount of moisture and ash contents which are essential parameters governing the quality of paper.  Mainly two types of NCS are employed in paper industry.  One is transmission type and the other is backscatter (reflected) type.  Different types of radiation sources are used for different parameters.  In paper industry, radiation sources – Promethium – 147 for basic weight, Talium – 204 for thickness,. Neutron for moisture, X-ray for ash, are used in NCS system.  In some systems infrared radiation is used to monitor the moisture content.

The principle of operation of NCS in paper industry is that detection of intensity of each type of attenuated radiation, which comes through the paper, or backscattered radiation by the paper.  The intensity of radiation coming out depends on each parameter of the paper.   The radiation sensitive detectors provide output signals by detecting intensity of radiation.  These signals are processed by a computerized nuclear data analysis system which provides necessary control signals instantaneously to correct the feeding of material and other necessary controls automatically which are required to correct the operation when the parameter (e.g thickness) deviates from the predetermined limits.  This is an on-line automatic process control system.

The price of a NCS system (computerized system with control out put signals) for paper is about US $ 150,000.  Initial investment for paper industry is fairly high.  Whenever quality is necessary, it is no doubt, that modern technology has to be used.  It is necessary to select technology, considering all factors, to improve the quality of products in order to compete in global market.  The government support and concessions would be necessary to encourage local industrialists to use advanced technologies for quality improvement.

A few NCS systems are being used in Sri Lanka.  Some industries do not use NCS due to financial constraints, although benefits are identified.  The technical specialists in industry could carefully identify the needs of NCS and convince the top management to use them.

The Atomic Energy Authority could assist the local industries to introduce nuclear technology to optimize production processes to improve the quality of products, improve plant life and save material that in turn will result in economic benefits to the country.