Industrial Radiographers


Exploring this Job

Most nuclear or radiation facilities do not allow unauthorized personnel inside their grounds, which makes summer or part-time jobs in the field rare or nonexistent. Tours are available at some facilities, especially national laboratories, which can provide you with a better view of what future jobs may entail. Some facilities that handle radioactive materials, such as nuclear power plants, have visitors' centers where the public can view educational exhibits about their operations. Science teachers, working with high school counselors, may be able to bring in speakers or to invite industrial radiological technicians to speak about their fields.

High school science classes may be the best place to gain a familiarity with the nature of and potential careers in industrial radiological technology. Also, look in your public library for the American Society for Nondestructive Testing's magazine, Materials Evaluation. It contains articles on the whole field of testing. A sample issue can also be viewed online at

The Environmental Protection Agency offers information on industrial radiography at its Web site, 

The Job

Radiographers take X-rays (called radiographs) of objects and materials, including welds, metal castings and tubing, poured concrete structural members, and molded plastics. Unlike other industrial radiography technicians, radiographers work in a variety of settings. They are employed any place where structural integrity needs to be secured or parts and components need to be checked for flaws or defects. The aerospace industry in particular uses this technology to assess the integrity of airplane structures.

Radiographs are taken by placing an object in front of a photographic plate and exposing the plate to a source of radiation. This work is generally done in a special lead or concrete room. The radiographer sets up the material, secures the room, and takes the X-rays from a protected location.

An important part of the X-ray procedure is preparing the object to be examined. Radiographers align the object between the source of X-rays or gamma rays and the film or plate. Sometimes this is done manually; but often it requires electric trucks, chain hoists, or cranes. They may also need to mask off peripheral areas (areas that are not to be examined) with lead shields.

Radiographers select the proper type of radiation source, film, exposure distance, and time. They process the film and assist in the analysis of the X-ray plates and readings, checking for cracks, weak points, foreign objects, and other flaws.

Radioisotopes are the unstable form of an element that produces radiation. Most are produced by enclosing a naturally occurring element within a specially designed container and then bombarding it with neutrons. This process is known as irradiation. Isotope production technicians place specified amounts of chemicals into these containers to be irradiated in a nuclear reactor or other similar equipment. Technicians prepare the containers for shipping to the irradiation facility by securing vacuum pumps to the containers and replacing the air in the container with inert gas. This ensures that no chemical reaction will occur within the container.

Isotope production technicians also receive back the irradiated chemicals, which are delivered inside shielded cells. They operate manipulators to open the containers and transfer the irradiated contents into glass vessels. Using the manipulators, they add specified types and quantities of chemical solutions into the glass vessels to produce the desired radioactive product.

In addition, isotope production technicians control manipulators to perform standard chemical analyses of the radioactive materials. They may also extract radioactive samples that are transported to chemical laboratories for analysis. Once approval of the sample has been received, they fill shipping containers with specified quantities of radioisotope material for shipment to users of the product.

Hot cell technicians work with materials that have been exposed to radiation, but do so indirectly from outside a hot cell—a room totally enclosed in radiation-shielding materials such as lead or concrete. The room is completely filled with nitrogen and cannot be entered unless protective clothing is worn.

Hot cell technicians conduct work inside the hot cell by using "master-slave manipulators," remote-controlled mechanical devices that act like arms and hands inside the cell. While looking through thick lead-glass windows, these technicians operate the manipulators to test chemical or metallurgical properties. They also set up and operate machines to cut, fold, stack, polish, and chemically treat test samples, all according to blueprints, sketches, and X-ray negatives.

To perform the various tests, hot cell technicians use a wide variety of equipment, including tensile testers, hardness testers, metallographic units, and micrometers and gauges. Hot cell technicians also use special environmental chambers to test the reaction of irradiated nuclear fuels to temperature changes. Technicians record test results for further analysis by engineers, scientists, or customers. They place specimens in shielded containers for removal from the cell, using manipulators; devise adapters and fixtures for use in hot-cell operations; and participate in cleaning and decontaminating the cell during maintenance shutdowns.

Other types of work performed by industrial radiological technicians range from health and safety work to sales and personnel supervision. Some technicians collect data concerning radiation exposure levels in locations where potential human exposure exists, including radioisotope laboratories, nuclear fuel processing facilities, particle accelerator complexes, and nuclear reactor installations. Industrial radiological technicians also research the limits of human exposure, as well as the effects of radiation on the plants and animals of a region.

Design, testing, application, manufacture, sales, and maintenance of nuclear instrumentation and radioisotope or X-ray quality-control equipment are other common activities for industrial radiological technicians.