MIT researchers have developed a new technique that will enable operators of power plants and other equipment to inspect the internal surfaces of pipes and other containers without opening them. Devices mounted on the outside of the pipe send an acoustic wave into the pipe wall and measure the shape of the wave after it reflects off the opposite surface of the same wall. The behavior of the reflected wave over time indicates not only the thickness of the pipe wall but also detailed physical characteristics of the reflecting surface such as pitting and wear.
Development of the acoustic technique was part of a major program to improve the safety and reliability of today's nuclear power plants, in which aging and worn pipes sometimes fail. However, given the ubiquitous nature of pipes and containers, potential applications abound. One example is the inspection of storage containers that hold hazardous chemicals and radioactive wastes.
The Energy Laboratory researchers are led by Chathan Cooke, principal research engineer in the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems. The research was funded by the MIT International Program for Enhanced Nuclear Power Plant Safety, the US Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 11, 1996.