Gamma radiation is one of the three types of natural radioactivity. Gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation, like X-rays. The other two types of natural radioactivity are alpha and beta radiation, which are in the form of particles. Gamma rays are the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation, with a very short wavelength of less than one-tenth of a nanometer.
Gamma radiation is the product of radioactive atoms. Depending upon the ratio of neutrons to protons within its nucleus, an isotope of a particular element may be stable or unstable. When the binding energy is not strong enough to hold the nucleus of an atom together, the atom is said to be unstable. Atoms with unstable nuclei are constantly changing as a result of the imbalance of energy within the nucleus. Over time, the nuclei of unstable isotopes spontaneously disintegrate, or transform, in a process known as radioactive decay. Various types of penetrating radiation may be emitted from the nucleus and/or its surrounding electrons. Nuclides which undergo radioactive decay are called radionuclides. Any material which contains measurable amounts of one or more radionuclides is a radioactive material.
Radio Isotope (Gamma) Sources
Manmade radioactive sources are produced by introducing an extra neutron to atoms of the source material. As the material rids itself of the neutron, energy is released in the form of gamma rays. Three of the more common industrial gamma-ray sources for industrial radiography are iridium-192, selenium-75 and cobalt-60. These isotopes emit radiation in a few discreet wavelengths. The facts that sources are very portable are the main reasons that gamma sources are widely used for field radiography. Of course, the disadvantage of a radioactive source is that it can never be turned off and safely managing the source is a constant responsibility.
Physical size of isotope materials varies between manufacturers, but generally an isotope material is a pellet that measures 1.5 mm x 1.5 mm. Depending on the level of activity desired, a pellet or pellets are loaded into a stainless steel capsule and sealed by welding. The capsule is attached to short flexible cable called a pigtail.
The source capsule and the pigtail are housed in a shielding device referred to as a gamma projector or camera. Depleted uranium is often used as a shielding material for sources. The exposure device for iridium-192 and cobalt-60 sources will contain 45 pounds and 500 pounds of shielding materials, respectively. Cobalt cameras are often fixed to a trailer and transported to and from inspection sites. When the source is not being used to make an exposure, it is locked inside the exposure device.
To make a radiographic exposure, a crank-out mechanism and a guide tube are attached to opposite ends of the exposure device. The guide tube often has a collimator at the end to shield the radiation except in the direction necessary to make the exposure. The end of the guide tube is secured in the location where the radiation source needs to be to produce the radiograph. The crank-out cable is stretched as far as possible to put as much distance as possible between the exposure device and the radiographer. To make the exposure, the radiographer quickly cranks the source out of the exposure device and into position in the collimator at the end of the guide tube. At the end of the exposure time, the source is cranked back into the exposure device. There is a series of safety procedures, which include several radiation surveys, which must be accomplished when making an exposure with a gamma source.
Gamma Projector (Sentinel 880 Delta) for Ir-192 and Se-75
Gamma Projector (Sentinel Model 680-OP) for Cobalt-60