Since 1977, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research has funded a multiyear program at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to evaluate the reliability and accuracy of nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques employed for inservice inspection (ISI). Recently, the U.S. nuclear industry proposed replacing current volumetric and/or surface examinations of certain components in commercial nuclear power plants, as required by the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code Section XI, with a simpler visual testing (VT) method. The advantages of VT are that these tests generally involve much less radiation exposure and examination times than do volumetric examinations such as ultrasonic testing (UT). However, for industry to justify supplanting volumetric methods with VT, an analysis of pertinent issues is needed to support the reliability of VT in determining the structural integrity of reactor components. As piping and pressure vessel components in a nuclear power station are generally underwater and in high radiation fields, they need to be examined by VT from a distance with radiation-hardened video systems. Remote visual testing has been used by nuclear utilities to find cracks in pressure vessel cladding in pressurized water reactors, core shrouds in boiling water reactors, and to investigate leaks in piping and reactor components. These visual tests are performed using a wide variety of procedures and equipment. The techniques for remote visual testing use submersible closed-circuit video cameras to examine reactor components and welds. PNNL has conducted a parametric study that examines the important variables that affect the effectiveness of a remote visual test. Tested variables include lighting techniques, camera resolution, camera movement, and magnification. PNNL has also conducted a laboratory test using a commercial visual testing camera system to experimentally determine the ability of the camera system to detect cracks of various widths under ideal conditions.

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