Wendy is an industrial radiation technologist

Wednesday March 18 2020

Wendy holds a detector attached to a flow rig apparatus. The set-up is used for detecting radiation. PHOTO| PETER MUSA


Wendy Omolo is perfecting her art in the science of Radiation Technology, specialising in industrial applications. After she graduated with a BSc Mechanical Engineering from Kenyatta University in 2012, she got a job with Heavy Engineering Ltd, Nairobi.

It is while here that she made up her mind to study industrial radiation technology. To get there, one must enroll in a Nuclear Science course.

When the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board offered her sponsorship at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology to study the specialisation under the Nuclear Science master’s programme in 2015, Wendy seized the opportunity.

She attended Asego Primary School in Homa Bay County, before joining Ng’iya Girls High School in Siaya County, scoring A- (KCSE) in 2005, enabling her to enroll for a BSc in Mechanical Engineering.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in industrial radiation technology?

I developed interest in radiation technology because of being exposed to engineering applications. After my undergraduate course, I was employed by Heavy Engineering Ltd, which specialised in fabrication of equipment used in energy production. I noticed that they used non-destructive nuclear testing techniques in quality control within the production lines.

I was captivated and became interested to study this particular line of science for observing the efficiency in a plants’ production lines.

My dream was to come true after the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board sponsored my nuclear science studies.

How does an industrial radiation technologist apply the skills in the field?

One uses radio tracers (radio isotopes), which emit radiation to check if something is functioning as intended. Radio tracers are particularly prepared to perform a certain task. In industrial application, radio tracers are used to check whether a plant or factory’s operation system is functioning as intended.

What are the various applications of radio isotopes applications?

The most common one is in nuclear medicine, where radio isotopes are used for diagnosis, treatment (radiotherapy) and medical equipment sterilisation.

The radio tracer technology is used to get accurate information that cannot be obtained in any other way. For example, in monitoring mixing and flow rate of different materials, inspecting integrity of welds and metal parts, and efficacy of nucleonic gauges used to check levels of gases, liquids and solids.

Mention one radio tracer nuclear technology application to check out competence of an industrial process.

This was at the Nairobi’s Dandora Waste Water Treatment plant in Ruai. I was checking if the waste water treatment system was operating efficiently. I used a detector designed to test gamma radiation to trace the waste water at the inlet and the outlet of the ponds.

The waste water must stay in a specific pond for a certain time to undergo a specific degree of treatment. If this is altered in any way, the quality of treatment is affected. A radio tracer therefore comes in handy to record the waste water movement within a specific pond.

What is your observation regarding industrial waste?

We can minimise and even eliminate environmental pollution from industrial wastes by making sure that stringent pollution control measures are not only put in place, but implemented to the letter. If industrial wastes are not managed properly, they pose serious environmental and health risks.

What are some of the lethal wastes that you have discovered during routine testing?

There is high level of heavy metals such as cadmium, manganese and lead. This implies that our industrial processes are not always efficient.

How much does your career determine our planet’s safety?

Application of radiation techniques, especially in the industrial processes, ensures the quality and integrity of products, which in turn gives a safety assurance.

For instance, in the installation of any pipeline in the petro-chemical industry, radiography is applied to check on the quality of welds, hence reducing the chance of leakages that can lead to catastrophic accidents.

Radio tracers are also used to detect leakages once the pipeline is in operation, therefore improving the safety aspects and conservation of the environment.

What are some of the challenges facing our industrial waste management?

There is lack of adherence to the laws governing industrial waste disposal. This is made worse by our attitude in general, of not paying much attention to the environment.

There is a big gap at policy implementation. Industries are required to pre-treat all their waste before being discharged in the sewer system. Some factories don’t pre-treat waste while others release it directly to nearby rivers.

Which routine procedures do you follow before setting off in the field to perform a task?

Before carrying out radio tracer experiments, there are various factors that must be considered, such as understanding of the system to be tested. You need to have carried out feasibility assessment, including plant visits, selection of suitable locations to carry out the tests, measurement of background radiation, waste disposal, usefulness of the experiment and its economic aspects. You also need to check your apparatus.

What challenges come with your career?

As an emerging field in the country, radiation technology is faced with some setbacks, the major one being availability of radioisotopes.

Currently, radio tracers are not produced locally, making it more expensive since it has to be imported from other countries such as South Africa.

How do you solve, or cope, with such challenges?
Every experiment procedure requires proper planning not only to obtain best results, but also to prevent radiation contamination and minimise exposure to persons handling the experiment. While in the field, it is a rule that one should use the right gear for protection from radiation effects.

What is the future like for those who would want to study your career?

As a new profession in Kenya, industrial application of radio tracer is a career which still doesn’t have many local people in it, therefore opportunities are many. Go for it because it is achievable, this is what I tell the students whom I meet during my voluntary motivational talks. So far, I have given talks in Murang’a, Kiambu and Malindi.

Can you be self-employed in this field?
You can earn handsomely working as a consultant in factories and for plants, as they need expertise in their various production lines.

You can also act as a professional and policy adviser to companies and organisations on standards and maintaining of standards of production.