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Automated analyzer for complex nuclear waste provides rapid results

March 28, 2007 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. – Identifying and quantifying specific alpha- and beta-emitting radionuclides in liquid solutions can be challenging and time consuming – typically taking from days to weeks to get results back from an analytical laboratory. But, when an industrial process-scale plant requires that an accurate, reliable analysis be completed in near real-time from samples retrieved directly from the process line, the challenge could be overwhelming. However, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have assembled a robust, fully automated prototype process monitor to meet demanding production needs.

The device developed by PNNL scientists provides microwave-assisted sample pretreatment, flexible chemical separations capabilities, sensitive radiochemical detection, calibration and data analysis. PNNL presenter Matthew J. O’Hara said, “This is the most extreme example of automation ever demonstrated by our team.”

The prototype system was originally created to perform rapid radiochemical analysis of technetium-99 in nuclear waste destined for vitrification at the Hanford Site’s Waste Treatment Plant in Washington state. Samples can be adjusted, separated and analyzed in less than 15 minutes to provide feedback on process performance.

While developed for specific radionuclides in high-level nuclear waste process streams, the analyzer is capable of being adapted for use on a wide range of applications requiring an integrated system that performs sample preparation, column separations, on-line detection and data analysis conducted rapidly and autonomously.

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PNNL is a DOE Office of Science national laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security and the enironment, and advances scientific frontiers in the chemical, biological, materials, environmental and computational sciences. PNNL employs 4,200 staff, has a $750 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the Laboratoy's inception in 1965.

Tags: Energy, National Security

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy. For more information, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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