June 5, 2023

PNNL Qualified to Produce Microparticles for IAEA

Two images, side-by-side, comparing custom microparticles that appear when scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy images of the microparticles and the uranium and thorium content.

PNNL is qualified to produce custom microparticles for the IAEA, such as those shown in scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy images of the microparticles and the uranium and thorium content.

(Photo: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Did you know that Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has been analyzing environmental samples for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1998? PNNL is a member of the Network of Analytical Laboratories (NWAL), which extends the capabilities of the IAEA Safeguards Analytical Laboratories. Recently, PNNL earned an additional qualification to produce microparticles for quality control.

IAEA has a responsibility under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons to verify that nuclear materials and activities in non-nuclear weapon states are not diverted to nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. By detecting early the misuse of nuclear material or technology, the IAEA is able to provide credible assurances to the international community that countries are honoring their safeguards obligations. As part of this mission, the IAEA Safeguards Analytical Laboratories analyze a variety of samples collected by IAEA inspectors. The IAEA coordinates analysis with NWAL, which includes 24 laboratories from 11 member countries and provides support in environmental sample analysis, nuclear material analysis, material characterization, heavy water analysis, and reference materials and quality control.

Environmental samples are analyzed by bulk and/or particle analysis. Bulk analysis is best used to detect the presence of trace amounts of nuclear material. Particle analysis is used to determine the isotopic composition of individual particles, which reveals different materials and processing. Mass spectrometers are used for both bulk and particle analysis.

PNNL was recently qualified by the IAEA to produce microparticles of specified size and isotopic composition to help maintain quality control in the IAEA’s NWAL. PNNL’s efforts to produce microparticles to meet IAEA’s needs began in 2017 and were sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of International Nuclear Safeguards (NA-241). In 2019, PNNL transferred its first set of microparticles that met IAEA specifications and earned NA-241’s Joule Award. PNNL earned a second Joule Award when it developed a prototype production set of microparticles from the standard materials.

“Having these tailor-made microparticles helps the IAEA be confident its NWAL members produce quality results,” said PNNL Project Manager of Safeguards Technology James Ely.

Congratulations to the project team Tim Pope, Bruce Arey, Heather Cunningham, Eirik Krogstad, Kelly McHugh, Matt Olszta, Riane Stene, May-Lin Thomas, Stephan Vogt, and Mindy Zimmer.

Published: June 5, 2023