Radiochemistry

Introduction

The Radiochemistry (RCA) expert group investigates the chemical and radiochemical composition of different types of nuclear materials. Our analytical services play a key role in many research projects at SCK•CEN and are also offered to external clients. Via continuous R&D, radiochemical analytical methods are developed to anticipate future analytical needs.

In addition to our analysis activities, we develop innovative radiochemical processes for the production of radio-isotopes, the partitioning of minor actinides and the production of nuclear fuels and transmutation targets.

The RCA expert group is also responsible for the safety and management of the Chemistry (SCH) building and its installations.

Main activities

Radiochemical Analysis

The RCA expert group develops and validates radiochemical analytical methods which it applies to various nuclear materials. Instrumental techniques are used to determine the chemical composition, including trace elements and impurities, as well as the isotopic composition of simple to complex samples. The total alpha, beta and gamma activities can be measured using radiometric techniques, while spectral analysis allows qualitative and quantitative characterization of the radioactive samples. Depending on the sample type, sample composition, and analytical requirements, specific sample preparation and radiochemical separations can be applied to particular samples. The most common samples types are

  • Unirradiated and irradiated nuclear fuels
  • Radioactive waste streams from nuclear installations
  • Primary cooling water from nuclear reactors and irradiation loops
  • Structural materials from nuclear reactors
  • Samples from processing of spent nuclear fuel and irradiated targets
  • Samples from leaching/dissolution tests performed on radioactive waste and spent fuel

Production of radio-isotopes

The production of radio-isotopes involves several steps, such as the preparation of target material, irradiation of targets in a nuclear reactor or accelerator, and processing of the irradiated targets. The radio-isotopes are produced in the BR2 reactor. The RCA expert group develops radiochemical processes in order to separate the isotopes from the irradiation matrix and to purify and condition them into high-quality products for further use by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Also, innovative separation techniques using ionic liquids are investigated for this purpose.

Partitioning of minor actinides

SCK•CEN’s activities in the field of reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel started with pioneering work during the 1960’s through to the 1980’s. These activities have always continued, albeit with varying degrees of intensity, and partitioning and transmutation (P&T) scenarios have gradually been included. Efforts were directed towards processing of irradiated light water reactor (LWR) fuels, fast reactor (FR) fuels and high-enriched uranium (HEU) targets. Recently we have launched new studies on partitioning of minor actinides using ionic liquid-based extraction systems.

Production of nuclear fuels and transmutation targets

In the context of the production of nuclear fuels and transmutation targets, studies are being performed on liquid-to-solid conversion technologies. Precipitation, co-precipitation and sol gel routes are being investigated relating their impact on further processing of the converted powders, or beads, into denser materials. Different types of fuels are being investigated, but the main focus is on thorium-based fuels. This research is being conducted in close collaboration with the Fuel Materials (FMA) expert group.

Safety and management of the SCH building

The RCA expert group ensures the safety and management of the Chemistry (SCH) building and its installations. Our laboratories are equipped with hot cells, glove boxes and fume hoods to perform our experimental studies on radioactive materials.


Laboratory for sample preparation
equipped with fume hoods


Glove box for manipulation and
analysis of highly radiotoxic samples


Hot cells for manipulation and
processing of strong gamma-emitting
materials

Services & Consultancy

Radiochemical analyses 

Head of Expert Group:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Cardinaels