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 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 medical applications and for applications within the front-end and back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Separation chemistry for separating lanthanides (Ln) and actinides (An) is one of our key competences for the development of these processes.

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 radio-analytical 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 techniques 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 leaching/dissolution tests performed on radioactive waste and spent fuel
  • Biological samples from soils and living organisms

Production of medical radioisotopes and synthesis of radiopharmaceuticals

Currently, SCK•CEN is implementing a radiotherapeutics development centre, covering the production of radioisotopes and development of radiopharmaceuticals for therapy.

The production of radioisotopes 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 radioisotopes are currently produced in the BR2 reactor. The RCA expert group develops radiochemical processes in order to separate the radioisotopes from the irradiation matrix and to purify and condition them into high-quality products for further use by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. In addition, we incorporate radioisotopes in carrier molecules using radiolabelling methods. The obtained radiopharmaceuticals are pre-clinically studied by in vitro and in vivo tests to evaluate their therapeutic efficacy. These studies are performed in collaboration with the Radiobiology (RDB) and Radiation Protection Dosimetry and Calibration (RDC) groups.

Partitioning & conversion of minor actinides

SCK•CEN’s activities in the field of refining of actinides from 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 light water reactor (LWR) fuels, fast reactor (FR) fuels, and high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuels and targets. Presently, studies on partitioning of minor actinides are continued by development of innovative extraction systems. Main parameters of interest are separation efficiency and radiation-resistance. In addition, liquid-to-solid conversion of actinide solutions by precipitation and sol-gel processes is also studied.

Synthesis of nuclear fuels

This research is being conducted in close collaboration with the Fuel Materials (FMA) expert group. Studies are performed on liquid-to-solid conversion technologies. Precipitation, co-precipitation and sol-gel routes are investigated relating their impact on further processing of produced powders into denser materials. Parameters of interest are flowability, compactibility and sintering. Different types of nuclear fuels are being investigated, including both uranium- and thorium-based fuels.

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 fume hoods, glove boxes and hot cells to enable experimental studies on all kinds of 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