SCK•CEN contributes to improving effectiveness of nuclear explosion monitoring

Pilot project aims at mitigating xenon emissions of medical radioisotope production

Experts in nuclear explosion monitoring and medical isotope producers from all continents gathered in Brussels from 12-14 May 2015 to explore ways to mitigate the effects on nuclear explosion monitoring of emissions from lifesaving medical isotopes production facilities without impacting production. A Belgian pilot project will soon demonstrate its effectiveness.

The manufacturing of medical isotopes involves emissions of radioxenon, an isotope also released from a nuclear explosion. This presents a challenge for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitors the planet for any sign of a nuclear explosion. The industrial emissions can interfere with CTBTO’s monitoring work based on a global network of ultra-sensitive detectors to pick up the radioactive noble gas xenon. The low levels emitted from the isotope production industry are not harmful to human health or the environment but may be high enough to trigger the CTBTO’s sensitive alarms. One way of mitigating these effects is to reduce the emissions.

The Workshop on Signatures of Medical and Industrial Isotope Production, was co-organized by the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in association with CTBTO. One of the key topics on the agenda of the three-day workshop was the presentation of a groundbreaking European Union funded research project to capture noble gas emissions directly at production facilities, using a small versatile system.

“Xenon is an inert gas and is very difficult to trap from a ventilation stream”, says Johan Camps, researcher at SCK•CEN. “Some years ago, we came across a Zeolite adsorbent on which Silver nanoparticles are attached with very high selectivity for xenon. We realized that this could be a solution to solve the civil radioxenon background and increase the sensitivity of the noble gas component of the International Monitoring Network.”

At SCK•CEN in Mol, a prototype is currently being assembled. It will be trialed at Belgium’s National Institute for Radioelements in Fleurus (IRE) in the next months. Klaas van der Meer, head of Society and Policy Support at SCK•CEN explains: “We tested these silver zeolite materials at SCK•CEN under different conditions and designed a prototype column based on the test results. We are excited to test this prototype in a real medical isotope production facility. With the collaboration of IRE we have scheduled the first tests starting next June.”

wosmip workshop 
Left: Eric van Walle, SCK•CEN Director-General
Middle: Nancy Mahieu, Director-General in charge of Energy
Right: Lassina Zerbo, CTBTO Executive Secretary

wosmip workshop
Participants to the Workshop
on Signatures of Medical and Industrial Isotope Production