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Radiochemical Analyses

ORAU supports radiological cleanup projects through environmental sample analysis

Laboratory worker conducting radiochemistry analysis

ORAU performs analysis of environmental samples to provide radioanalytical support to characterization and independent verification surveys. Through management of the ORISE Radiological and Environmental Analytical Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., ORAU chemists analyze soil, water, air filters, wipes, vegetation, biota, and other types of matrices based on customer requirements.

ORAU laboratory technicians regularly analyze alpha, beta and gamma emitting radionuclides in most environmental media and other matrices. The lab—a U.S. Department of Energy Consolidated Audit Program (DOECAP) approved facility—also maintains the capability for analysis of various matrices for total metals analysis, TCLP metals and isotopic uranium by Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (ICPMS). The ICPMS instrument—which reduces lab time and allows for more types of analysis—ionizes various types of samples and uses a mass spectrometer to separate and quantify contaminants in the samples such as lead, arsenic and uranium.

Quality Standards

The laboratory participates in two performance evaluation programs: the Mixed Analyte Performance Evaluation Program (MAPEP) administered by the Radiological and Environmental Sciences Laboratory (RESL) at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and the Intercomparison Testing Program (ITP) administered by RESL through a contract with the NRC. ORAU has maintained an excellent record for these performance evaluation programs, with better than 98% acceptance since 2000 for testing of four matrices, including alpha, beta and gamma emitting radionuclides.

The laboratory also participates in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Radiological Intercomparison Program (NRIP), which allows demonstration of direct traceability to NIST for analytical procedures for select radionuclides. Presently, ORAU maintains traceability to NIST for americium, curium, plutonium, thorium and uranium alpha emitters, as well as Sr-90 in four matrices—air filters, synthetic fecal, soil and water. The laboratory is also NIST traceable for gamma emitting radionuclides in air filters and water matrices.

Key Laboratory Capabilities

Sample tracking and preparation
Chain-of-custody is established for each sample when it arrives in the laboratory and as it proceeds through analysis to final reporting. Environmental matrices are processed using industry accepted methodologies to ensure highest quality results.

Gamma counting
Environmental matrices are processed using industry accepted methodologies to ensure the highest quality trends.

Alpha isotopic analysis
The laboratory performs chemical separation, identification and quantification of alpha emitting radionuclides utilizing 32 Passively Implanted Planer Silicon (PIPS) detectors. The alpha isotopic procedure combines the use of total sample dissolution and extraction chromatography chemistry. The result is a procedure that minimizes turnaround time and analytical cost, and maintains a high degree of accuracy and reliability.

Liquid scintillation counting
The liquid scintillation analyzer has a 300-sample capacity and the total amount of samples that can be processed each day is dependent upon the analyte of interest and the required detection limits. At present, procedures are in place for 3H, 14C, 55Fe, 63Ni, 99Tc and 241Pu.

Gas proportional counting
ORAU performs low background proportional counting for total radiostrontium as well as gross alpha/beta determinations. The instrument has a 100-sample capacity and the number of samples that can be processed daily is dependent on sample type and required detection limits.

Inductively coupled mass spectrometry
ORAU performs ICPMS on various environmental and non-environmental matrices for metals, TCLP metals and isotopic uranium.

Analytical flexibility
While the laboratory is set up for environmental matrices, ORAU staff are experienced in adapting procedures to non-standard requests from our customers. ORAU procedures have been successfully modified to accommodate matrices such as whale blubber, seal livers, lead metal, nickel metal, asphalt, and various types of building materials.

Data analysis
Radiation counting data are analyzed by computers using a combination of internally designed and commercially available software programs. All data analyses are independently reviewed as a routine step for quality control.

Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) and Data Reporting

The laboratory’s established QA/QC program is designed to meet the requirements of DOE Order 414.1D, ASME (Level IV data packages), NQA-1, and the QA manual for the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards. Laboratory of QA procedures can be modified to meet additional customer data quality objective (DQO) levels as requested.

Turnaround Time

The turnaround time for sample analysis of routine environmental matrices is 30 working days depending on the number of samples and requested analyses.

Learn about ORAU’s additional capabilities in environmental assessments and health physics.

Customer Focus

Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer

ORAU serves as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management's (FSME) only independent verification contractor and has served as its only laboratory for radiochemistry analysis after the FSME closed its own labs in 2002.

ORAU also conducts radioanalytical projects for the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other federal and state agencies.