EMPIR project on the measurement of radioactive waste helps to reduce risk

Radioactive waste

Improved radioactivity measurement capabilities help nuclear site operators manage waste quickly and effectively

Completed EMPIR project In situ metrology for decommissioning nuclear facilities (16ENV09, MetroDECOM II) addressed one of the most significant environmental challenges facing EU member states: ensuring the safe disposal of radioactive waste from decommissioning nuclear sites. The key to dealing with such waste is quantifying the radioactivity content, so that decommissioning can be planned and implemented to minimise the risk to the public and the environment.

Research from the project enables nuclear site operators to characterise waste material rapidly and accurately, throughout all stages of the disposal process, by providing validated techniques for measuring radioactivity on site, and segregating and monitoring waste. The results allow waste to be consigned to the most cost-effective disposal option, improve staff safety through the use of remote and automated measurements, and prevent costly delays to decommissioning projects with more rapid turnaround of results.

Specific achievements from the project include:

  • As a step towards improved mapping of contamination inside nuclear facilities, a gamma camera prototype was successfully tested and evaluated in the former laboratories of Marie Curie in Paris, where nuclear waste still remains. The use of metrologically validated gamma-cameras allows the decommissioning organisations to carry out rapid and accurate screening of contaminated facilities, contributing to mere efficient decommissioning process.
  • Validation and testing of the remote alpha mapping system resulted in two peer reviewed publications and a PhD thesis on the optical stand-off detection of alpha radiation in nuclear facilities. The publications are Dynamic enhancement of nitric oxide radioluminescence with nitrogen purge and Standoff UV-C imaging of alpha particle emitters.    
  • A dose mapping system, which provides real time information about the dose distribution in the vicinity of nuclear installations, based on wireless sensors was successfully tested at multiple nuclear sites, including an operational nuclear power plant and radioactive waste storage facility.
  • The work on the Waste Characterisation System helped sentencing and management of radioactive waste packages at the decommissioning site at the Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy allowing for faster turnover and more accurate characterisation.
  • A new automated method of measuring tritium gas in the head space of tritiated waste (containing tritium) drums was developed and demonstrated at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near Oxford. This is of high importance for the safe management of radioactive waste and materials from fusion research as tritium is the main product of neutron activation and the conventional methods for tritium quantification are time-consuming and labour-intensive.

Project Coordinator Peter Ivanov from NPL said ‘

The EMPIR project “In situ metrology for decommissioning nuclear facilities” aimed at providing metrologically valid approaches, techniques and methods for accurate measurements of radioactivity on nuclear decommissioning sites across Europe. The project consortium lead and coordinated by NPL combined the efforts of the metrological community, academia and industry to successfully deliver innovative analytical methods with a particular focus on rapid, automated and in-situ measurements. The characterisation procedures and technology developed within the frame of the project enable quick and accurate measurements of radioactivity levels in operational and decommissioning waste allowing to prevent costly delays to decommissioning projects with more rapid turnaround of results, minimising the risk of radioactive exposure to the public and the environment.’

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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