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World leading mobile measurement of radioactivity

The National CBRN Defence Centre is developing its mobile laboratory into what will be a world leader in the measurement and tracking of radiological and nuclear substances. The initial aim is to separate out Strontium 90. The research is being led by FOI.

The CBRN Defence Centre’s mobile RN laboratory is housed in an armoured 20-ft container which can be transported to an incident site by road or by air. The laboratory contains standard lab equipment for the measurement of alpha, beta, gamma and neutron radiation. It also meets NATO standard requirements.

Measuring levels of radioactivity is not difficult. It is more difficult to determine what is emitting the radiation, especially when alpha and beta radiating substances are concerned, which is important if the correct treatment is to be given to those who may have been exposed to the radiation. It is possible to make this distinction in larger laboratories but to date it has not been possible in the mobile laboratory.

Now the CBRN defence Centre has requested FOI to research methods for the separation of alpha and beta emitters. The first stage will focus on the beta emitter Strontium 90 which is created in a nuclear explosion or a nuclear power plant accident.

- We chose Strontium 90 because it is a difficult beta emitter. It has a long half-life, 29 years, says Micael Granström who is in charge of the mobile laboratory and who is on leave of absence from service as an FOI research scientist.

The difficulty involved in separation is that it requires what Micael Granström calls an “aggressive chemistry” which can interfere with equipment in the laboratory. FOI’s task is therefore firstly about developing a method of separation using substances that are less aggressive. In the next stage Micael Granström hopes that FOI will be able to develop methods for the separation of alpha emitters such as plutonium and americium.

The National CBRN Defence Centre’s mobile laboratory is rated very highly. Its scientists have, for example, succeeded in carrying out calibration for gamma radiation outside the laboratory, making it possible to measure radioactivity on the ground, for example in the wake of a nuclear power plant accident. Recently they have also developed a method which, under field conditions, makes it possible to measure isotope quotas in uranium and to determine whether it is natural, depleted or reprocessed uranium.

With new improved separation methods for tracking sources of radiation, the Swedish RN laboratory will, according to Micael Granström, be one of the world’s best mobile laboratories. He is very pleased with what his former colleagues at FOI are achieving.

- FOI is very good at separation methodology and possesses highly sophisticated equipment where isotope quota determination is concerned. It is also at the leading edge when it comes to gamma spectrometry in the field, says Micael Granström.

FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Swedish Defence Research Agency
SE-164 90 Stockholm

Phone +46 8 555 030 00
Fax +46 8 555 031 00

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