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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

Tritium in steel

Executive Summary
ResearchersProfessor KE Jarvis, CEESR
Professor SJ Parry, Imperial College
Dr WA Westall, Magnox North
Funding Body/SourceMagnox
Duration2007 onwards
Project Summary

Safe and environmentally acceptable nuclear decommissioning relies on a detailed inventory of radionuclide composition of construction materials being available. Some radio-nuclides are relatively ubiquitous in such materials and an accurate assessment of their distribution in concrete, steel and graphite for example is essential before disposal can proceed. While the amount in any one component may be small and its activity low, the total inventory may be significant taken across several sites and in a range of materials. One of these nuclides, tritium, with a half life of 12.3y, will still be a significant issue for more than 100y. Accurate measurement by conventional nuclear techniques is problematic and the development of new approaches to low level determination is needed.

New approaches using cation exchange chromatography have been developed to allow accurate and ultra-low level determination of lithium, the tritium pre-curser, in reactor steels. The methodology is currently being adapted to permit separation and pre-concentration of lithium from graphite.

chromatogram showing separation of lithium from iron

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