The present study follows the Fukushima power plant accident and aimed to develop an analytical method to achieve, during an emergency situation, a rapid identification and quantification of alpha and beta emitters in environmental samples.
The first step of this study allowed us to list the alpha and beta emitters which can be released in the environment in case of a nuclear accident. The second step aimed towards the development of a rapid analysis method to quantify 17 radionuclides of U, Th, Pu, Am, Np and Sr. The main objective was the automation of the radiochemical separation step and its coupling for the measurement. The separation is performed using columns containing extraction resins, namely TEVA®, TRU and Sr. The measurement is performed using an ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry) and in some cases a gas proportional counter to quantify radiostrontium (89Sr and 90Sr).
Excellent figures of merit were obtained, off line, with water (tap, river and sea water) and solid matrices (soil and aerosol filters), after a micro-wave digestion or an alkaline fusion dissolution followed by a Ca3(PO4)2 coprecipitation. The proposed analytical strategy showed yields between 70 % and 100 % and standard deviations between 5 % and 10 %.
The newly developed separation method was then automated and coupled on-line to ICP-MS. The operating parameters were optimized using a design of experiments and the results were processed with Minitab®.
The optimized automated separation coupled on-line to the ICP-MS allows the rapid quantification, in 1.5 h per sample, of U, Th, Pu, Am, Np and Sr with detection limits gain as high as 20 times for artificial radionuclide.