The NMCD was established as part of Argonne National Laboratory-West, and has been running since 1960. The department’s long experience has given them unique analytical experience that has proven invaluable to the Idaho National Lab. The analytical lab has the capabilities necessary to provide comprehensive isotopic analysis of unirradiated and irradiated fuels, and the ability to develop new analytical strategies for innovations in nuclear fuel technologies. The NMCD also has non-destructive assay capabilities for analyzing samples for waste treatment, and can analyze waste samples higher than Class C.
The analytical lab at INL uses a mixture of traditional and innovative technologies to separate radionuclides. Borrowing a variety of different methods, the NMCD has developed a faster, more efficient way to separate “elements of interest” from mixed samples. Basing the design on the classical anion exchange gravity drip separation, they have designed the Automated Gas Pressurized Extraction Chromatograph (GPEC). Rather than relying on gravity, GPEC uses pressurized nitrogen to force solutions through the separating media at a faster rate. The machine can be programmed to run an experiment several times, and to wash and ready the reusable resin micro-columns for the next experiment when finished. The resin volume used by GPEC is much smaller than those used with gravity drip separation, so the process generates less waste. The lab does, however, have the equipment and ability to perform the traditional anion exchange gravity drip separation.
The NMCD has a counting lab with equipment that can be used to measure the alpha, beta, and gamma counts of radioactive materials. The lab has the capabilities to perform alpha spectroscopy, gross alpha and beta counting, gamma spectroscopy, and liquid scintillation analysis for low level radioactivity.
The counting lab is used to measure the radioactivity of many different sample types. Oils, spent fuels, radiological air filters and aqueous solutions are only a few of these.
Post-Irradiation Examination (PIE)
The unique capabilities of the NMCD allow irradiated fuels to be examined in a number of sophisticated ways. After irradiated fuel is received and logged into the sample management database, samples of the fuel are taken to the hot cells to be dissolved. The dissolved samples are then diluted and can be sent through a number of different analyzing processes: to the counting lab for gamma spectrometry, through the Gas Pressurized Extraction Chromatograph (GPEC) and the Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer, or through a rigorous preparation cycle for Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry (TIMS). Any of the original sample that remained as a solid is put through a centrifuge, cleaned, dissolved more thoroughly, and re-analyzed.