Euratom opens UK laboratory

30 November 1999

An on-site laboratory, designed and built for the Euratom European safeguards agency, went into operation at BNFL’s Sellafield site in the UK recently.

The principle of analysing samples at site was accepted by the Euratom Safeguards Directorate (ESD) in the late 1980s. As part of its safeguards activities Euratom takes samples throughout the reprocessing process, and the bulk activities taking place at the Sellafield site, including the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP), meant that in the past a large number of samples would have to be transported across Europe to Euratom laboratories. The advantages of the on-site laboratory are that:

• Results are available within 48 hours.

• The site operator has minimal handling of the samples.

• Fewer samples need to be transported off-site.

• Waste is reduced.

• Analysis capacity is increased.

• Although capital investment in the laboratory was £5.1 million, total costs will be reduced.

The on-site laboratory was designed and built by the European Commission’s Institute for Transuranium Elements (TUI) in Karlsruhe, Germany, in co-operation with BNFL and under the direction of ESD. It comprises a series of glove boxes for analysis. The high degree of automation and robotics allows up to 1000 samples to be analysed each year in a continuous operation.

The laboratory will use K-edge absorptiometry, neutron coincidence counting and gamma spectroscopy to examine feed liquors for reprocessing, plutonium nitrate, plutonium oxide powder, MOX powder and pellets, uranyl nitrate and uranium oxide samples.

The inclusion of the laboratory on BNFL’s site has meant some careful examination of working practices, which differ between ESD, BNFL and TUI, to win agreement from the safety authorities. Arrangements for maintenance have also had to be made. The unit will be staffed by technicians from TUI.

The laboratory will ultimately offer safeguards analysis for the whole UK.

Similarly, an on-site laboratory is being built at Cogema’s La Hague reprocessing plant in France.

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