Analysing nuclear and radioactive material © EU 2011
New method of analysing radioactive materials to fight illicit trafficking
The JRC Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU) developed a new method to determine the age of uranium ore and its intermediate products, such as yellow cake. The new method can be applied to intermediate products making it a useful complement to the most commonly used Thorium-230/Uranium-234 technique, limited to highly purified materials. Establishing the age of uranium concentrates provides key information which is needed to verify the declared origin of nuclear and radioactive materials.
The methodology developed by JRC scientists is based on the measurement of trace-level of the radioactive chemical element thorium, Thorium-232, and its daughter nuclide, Thorium-228 and their variation over time. The application of this method allows identifying the production date of uranium samples with incomplete separation of their daughter products, such as yellow cakes and other intermediate products for nuclear forensics and safeguards purposes.
Illicit trafficking of radioactive and nuclear materials - such as thorium, uranium and plutonium - poses a serious threat to the international security. The international safeguards system directed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been set up to verify the correctness and completeness of declarations of nuclear activities and materials provided by different countries. When such materials are diverted and intercepted, detailed nuclear forensic is performed in order to get information on the related hazard and on their provenance.
Both safeguards and nuclear forensic investigations are supported by the measurement of various physical and chemical parameters of the materials, such as isotopic composition of uranium and plutonium or chemical impurities. Besides these pieces of information, the decay of the radioactive nuclides enables the calculation of the production date or age, which implies the last chemical purification of the material. This parameter, known as predictive signature of the material, offers the information necessary for the verification of the declared origin or the possible production facility.