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NUSIMEP-7: uranium isotope amount ratios in uranium particles

The Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) has extensive experience in the development of isotopic reference materials and the organization of interlaboratory comparisons (ILC) for nuclear measurements in compliance with the respective international guidelines (ISO Guide 34:2009 and ISO/IEC 17043:2010). The IRMM Nuclear Signatures Interlaboratory Measurement Evaluation Program (NUSIMEP) is an external quality control program with the objective of providing materials for measurements of trace amounts of nuclear materials in environmental matrices. Measurements of the isotopic ratios of the elements uranium and plutonium in small amounts, typical of those found in environmental samples, are required for nuclear safeguards and security, for the control of environmental contamination and for the detection of nuclear proliferation. The measurement results of participants in NUSIMEP are evaluated according to international guidelines in comparison to independent external certified reference values with demonstrated metrological traceability and uncertainty. NUSIMEP-7 focused on measurements of uranium isotope amount ratios in uranium particles aiming to support European Safeguards Directorate General for Energy (DG ENER), the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) network of analytical laboratories for environmental sampling (NWAL) and laboratories in the field of particle analysis. Each participant was provided two certified test samples: one with single and one with double isotopic enrichment. These NUSIMEP test samples were prepared by controlled hydrolysis of certified uranium hexafluoride in a specially designed aerosol deposition chamber at IRMM. Laboratories participating in NUSIMEP-7 received the test samples of uranium particles on two graphite disks with undisclosed isotopic ratio values n(234U)/n(238U), n(235U)/n(238U) and n(236U)/n(238U). The uranium isotope ratios had to be measured using their routine analytical procedures. Measurement of the major ratio n(235U)/n(238U) was obligatory; measurement of the minor ratios n(234U)/n(238U) and n(236U)/n(238U) was optional. Of the twenty-four institutes that registered for NUSIMEP-7, 17 have reported their results achieved by different analytical methods. The results of NUSIMEP-7 confirm the capability of laboratories in measuring n(234U)/n(238U), n(235U)/n(238U) and n(236U)/n(238U) in uranium particles of the size below 1 mm diameter. Furthermore, they underpin the recent advances in instrumental techniques in the field of particle analysis. In addition, feedback from the measurement communities from nuclear safeguards, nuclear security and earth sciences was collected in view of identifying future needs for NUSIMEP interlaboratory comparisons.