EU Science Hub

Radionuclide metrology laboratories

The radionuclide metrology sector was the first to be established at JRC-Geel in 1959 (at that time called CBNM – Central Bureau for Nuclear Measurements). Its main objective was the accurate measurement of radioactivity and decay properties of radionuclides. Over the last 57 years, this group has built up a reputation as one of the world's leading laboratories in primary standardisation of radionuclides and SI-traceable radioactivity measurements. It has extended its work programme to characterisation of reference materials for radioactivity measurements, gamma-ray spectrometry of ultra-low activity levels in an underground laboratory, the organisation of intercomparisons among European monitoring laboratories, development of standards and training of metrologists as well as laboratory practitioners.

Metrology plays a key role in underpinning European competitiveness, promoting trade, protecting the consumer and helping in the fight against fraud. Radionuclide metrology has important applications in the energy, medical, environmental and food safety sectors as well as in nuclear safeguards, safety and security.

Measurements of radioactivity are becoming increasingly important in today’s society. Natural radioactivity is omnipresent and needs to be monitored to protect the health of the population and to understand processes in nature and industry. Anthropogenic (man-made) radioactivity is continuously produced in the nuclear industry and does not stop at borders if accidentally released. Nuclear medicine is developing rapidly and uses more radionuclides than ever before – an increase that will continue. Sustainability requires extensive recycling of materials which calls for robust measurements of radioactivity in scrap to minimise risks to society. All of this calls for harmonised measurement procedures and well-established calibrations in radioactivity monitoring laboratories.

JRC-Geel has developed and implemented instruments to measure radioactivity with the highest possible accuracy, which is important to maintain the SI-unit becquerel and establish international equivalence of radioactivity measurements.

Complementary instrumentation for measuring ultra-low levels of activity is installed in the 225 m deep underground laboratory HADES. Since June 2014, the radionuclide metrology laboratories are open to external users via the transnational access program EUFRAT.

Some of the key activities of the Radionuclide Metrology Sector are:

  • Support of the Mutual Recognition Arrangement for national measurement standards and for calibration and measurement capabilities signed under the auspices of the Comité International des Poids et Mesures (CIPM) of the Metre Convention.
  • Support to implementation of the Euratom Treaty Article 35 by performing regular controls of member states capacity to report accurate radioactivity monitoring results to the common database.
  • Production of certified radioactive reference materials and support to certification of reference materials for radionuclides.
  • Reference measurements in support of important policy domains like radioactive waste management, decommissioning of nuclear facilities, metal scrap industry, NORM industry and early warning monitoring networks.
  • Precise decay data measurements that are essential for calibrations in routine laboratories, applications in nuclear medicine and many other scientific uses of radionuclides.
  • Producing reference papers on metrology standards, including methodology and uncertainties.
  • Development of procedures and instruments for testing equipment for detecting illicit trafficking of nuclear materials (ITRAP+10).
  • Developing standards for nuclear counting in list-mode.