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Title: Validation of gamma-ray detection techniques for safeguards monitoring at natural uranium conversion facilities

Recent IAEA circulars and policy papers have sought to implement safeguards when any purified aqueous uranium solution or uranium oxides suitable for isotopic enrichment or fuel fabrication exists. Under the revised policy, IAEA Policy Paper 18, the starting point for nuclear material under safeguards was reinterpreted, suggesting that purified uranium compounds should be subject to safeguards procedures no later than the first point in the conversion process. In response to this technical need, a combination of simulation models and experimental measurements were employed to develop and validate concepts of nondestructive assay monitoring systems in a natural uranium conversion plant (NUCP). In particular, uranyl nitrate (UO2(NO3)2) solution exiting solvent extraction was identified as a key measurement point (KMP), where gamma-ray spectroscopy was selected as the process monitoring tool. The Uranyl Nitrate Calibration Loop Equipment (UNCLE) facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was employed to simulate the full-scale operating conditions of a purified uranium-bearing aqueous stream exiting the solvent extraction process in an NUCP. Nondestructive assay techniques using gamma-ray spectroscopy were evaluated to determine their viability as a technical means for drawing safeguards conclusions at NUCPs, and if the IAEA detection requirements of 1 significant quantity (SQ) can be met in amore » timely way. This work investigated gamma-ray signatures of uranyl nitrate circulating in the UNCLE facility and evaluated various gamma-ray detector sensitivities to uranyl nitrate. These detector validation activities include assessing detector responses to the uranyl nitrate gamma-ray signatures for spectrometers based on sodium iodide, lanthanum bromide, and high-purity germanium detectors. The results of measurements under static and dynamic operating conditions at concentrations ranging from 10–90 g U/L of natural uranyl nitrate are presented. A range of gamma-ray lines is examined, including attenuation for transmission measurement of density and concentration. It was determined that transmission-corrected gamma-ray spectra provide a reliable way to monitor the 235U concentration of uranyl nitrate solution in transfer pipes in NUCPs. Furthermore, existing predictive and analysis methods are adequate to design and realize practical designs. The 137Cs transmission source employed in this work is viable but not optimal for 235U densitometry determination. Validated simulations assessed the viability of 133Ba and 57Co as alternative densitometry sources. All three gamma-ray detectors are viable for monitoring natural uranium feed; although high-purity germanium is easiest to interpret, it is, however, the least attractive as an installation instrument. Overall, for monitoring throughput in a facility such as UNCLE, emulating the uranium concentration and pump speeds of the Springfields conversion facility in the United Kingdom, an uncertainty of less than 0.17% is required in order to detect the diversion of 1 SQ of uranyl nitrate through changes in uranium concentration over an accountancy period of one year with a detection probability of 50%. As a result, calibrated gamma-ray detection systems are capable of determining the concentration of uranium content in NUCPs, it is only in combination with verifiable operator declarations and supporting data, such as flow rate and enrichment, that safeguards conclusions can be drawn.« less
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  1. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
  2. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States); Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research. Section A, Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 823; Journal Issue: C; Journal ID: ISSN 0168-9002
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States
98 NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT, SAFEGUARDS, AND PHYSICAL PROTECTION natural uranium; international safeguards; conversion; significant quantity; gamma-ray detection; uncertainty; passive detection; nondestructive assay