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Fields & Applications Environmental, Spectroscopy, Sample Preparation

Emission Impossible

Monitoring radiocarbon emissions (carbon-14, typically in the form of carbon dioxide and methane) from nuclear reactors is no easy task. Laboratory-based methods to detect carbon-14, including accelerator MS and liquid scintillation counting, are effective, but are not easily used online – neither are they sufficiently adaptable to monitor atmospheric samples. Guillaume Genoud and colleagues at the VTT Technical Research Center in Finland set out to fill the gap by using an automated laser spectroscopy-based system to detect traces of carbon-14 containing gases in atmospheric-like samples (1). “We employed an optical method to ensure a compact, rapid, and more affordable way of detecting trace gases,” says Genoud. “Mid-infrared cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) was chosen to provide the highest levels of sensitivity.”

The CRDS instrument was coupled with an advanced, two-part sampling system; a cryogenic trap extracts carbon dioxide from the air sample, while a catalytic unit converts methane into carbon, which allows the approach to discriminate between radiocarbon in organic or inorganic molecular form.

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About the Author

Jonathan James

Having thrown myself into various science communication activities whilst studying science at University, I soon came to realize where my passions truly lie; outside the laboratory, telling the stories of the remarkable men and women conducting groundbreaking research. Now, at Texere, I have the opportunity to do just that.

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