A novel spectroscopic approach could take radiocarbon emission monitoring out of the lab and into the field
Jonathan James | | Quick Read
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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