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News article5 July 2022Joint Research Centre

A more precise method to measure radioactivity in nuclear waste

The ultra-sensitive optical detection system of radiocarbon dioxide
Saverio Bartalini, CNR

The safe handling, storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste is an essential aspect of nuclear technologies and application, and is mandated in EU legislation. One radiologically important waste product from nuclear reactors and irradiation facilities is Carbon 14 (C-14), an isotope that also occurs naturally.

If not properly confined, excess C-14 from nuclear waste could potentially pose a risk to living organisms. Due to its small content, so far C-14 has been difficult to quantify in nuclear waste streams with established techniques.

A new paper from the JRC and collaborating partners in Florence, Italy, shows that Saturated-Absorption Cavity Ring-down (SCAR), a laser-based technique, can successfully be used in the analysis of even very low C-14 concentrations in materials such as graphite and concrete, which constitute a large fraction of nuclear decommissioning waste products. In the paper, we demonstrate that the new technique provides excellent analytical performance, reducing any spectral interference to a negligible level.

Background info

Radioactive waste management in the EU has its legal basis in the EURATOM treaty and the adopted “Waste Directive” (2011/70/EURATOM). The directive provides for responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. It builds on a series of internationally accepted principles, in particular that present and future generations shall be protected without imposing undue burdens on future generations.

Support to the technical implementation of the nuclear waste directive is provided to Member States and EC stakeholders. The JRC is directly contributing to the implementation of this directive by supporting DG ENER in the assessment of the national reports from the Member States and by providing relevant expertise in the relevant scientific and technological fora.

Dedicated JRC facilities produce high quality experimental data, aiming at reducing uncertainties associated with safe handling, long-term storage and final disposal in a geologic repository of nuclear waste, and at implementing safe decommissioning.


Publication date
5 July 2022
Joint Research Centre