PerkinElmer, Inc.

Counting solutions LSC technical tips from PerkinElmer


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The advance of the nuclear industry in all its forms coupled with growing concerns for possible environmental contamination has led to an increased interest in the quantification of radioisotopes in the environment. Radionuclides currently present in the environment originate from a variety of sources such as fallout from nuclear weapons testing, and in discharges from both nuclear and non-nuclear industries. Natural sources and fallout from nuclear devices provide the main input to terrestrial ecosystems, except for certain radionuclides emanating from nuclear installations. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, during and immediately after the period of most frequent aboveground nuclear weapons testing, numerous studies were performed to determine the distribution and movement of fallout radionuclides in air, precipitation, agricultural produce, animals and soils. Around this time the nuclear power industry was developing, and consequently, both the diversity and amount of radioactive species in the environment increased. Currently, the majority of the high level waste from the nuclear industry is stored for ultimate disposal in sites classified as stable, such as deep geological strata. However, as many nuclear facilities are situated in coastal areas, the bulk of low level radioactive waste is discharged to the sea.

Because of both nuclear fallout and discharges from the nuclear industry (including releases from the Chernobyl accident in 1986), certain radionuclides are studied more than others. This is due to either their radio-toxicity, increased presence in the environment or ease of entry into the food chain 1,2,3,4,5,6,7; a selection of these is presented in Table 1. The separation and isolation of these radionuclides from the complex sample matrices often encountered is presenting researchers with a myriad of problems; however many of these have been eased by the introduction of novel chromatographic separation technology (Eichrom Industries Inc. Darien, Illinois, USA). By employing this technology, previously difficult and time consuming radionuclide separations are completed more effectively and efficiently. In combination with recent advances in liquid scintillation counting (LSC) technology by PerkinElmer, Inc., it is now possible to consider LSC as an alternative screening tool to alpha spectrometry and gas flow proportional counting.

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