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Operational Topic

Correction factors for self-absorption in the dry residue from water samples
measured on a gross alpha and beta counter.

Investigation of Alpha and

Beta Self-Absorption Factors
in the Calibration of Water
Sample Measurements
C. P. Valentin, J. Kratky, and A. Brandl*
Abstract: Detector efficiencies and self- a variety of sources or when a large and all radiological waste gener-
absorption factors for a variety of sample pre-
range of radionuclides are being ated within the Republic of Aus-
paration methods and naturally occurring
dissolved ions have been studied for the gross processed at the potential source. tria, including liquid radiological
alpha and gross beta measurement of water Under these conditions, timely wastes which are decontaminated
samples. The most consistent results are ob- assessment of the water samples in the NES waste water treatment
tained for samples prepared by evaporation for monitoring and release of liq- facility. Liquid effluents are mon-
of small volumes of water under an infrared uid effluents at a facility may be- itored for radiological, chemical,
lamp. Due to its uniform and homogeneous
deposition in the cupped stainless steel plan- come difficult. Alternatively, rapid and biological parameters prior
chet, CaCO3 was found to best serve as the screening methodologies involv- to release to the environment. A
dry residue radionuclide carrier in this study. ing gross alpha and gross beta large variety of alpha- and beta-
Detector efficiencies and self-absorption fac- counting of evaporated water sam- emitters in solid and liquid wastes
tors for gross alpha and gross beta measure- ples have been employed to pro- are handled, processed, and stored
ments closely follow the expected exponential
and logarithmic dependence, respectively. Health
vide fast reference results which in NES facilities, resulting in a wide
Phys. 103(Supplement 2):S124YS130; 2012 can be compared to preset action range of potential contaminants
or investigation levels. In the in- in the liquid effluent stream. Ra-
Key words: operational topics; absorption;
calibration; correction factors vestigation of radiological drink- diological characterization of the
ing water quality, gross alpha and effluents therefore relies on gross
INTRODUCTION gross beta counting has been the alpha and gross beta screening
prescribed procedure for many (U.S. EPA 1980) of representative
The radiological analysis of water years (U.S. EPA 1980; Blanchard water samples prior to release. If
samples for natural and anthropo-
et al. 1985) and is still one of investigation levels set by the regu-
genic radionuclides could involve
the primary mandated radiologi- latory authority are exceeded, addi-
a large number of radiochemical
cal drinking water analyses in the tional radionuclide-specific analyses
procedures and subsequent physi-
United States (U.S. EPA 2001). are performed. As this screening
cal measurements (U.S. EPA 1973),
The Austrian Interim Radiologi- method does not allow for analy-
in particular when potential con-
cal Waste Storage facility is admin- sis of volatile elements in the ef-
taminants could be collected from
istrated by Nuclear Engineering fluent stream, these are analyzed
The authors report no conflicts of interest. Seibersdorf (NES) at the site of the from separate sample aliquots, in
Austrian Institute of Technology particular for 3H and, when appli-
at Seibersdorf. NES provides waste cable, iodine isotopes.
treatment and conditioning for any The gross alpha and gross beta
screening method for water sam-
Chowunchun Prapunsri Valentin is a staff scientist at Nuclear Engineering Seibersdorf ples is appropriate for alpha ener-
GmbH, Seibersdorf, Austria. Previously she was a researcher at the Fast Neutron
Research Facility, Institute for Science and Technology Research and Development, gies 9 3.9 MeV and maximum beta
Chiang Mai University, Thailand. She received a MS in radiation science from Mahidol
University, Bangkok, Thailand, and doctoral degree in applied radiation physics from energies 9 0.1 MeV (U.S. EPA 1980).
the Technical University of Vienna. Her research focuses on issues in radiation detection For most radionuclides of interest
and measurement, nuclear techniques, radiation monitoring, and radiation safety. Her
email address is in the liquid effluent stream of
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The Radiation Safety Journal Vol. 103, suppl 2 August 2012

a radiological waste management beta screening method may ex- vant radionuclide release limits
facility, these conditions are met. hibit sufficient accuracy and pre- (BMLFUW 2006) might be reached,
Possible exceptions, such as 63Ni cision to serve as quantitative basis the investigation level will need
or 241Pu, are generally considered for the release of liquid effluents. to be set at the lowest nuclide-
separately. This is supported by the results of specific combination of regulatory
Evaporation of the water sam- laboratory intercomparison test- release limit and expected detector
ples results in a dry residue in the ing which finds coefficients of efficiency. The count rate at the
sample planchets. In this process, variations for the combined within- investigation level for radionuclide
the radioactivity of the water sam- laboratory precision for gross alpha i, RIL,i, is given by
ple is not separated from the solids measurements to range from 7.4Y RIL;i ¼ aARL;i ?i; ½1
of the sample. For larger residue 12.2% and for gross beta mea-
masses, self-absorption of the emit- surements to range from 3.5Y5.2 % where a is a factor ensuring
ted radiation becomes significant, (U.S. EPA 1980). further investigation already at
in particular in gross alpha mea- The composition of the dry count rates below the actual
surements. Therefore, the residue residue is expected to vary in uni- release limit, ARL,i is the release
density on a planchet should not formity and homogeneity with limit activity for radionuclide i,
exceed 5 mg cmj2 for gross alpha the chemical composition of the and ?i is the detector efficiency
and 10 mg cmj2 for gross beta mea- dissolved solids. Previous studies for that radionuclide. A conser-
surements (U.S. EPA 1980). Cor- investigating the self-absorption vative screening result requires
rection factors for self-absorption factors, or alternatively the mass the lowest value for RIL,i. As other
are necessary to account for vary- efficiency curves for the counting national or regional regulatory
ing residue thicknesses and densi- system, have examined various authorities might have estab-
ties in the instrument calibration. combinations of dissolved solids lished different release limits or
Special consideration is to be and alpha- and beta-emitting ra-
release limits without nuclide-
given to dissolved ions in the dionuclides (Semkow and Parekh
specific concentration values (e.g.,
water samples, as they might in- 2001; Semkow et al. 2004; Pujol
U.S. EPA 2001), the choice of
fluence the chemical behavior of and Suarez-Navarro 2004). This
the residue after evaporation and current study focuses on optimiz-
calibration radionuclides might
drying. Nitrated salts, for exam- ing the uniformity and homoge- have to be adapted accordingly,
ple, likely will not remain at a con- neity of the dry residue for the following the methodology out-
stant weight after being heated most commonly found dissolved lined in eqn (1). Only radionu-
and dried, as they exhibit strongly ions in ground and surface water clides processed at the monitored
hygroscopic behavior. As the in- in the vicinity of the Seibersdorf site or facility need to be included
crease in residue mass with time site. When spiked with the ap- in this assessment.
is difficult to quantify, the sample propriate standard radionuclide The detector efficiency for vary-
activity concentration cannot be solutions, these will provide stan- ing sample masses follows an
determined with sufficient accu- dard samples for the measurement exponential function while the
racy. Oxidation of nitrates at high of the self-absorption factors for self-absorption factors can be de-
temperatures has been proposed gross alpha and gross beta screen- scribed by a logarithmic function
to avoid this increase in residue ing measurements. as a function of sample mass.
mass (U.S. EPA 1980). However, To optimize the sample prepa-
due to the potential loss of cesium ration and evaporation process, MATERIALS AND
isotopes at temperatures around three preparation methods were METHODS
450-C, this method could not studied, using various salts, such This study was conducted in two
be adopted for characterization of as carbonate, sulphate, and chlo- parts: a non-radioactive selection
the effluent waste stream at NES. ride. The water samples were study was used to determine the
Chloride salts might also pose dif- spiked with standard alpha and optimized dissolved ion composi-
ficulties in gross alpha and gross beta solutions. For conservative tion for the standard samples; the
beta measurements, as they may screening results, 241Am and 60Co radioactive standard sample prep-
attack the stainless steel of the plan- were chosen as calibration radio- aration involved spiking samples
chet and increase the sample solids nuclides for the gross alpha and holding a range of dissolved ion
by an unquantifiable amount. No gross beta measurements, respec- concentrations with appropriate
correction can be made for those tively. As this screening method aliquots of the radionuclide stan-
added solids. does not provide radionuclide- dard solutions.
If proper account is taken for specific results but is intended to The purpose of the non-
the chemical characteristics of the trigger further investigation when radioactive selection procedure was
samples, the gross alpha and gross count rates indicate that the rele- to select an optimized dissolved
Operational Radiation Safety S125

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C. P. Valentin et al. Self-absorption factors and water sample measurements

ion composition, together with the ensure consistency, the dry residue for 241Am and 5.0063 T 0.0385 g
appropriate chemical sample prep- mass was compared with the initial and 20.720 T 0.160 kBq for 60Co.
aration procedure, for the deter- salt load in the aqueous solution. Uncertainties reported here for
mination of the self-absorption in Identical samples were pre- the solutions are total uncertain-
the dry residue. In order for the pared for the second chemical ties from the dilution process
standard samples to best simulate sample preparation method. This which was conducted on a mass,
actual water sample chemistry, dis- time, the residue in the ceramic rather than a volumetric basis, in
solved ion mixtures as they would dish was only rinsed with de-ion- order to keep total uncertainties
occur naturally in ground and sur- ized water. The final step where at a minimum. To reduce dead
face water in the vicinity of the nitric acid was added earlier was time in the counter, appropriate
Seibersdorf site were investigated. omitted. aliquots were drawn from the
To allow for an accurate determi- In the last sample preparation standard solutions and diluted to
nation of the self-absorption, the method, the dry salt was weighed obtain activity concentrations as
residue should precipitate homo- directly into the stainless steel recommended in the literature
geneously to provide a constant planchet. De-ionized water with (NIST 2001). The target activity
solid layer across the planchet. Dis- a volume of 6 mL was added to concentration after dilution was
solved solids which would pre- the salt and then agitated gently in the range of 20 to 25 Bq gj1
cipitate as hygroscopic salts were to completely dissolve the salt. solution.
excluded. Four soluble salts, pro- Instead of the initial step of evap- The diluted standard solution
cured from Merck, (2000 Gallop- orating the water on a heating was added to the dry salts span-
ing Hill Road, Kenilworth, NJ plate, the resulting concentrated ning a large range of salt masses
07033) were chosen for inclusion solution was only dried under the prior to dissolution. Calibration
in this study, KCl, Na2SO4, CaCl2, infrared lamp. standard sources for the gross alpha
and CaCO3. Each salt was weighed The most conservative investi- and gross beta measurements were
with a precision balance (R160P- gation levels for gross alpha and prepared, covering expected dry
*A1, Sartorius AG, Weender gross beta measurements with residue masses in the range from
Landstrasse 94-108, Göttingen, respect to the release limits for 0 to 300 mg for the solutions con-
Germany) in three distinct masses: liquid effluents (BMLFUW 2006) taining 241Am and ranging from
50 mg, 100 mg, and 150 mg. The are found to be due to 241Am and 0 to 500 mg for the solutions con-
planchets used were 2 Yg8 inches 60
Co, respectively, when detector taining 60Co.
in diameter and Y8e inch high efficiencies in a gas-flow propor- The standard samples were used
stainless steel cupped planchets tional counter are included in the to determine the self-absorption
by Ametek, Advanced Measure- considerations. Certified stan- factors on the NES gas-flow pro-
ment Technologies (801 South dard solutions traceable to a pri- portional counter (MPC-9604, Pro-
Illinois Ave., Oak Ridge, TN mary national standard were tean Instrument Corporation, 231
37830-9101) . obtained from GE Healthcare Ltd Sam Ray Burn Pkwy., Lenoir City,
The first chemical sample prepa- (Amersham Place, Little Chalfont, TN 37771-3352). To achieve ac-
ration method involved dissolution Buckinghamshire, HP7 9NA United ceptable statistical uncertainties in
of the salts in 100 mL de-ionized Kingdom) for these radionu- the measurements, counting times
water in a ceramic dish. The water clides. The masses and activities were adjusted such that at least
was subsequently evaporated for for the solutions were 5.1375 T 10,000 counts were obtained for
about 30 min on a heating plate 0.0262 g and 23.670 T 0.121 kBq every sample.
(EKS, GWM Gerätewerk Matrei
GmbH, Naviser Strasse 1, Matrei,
Austria). The residue in the dish was
rinsed several times with de-ionized
water and in a final step with 1 mL
0.1% HNO3 (Merck). The result-
ing solution was transferred into
a tared stainless steel planchet. The
planchet was then dried for ap-
proximately 5 to 6 min under an
infrared lamp (OV 300, QCS, Raif-
feisenstrasse 8, Maintal, Germany).
The planchet was weighed using
a precision balance, and the dry
residue mass was determined. To FIG. 1. Salt deposition for three different sample preparation methods.

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The Radiation Safety Journal Vol. 103, suppl 2 August 2012

Using the sample preparation
method, which included rinsing
the residue in the ceramic dish
with nitric acid, resulted in in-
creased masses of the dry residues
compared to the weighed-in salts
for all four salts. Mass increases
between 10% and 55% were ob-
served, the largest increases at 40%
to 55% occurring for KCl.
A net loss in dry residue mass
was observed in several samples
when the solution was prepared
with 100 mL de-ionized water, but
FIG. 3. Mass efficiency for 241Am as a function of dry residue mass for Na2SO4, CaCO3, and
the ceramic dish was not rinsed
a 1:1 mixture.
with nitric acid for residue transfer
into the stainless steel planchet. hygroscopic properties, the stan- For the investigation of the self-
This is expected as some of the dard deviation of the sample mass absorption factors, three variants
residue has plated out on the sur- increased from an initial 1% to a of dissolved salts were studied:
face of the ceramic dish and would final value of 10%. 100% Na2SO4, 100% CaCO3, and
not be re-dissolved during the trans- For the subsequent preparation a mixture of both salts in a 1:1
fer. Only CaCl2 and Na2SO4 were of the radioactive standard sam- ratio. The dry residue of the CaCO3
re-dissolved sufficiently by the de- ples, the optimized sample prepa- solution is found to serve best
ionized water that complete resi- ration method was determined to in the determination of the self-
due transfer could be established, involve directly heating the dis- absorption factor, due to its uni-
even for salt masses at the higher solved sample under the infrared form and homogeneous deposition
end of the investigated mass range. lamp. For consistency in the mass in the stainless steel planchet. The
The most consistent results were of the dissolved salt and the dry other two salts deposit in a less
obtained when sample prepara- residue, Na2SO4 and CaCO3 were homogeneous manner; the detec-
tion only consisted of directly heat- chosen for the further analysis of tor efficiencies and self-absorption
ing the sample under the infrared the alpha and beta self-absorption factors obtained from them, there-
lamp, avoiding any transfer from factors. A visual indication of the fore, do not exhibit the expected
the ceramic dish to the planchet. result of the non-radioactive se- close functional dependence as a
The masses of CaCO3, Na2SO4, lection procedure can be obtained function of dry residue mass.
and KCl after evaporation closely by comparing the dry residue de- The deposition of Na2SO4 is
matched the original weighed-in position patterns for the three sam- found to be less homogeneous. The
masses. Only for CaCl2, due to its ple preparation methods in Fig. 1. salt crystallizes around seed crys-
tals, leaving distinctive areas with
no deposition on the planchet.
Visual inspection of the planchet
after evaporation shows that the
dry residue deposition reaches a
maximum at the edge of the plan-
chet, increasing the potential for
spill-over of the solution during
heating. For visual comparison,
dry residue deposition patterns for
the three dissolved salts variants
are shown in Fig. 2 for salt masses
of 100 mg, 200 mg, and 300 mg.
During sample preparation, spe-
cial care was taken when the dis-
solved sample was agitated in
FIG. 2. Salt deposition patterns as a function of dry residue mass. order to avoid tracks from the
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C. P. Valentin et al. Self-absorption factors and water sample measurements

tor in gross beta measurements

as a function of dry residue mass,
using 60Co standard samples, are
shown in Figures 5 and 6, respec-
tively. Because inhomogeneities
in the dry residue deposition do
not influence particle attenuation
as much for beta-particles as they
do for alpha-particles, the results
from the three variants of dissolved
salts are expected to differ less than
observed in the gross alpha data.
This is confirmed by the curves
in Figs. 5 and 6. The detector effi-
ciency for gross beta measurements
as a function of dry residue mass
FIG. 4. Self-absorption factor for 241Am as a function of dry residue mass for Na2SO4, CaCO3, (in mg) for CaCO3 is described by
and a 1:1 mixture.
? ¼ 0:084 þ 0:183 ej 300;
stirring rod. As the water evapo- The results obtained for the de-
rates during heating under the in- tector efficiency for gross alpha
frared lamp, the residue deposits measurements as a function of dry where ? is the detector efficiency
at the bottom of the planchet, most residue mass were compared to and m is the dry residue mass.
uniformly and homogeneously for other published data (Semkow The beta self-absorption factors
CaCO3. The results of the deter- et al. 2004) and detector efficiency as a function of dry residue mass
mination of the detector efficiency modeling results (Semkow et al. are given by
and the self-absorption factor for 2005). Published data were ex-
gross alpha measurements as a tracted from figures (Semkow et al.
F ¼ j320 þ 34 lnðm þ 14; 000Þ; ½5
function of dry residue mass, using 2004) and the model fit functions
241 where F is the self-absorption fac-
Am standard samples, are shown (Semkow et al. 2005). The func-
in Figs. 3 and 4, respectively. The tional dependence of the detector tor. Values for the self-absorption
detector efficiency for gross alpha efficiency for gross alpha measure- factor for masses G50 mg are
measurements as a function of dry ments on dry residue mass deter- consistent with 1.
residue mass (in mg) for CaCO3 is mined in the course of this study The total uncertainty on the
described by agrees well with the published re- self-absorption factor for gross
m sults over the whole range of dry beta measurements increases from
? ¼ 0:036 þ 0:181 ej ; 120
½2 residue masses investigated. 0.0096 to 0.022 in the range of
where ? is the detector efficiency The results for the detector effi- CaCO3 dry residue masses from
and m is the dry residue mass. ciency and the self-absorption fac- 5 mg to 500 mg.
The numerical factors are ob-
tained by a least squares fit of the
data. The alpha self-absorption
factors as a function of dry resi-
due mass are given by

F ¼j1; 300 þ 140 lnðm þ 13; 000Þ; ½3

where F is the self-absorption

The total uncertainty on the
detector efficiency data for gross
alpha measurements ranges be-
tween 0.0006 and 0.001. The total
uncertainty on the self-absorption
factor increases from 0.0087 to
0.041 in the range of CaCO3 dry FIG. 5. Mass efficiency for 60Co as a function of dry residue mass for Na2SO4, CaCO3, and
residue masses from 5 mg to 300 mg. a 1:1 mixture.

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The Radiation Safety Journal Vol. 103, suppl 2 August 2012

usefulness for the accurate deter-

mination of the alpha and beta
self-absorption factors. In addi-
tion, Na2SO4 preferentially crys-
tallizes at the edge of the planchet,
resulting in a significant poten-
tial for spill-over of the solution
and loss of some of the salt. Even
though a 1:1 mixture of CaCO3
and Na2SO4 exhibits slightly more
homogeneous deposition, the re-
sults obtained with that mixture
do not exhibit the same precision
as observed with 100 % CaCO3.
Previous analyses had employed
the natural 40K-activity in KCl to
FIG. 6. Self-absorption factor for 60Co as a function of dry residue mass for Na2SO4, CaCO3, determine the beta self-absorption
and a 1:1 mixture.
factors. However, the availability
of standard solutions traceable to
The R2-values for all curve fits the unknown mixture of salts are a national primary standard for
are above 0.98 for CaCO3, while similar to the patterns observed for the more conservative radionu-
the fit to the data for the other CaCO3, uncertainties on the self- clides 241Am and 60Co allowed
dissolved salt variants did not ex- absorption factors for gross alpha for improved accuracy and preci-
hibit similar quality. This confirms and gross beta measurements are sion in the current study. A choice
that CaCO3 deposition occurs in expected to be within the ranges of dissolved ions including K+
the most uniform and homoge- reported above. Data for gross alpha would have introduced additional
neous manner of the three dis- and gross beta measurements with uncertainties due to 40K-decay in
solved salt variants studied. dry residue deposition patterns the sample.
The functional dependence of closer to the patterns observed for
the detector efficiency for gross Na2SO4 are expected to exhibit sim-
beta measurements as a function ilar variability as shown for Na2SO4 AcknowledgmentsVWe thank Nuclear Engi-
of dry residue mass was compared in Figs. 4 and 6, respectively. neering Seibersdorf (NES) for providing data
and infrastructure for us to conduct this
to published data (Pujol and Saurez- The uncertainties corresponding study. In particular, we thank Mr. Trombitas,
Navarro 2004), where the investi- to such deposition patterns could NES, Radioactive Waste Management De-
gators used 90Sr/90Y for their study. be estimated from the scatter in the partment, for his kind help with preparing
the radioactive standard solutions.
The detector efficiency for 60Co data for Na2SO4 in Figs. 4 and 6.
decreases more rapidly with in-
creasing dry residue mass than REFERENCES
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C. P. Valentin et al. Self-absorption factors and water sample measurements

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