Device speeds up radiation cleanup

Engineers at Oregon State University have invented a new type of radiation detection and measurement device that they believe can make cleanup faster, cheaper and more thorough.

They’ve patented the device, and say production should start soon.

The radiation spectrometer can quickly tell the type and amount of radionuclides that are present in something like a soil sample – contaminants such as cesium 137 or strontium 90. And it can distinguish between gamma rays and beta particles, which is necessary to determine the level of contamination.

“Unlike other detectors, this spectrometer is more efficient, and able to measure and quantify both gamma and beta radiation at the same time,” said David Hamby, an OSU professor of health physics.

“Before this two different types of detectors and other chemical tests were needed in a time-consuming process.”

He says the new radiation spectrometer will be able to provide accurate results in 15 minutes, rather than half a day, as before.

“Cleaning up radioactive contamination is something we can do, but the process is costly, and often the question when working in the field is how clean is clean enough,” Hamby said. “At some point the remaining level of radioactivity is not a concern. So we need the ability to do frequent and accurate testing to protect the environment while also controlling costs.”

The OSU College of Engineering has signed a deal with Texas-based Ludlum Instruments to produce the first instruments, and is looking for a licensee for commercial development.