Spectrometer Improving Plutonium Processing

When an aging colorimeter process monitoring system is replaced with a cutting edge spectroscopy system featuring Avantes spectrometers, it provides promising benefits for the HB Line Chemical Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site (SRS), an integral part of the surplus plutonium disposition mission.

Commercially available spectrometers are used in the latest system that has been developed in partnership with Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management. When compared to the old system, the new system has been shown to be easier to calibrate, repair and troubleshoot. In addition, efficiency and safety for SRS employees and the environment are also improved.

The Savannah River Complex

The Savannah River site, commissioned in 1951, in the early years of the Cold War, was originally built to generate nuclear material, mainly Plutonium-239, for use in weapons programs. The Savannah River Complex includes a number of reactors and support facilities including waste management facilities and chemical separation plants.

The HB Line facility is located at the head of H Canyon. It is the hardened nuclear chemical separations plant built for recovering nuclear material and generating material to fuel the deep space exploration program of the nation.

HB Line Process Monitoring

Traditionally, colorimeters were used by the HP Line to identify plutonium concentrations in solutions. The darker the color of solutions, generally the higher concentration of plutonium. In addition to requiring downtime for troubleshooting and repairing, these instruments also required annual off-site calibration. The colorimeter instruments also lacked the required accuracy, forcing the team to keep the concentrations low so that these stayed within safety margins.

Next Generation Spectrophotometer

The term Next Generation Spectrophotometer (NGS) was referred to the new process control system. The NGS system is housed in a rack mount cabinet in the HB Line operations control room and actually consisted of multiple paired dual-channel spectrometers, approximately 10 pairs in total. More accurate measurements are possible, since the spectrophotometer system is capable of identifying a large variety of colors.

The rack mount design is scalable and is also easier to maintain, enabling the system to be expanded without requiring any software or hardware modification. Employees can quickly calibrate the system without dismantling the system, thereby minimizing downtime, and the operators can be alerted of alarm conditions with the help of the user-friendly interface. Thanks to the increased accuracy of measurements, plutonium concentrations can average closer to the limits without fear of surpassing them owing to inaccurate measurements.

Leading Edge Spectrometers

The dual channel spectrometer pairs of the NGS at the Savannah River HB Line are based on Avantes AvaSpec-ULS3648. This instrument offers exceptional UV response covering 200-1100 nm and sensitive to 160,000 counts/µW per ms integration time. The improvements in terms of maintenance time and accuracy are indeed remarkable for this section of the Savannah River site, and in addition, this system can possibly be implemented in other areas of the Department of Energy.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Avantes BV.

For more information on this source, please visit Avantes BV.

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