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RSCS Deploys a Mobile Tritium Analysis Laboratory to Support the Nuclear Power Industry
Posted on January 8th, 2015

To meet the emerging needs in the US nuclear power industry to quickly analyze and report tritium concentrations to environmental levels, RSCS has developed and deployed a mobile tritium analysis laboratory. The lab is capable of counting tritium with an MDA < 500 pCi/L, making the lab services applicable for equipment/media free release, subsurface investigations and waste characterization, NEI groundwater monitoring programs and REMP applications. This service comes at a time when commercial nuclear power stations and utilities are being challenged with reductions in staff and onsite support services as a result of budget cuts as a result of current market forces and regulations.

Current Support Services

RSCS initially developed their mobile tritium laboratory to support the free release of water generated at a plant from newly constructed water supply wells for a hypothetical Beyond-Design-Basis External Event involving the prolonged loss of offsite AC power and plant cooling capacity. This project is the result of Nuclear Regulatory Commission Order EA 12-049: “Modifying Licenses with Regard to Requirements for Mitigation Strategies for Beyond-Design-Basis Events”. The NRC order is a response to the incidents that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Complex following a strike by a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

The nuclear plant RSCS supported decided to use groundwater from specially designed water supply wells as a mitigating strategy for the Beyond-Design-Basis Event (BDBEE) dictated by NRC Order EA 12-049. This required the plant to conduct well development and production tests to verify that the wells could provide cooling water at the required flow rate to cool the reactor and associated systems and components. These tests challenged the plant project staff due to the requirements involving the storage of water for testing prior to discharge through regulated/permitted pathways. Further complicating well testing, the facility had a limited footprint to store pumped water in temporary tanks. This meant that stored water had to be tested quickly to reduce the number of storage tanks required to hold water prior to discharge. The site needed to verify that water pumped from the wells did not have trace levels of plant related tritium, due to legacy tritium contamination within groundwater proximal to the facility. As a result the plant required the capability to rapidly batch test stored water for tritium to free release through the permitted discharge pathway and/or account for activity in the plant Offsite Dose Calculation Manual (ODCM). The volume of samples, the low tritium detection limit, and need for fast turn-around of analysis results was a burden that management did not want to impose on the plant’s chemistry department, whose primary responsibility is plant system chemistry.

RSCS developed procedures, QA/QC protocols and a training and qualification program to meet the data quality objectives required to count tritium to environmental/trace levels with a total turnaround time of 3 hours or less per sample. The mobile lab was constructed within a steel shipping container allowing the lab unit to be deployed quickly and set up in an area with a limited footprint as a stand-alone laboratory space requiring little or no site resources.
During the well pumping tests, RSCS successfully analyzed approximately 20 samples of water for tritium, operating the laboratory around the clock onsite during a 72 hour sustained pump test. The ability to quickly test batch samples for free release was instrumental in testing the production wells, allowing the site to execute the test quickly, limit the necessary footprint required to store water, and reducing the burden on the site associated with testing and or treating the water prior to discharge. This greatly reduced the required site resources and equipment, and facilitated the implementation of a tight schedule associated with production well testing.

Future applications and Benefits 

RSCS sees many applications for its mobile environmental tritium lab in the nuclear power and decommissioning industries. Currently there are many ongoing projects within the US commercial nuclear power industry that could benefit from supplemental, onsite analytical testing. Many of the projects involve construction projects, buried pipe and tank inspections, storm drain inspections, dewatering operations/waste water processing and groundwater monitoring and investigation efforts where quick turn-around of sample results with low detection limits are required. At many sites such projects may occur where low level tritium is either suspected or present in the subsurface proximal to system structures and components. Expedited analysis time allows a site to quickly make decisions during investigations to free release materials or equipment on a tighter schedule without burdening onsite plant chemistry resources. This benefits projects by shortening schedules and thereby saving money.

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