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Radiochemistry: A Vital Aspect of USTUR Operations

Early Radiochemistry Laboratories

Radioanalytical support was historically provided by DOE contractor laboratories. The Rock Flats Facility (RFF) and Battelle, Pacific Northwest Laboratories (PNL) conducted all radiochemical analyses for USTR tissue samples until 1971 when Los Alamos National (formerly Scientific) Laboratory (LANL) was added to the list of “approved” laboratories. The Rocky Flats Facility arranged autopsies and performed the radiochemical analysis on tissues originating at RFF, and all other tissues were sent to PNL or Los Alamos.

Los Alamos National Laboratory fully replaced PNL’s radiochemistry activities in 1978, and RFF ceased its Registries related radiochemistry work in 1987. Los Alamos National Laboratory thus conducted all radiochemical determinations of actinide elements in USTR human tissue samples from 1987 to 1994.

An unusual aspect of the relationship between the Registries and the various DOE contractor laboratories was that the latter were funded and administered separately from the Registries by the DOE and its predecessor agencies. PNL and LANL submitted their own independent research proposals, and RFF supported their Registries related radioanalytical work from their general plant budget. Integration of the radioanalytical and other Registries operations was largely informal and ad hoc. The annual Advisory Committee meetings served to provide some coordination among the participants from the various laboratories.

Radiochemistry moves to WSU Pullman
The Pullman campus

The USTUR’s radiochemistry operations were moved to WSU’s College of Pharmacy and Nuclear Radiation Center (NRC) in 1994 and Royston Filby was appointed as director of radiochemistry operations. Filby met with radiochemists Edward Gonzalez and James McInroy at LANL and toured the laboratory facilities that were devoted to USTUR radiochemistry. Copies of all analytical procedures, including QA/QC procedures used by LANL in the USTUR program, were obtained and brought to Pullman. The move to Pullman administratively combined radiochemistry with the remainder of the Registries’ operations, lowering costs and better coordinating radiochemistry operations with the Registries’ efforts.

Radiochemistry moves to the Tricities

In June 2006, the USTUR moved its radiochemistry facilities from WSU Pullman to the Center for Laboratory Sciences (CLS) in the Tri-Cities (Pasco, WA). The CLS was a joint public/private research and service laboratory, operated by the RJ Lee Group, Inc., in partnership with the Tri-Cities’ community college (Columbia Basin College, CBC). At CLS, the USTUR’s radiochemistry operation was limited to radiochemical separation, preparation of α-spectrometric counting sources, and α-spectrometric measurements. Ashing, digestion, and dissolution of tissue samples was not possible. Full-scale radioanalytical support was available through a contract with Severn Trent Laboratories (STL) – a commercial analytical laboratory located in Richland, WA. USTUR radiochemical operations were carried out at CLS through 2008.

Due to continuous budget cuts, the USTUR was forced to terminate the contract with STL in 2008.
At the end of 2008, the USTUR was notified that after 2009 laboratory space at the CLS/CBC would no longer be available for lease. The USTUR began exploring opportunities to find a new facility, suitable for accommodating a full-scale radiochemistry operation.

In-house Radiochemistry at the USTUR

In 2009, the USTUR’s search for suitable space culminated in leasing a light industrial building that offered adequate space and proximity to the USTUR’s administrative office. The facility layout was designed by the USTUR to consolidate Registries’ operations. The 6,000 ft2 research facility includes office space for laboratory personnel, a dedicated radiochemistry laboratory equipped with fume hoods designed for radiological applications, and specialized equipment to conduct radiochemistry analyses. The radiochemistry laboratory includes an acid digestion room, a counting room, and an ashing room (with muffle furnaces). In addition, the facility houses NHRTR tissues and autopsy facilities. This arrangement facilitated a greater collaboration between various laboratory functions, improved tissue sample preparation and analysis throughput, and increased preserved sample storage capacity.


Text was primarily taken from:

  • Kathren R.L., Harwick L.A., Toohey R.E., Russell J.J, Rilipy R.E., Dietert, S.E., Hunacek M.M., Hall C.A. Annual Report of the United States Transuranium Registries: April 1992 – September 1993. USTUR-0015-94.
  • Parker M.D. and Tolmachev S.Y. Annual Report of the United States Transuranium and Uranium Registries: October 1, 2010 – March 31, 2012. USTUR-0344-12.