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New Tritium Detection Technology


Development of a New Technology to Determinate Tritium Contents in Hydrogen-Containing Mediums

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-MIN/Monitoring and Instrumentation/Environment
  • FIR-INS/Nuclear Instrumentation/Fission Reactors

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakstan / Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kazakstan, Almaty


  • Los Alamos National Laboratory (M. S. E535, Group CST-6) / Tritium Science and Engineering Group (ESA/TSE), USA, NM, Los-Alamos\nMiddlesex University / School of Health, Biological and Environmental Sciences, UK, London\nEuropean Commission / Joint Research Center / Institute for Transuranium Elements, Germany, Karlsruhe

Project summary

The goal of this project is to develop a method for identification and measurement of the concentration of tritium in hydrogen-containing substances, as well as to construct a working model of a device capable of performing this task (later referred to as the tritium device).
The natural concentration of tritium in the Earth’s water basin (1 atom of tritium per 1018 atoms of hydrogen) has been increasing considerably due to the recent growth in the development and applications of tritium technologies. Almost all of the technological tritium waste ultimately gets transmitted into the Earth’s ground waters. Even though the resulting increase in the radiation levels may be small, the problem of identification of tritium levels in excess of its natural occurrence in water and air is critical to the wellbeing of people.

Despite the importance of this problem, all existing methods of tritium measurement (such as radiometric method, method of accelerating mass spectrometry, etc.) suffer from low sensitivity. The lower bound of tritium concentration identifiable by the existing methods is no higher than 1×10-15. In addition, the test procedure associated with the existing methods is somewhat time consuming. For example, the time requirement for one such test using 3He mass spectrometry is about one month. At the same time, recent advancements in nuclear technology require continuous and speedy measurements of tritium levels as a part of specialized technological cycles.

Thus, from the point of view of both nuclear waste monitoring (in the areas adjacent to possible sources of nuclear contamination), and the development of tritium technologies in theoretical research and thermonuclear energetics, the development of a relatively simple, reliable, and speedy method for identifying and measuring ultra- small (10-18) concentrations of tritium in hydrogen-containing substances is necessary.

This project is aimed at the development of such a method. Scientific importance and commercial potential of this method are quite significant. This can be explained by the rapidly growing utilization of tritium technologies as well as the need for research in such areas as environmentally safe transportation of tritium, metabolism of tritium in a human body, and other aspects of environmental protection from tritium.

The research team working on this project has the required competency and is well qualified for the task on hand. The members of the team have many years of experience in developing and constructing different ionic optical systems and mass spectral devices for specialized purposes. Our most recent development is a unique mass spectrometric device designed to facilitate the process of environmental investigations of radiation. This device is now used in monitoring the levels of radioactive contamination and general assessment of radiation levels on the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. Within the framework of that same project, the research team developed and patented a unique mass spectral method of identification and measurement of tritium contents in hydrogen containing substances.

Upon the completion of the present project, we expect to generate sufficient theoretical foundations and obtain experimental data supporting our relatively simple and inexpensive ionic method for measurement of ultra- small concentration of tritium in hydrogen-containing substances. We also expect to build a working model of an extra-sensitive (1*10-18) mass spectral tritium device that will be capable of conducting real-time measurements of tritium contents.

The technology developed as a result of this project can be transmitted to the industrial and commercial sectors of the economy. The method can be utilized in nuclear engineering, particularly in the construction of new equipment and specialized devices for tritium measurements with a wide range of technical and analytical parameters. The usage of such devices will allow for a more precise assessment of tritium contents in the water and air basins, as well as in areas exposed to radioactive contamination. The simplicity of the equipment, combined with its ability to perform testing in a short period of time, will give researches an opportunity to conduct testing on the site as well as in the lab. Apart from its environmental applications, the technology can be applied in constructing extra-sensitive real-time tritium dosimeters for the use in continuous tritium-based technological processes occurring in nuclear power stations as well as in other production entities associated with atomic and nuclear power industries. It can also be used in research laboratories affiliated with industrial entities and academic research institutions.

The present research project meets the goals and requirements of the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC). The research involves the development of a new technology that can be used to improve the protection of the environment from the consequences of nuclear testing and increase the safety of nuclear energy production. This technology could also be used in the studies of such areas as environmentally safe transportation of tritium, metabolism of tritium in a human body, and other aspects of environmental protection from tritium. The project has good commercial prospects and will contribute to the development of a market economy in Kazakhstan.

The scope of work for this project includes solving a set of problems necessary for the development of theoretical and experimental foundations of the technology. The project also involves building a working model of a mass spectral tritium device capable of conducting ultra-precise tritium measurements in real time.

Within the framework of this project, we will be collaborating with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Tritium Science and Engineering Group (ESA/TSE), USA; Middlesex University, England; Institute for Transuranium Elements, Germany. The scope of our collaboration will include the following:

- interchange of information and participation in joint workshops throughout the duration of the project;

- submitting comments to the other side’s technical reports on the project;

- using the same tritium containing test materials and samples in order to ensure objective assessment of technological and operational characteristics of the mass spectral tritium device being developed in the project.

The methodology of our technology for the identification and measurement of tritium consists of the following five consecutive steps:

- extraction of gaseous hydrogen from the tested substance, its ionization in an ion chamber and transformation into an intensive ion beam.

- initial fractionating of the ion beam using a mass separator and extracting a beam of molecular ions with a mass number of 4
- subjecting the beam of molecular ions to additional ionization and transforming it into a beam of particles moving at the same speed (such as proton, deuteron, and triton)
- using an energy analyzer to further separate the beam of same-speed particles into a beam of protons, a beam of deuterons, and a beam of tritons
- registering events of the concurring ingress of protons and tritons onto the corresponding detectors.
Our technology is based on a unique method of proton-triton concurrence. This makes it possible to construct a working model of a tritium device that will be ultra-sensitive to the presence of tritium and capable of performing measurements of extremely low concentrations of tritium.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

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