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Measurements of Heavy Hydrogen Concentrations


High-Sensitive Ion Technology for Measurements of Low Concentrations of Hydrogen Heavy Isotopes

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-MIN/Monitoring and Instrumentation/Environment

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Genisaretskaya S V

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


  • Middlesex University / School of Health and Social Sciences, UK, London\nKinectrics Inc., Canada, ON, Toronto

Project summary

The goal of this project is to develop a highly sensitive method for identification and measurement of the concentration of heavy isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) in hydrogen-containing substances, to make a prototype of the device, to investigate its analytical characteristics and possibilities of its usage for needs of Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site.

In natural conditions concentration of heavy isotopes of hydrogen with respect to protium remains at the level 1.48·10-4 for deuterium and 2·10-18 for tritium. Human activity results in accumulation and release to the environment of deuterium and tritium, which leads to disturbance of this balance, particularly, for tritium due to its low natural abundance. That is why measurements of concentration variations for heavy isotopes of hydrogen are an important source of information for assessment of ecological situation in water and air basins. In spite of importance of the problem, available technologies for precision measurement of deuterium and tritium such as mass-spectrometry, accelerating mass-spectrometry, radiometry and others are not universal and sensitive enough, particularly for measurements of tritium concentrations. Registration threshold for determination of relative concentration of tritium by these methods (using special labor- and time-consuming procedures of sample preparation) is not less than 1·10-16. Such analyses are very time- consuming. For example, for 3He-mass spectrometry one analysis takes about a month. One should note that some technologies, for example, some nuclear ones and in nuclear power production it is necessary to take express measurements of isotope concentrations of hydrogen in real time. One should also remember that measurements of variations in heavy hydrogen concentrations, particularly those of tritium, are very important for ecological investigations not only because tritium is radioactive, but also because natural concentration of tritium in hydrogen-containing substances is very low. Therefore, the development of comparatively simple and reliable express technologies for measurement of concentrations of heavy isotopes of hydrogen (at tritium level of about 2·10-18) in hydrogen-containing substances is actual both for the development of nuclear technologies, nuclear power production and for monitoring of territories adjacent to nuclear facilities.

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 rapidly growing usage of nuclear technologies as well as by the need of research in such areas as transportation/proliferation of tritium and deuterium in the environment, metabolism of deuterium and tritium in a human body, and other aspects of environmental protection from deuterium and tritium.

The research team working on this project has the required competency and is well qualified for fulfilling the task. 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 obtain new theoretical and experimental data supporting our relatively simple and inexpensive ionic method of precision measurement of ultra-small concentration of deuterium and tritium in hydrogen-containing substances and creation of a working model of the device that will be capable of conducting real-time measurements of tritium (2.10-18) contents.

The technology developed as a result of this project can be transferred 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 heavy hydrogen measurements with a wide range of technical and analytical parameters. The usage of such devices will allow for a more precise assessment of heavy hydrogen contents in the water and air basins, as well as in areas exposed to radioactive contamination. Apart from its environmental applications, the technology can be applied for utilization in continuous technological processes, in particular, in constructing extra-sensitive real-time tritium dosimeters.

The project research enables the scientists and specialists of the Institute that have been previously involved in military investigations to develop new peaceful technologies for ecological monitoring of the environment and increase of safety at nuclear power facilities. The project work will find applications in studying transport of heavy hydrogen isotopes in the environment, their metabolism in the human body and other ecological tasks.

The work is planned for 36 months. Requested funding is $180,000 USD. Estimated efforts 4549 man·days.

Within the framework of this project the role of foreign collaborators – Middlesex University, England; Institute for Transuranium Elements, Germany will include the following activities:

- exchange of information and participation in joint workshops throughout the duration of the project;
- submitting comments to technical reports on the project;
- joint usage of the same test materials and samples in order to ensure objective assessment of technological and operational characteristics of the prototype developed in the project.

The new ion technology of measurement of concentration of heavy hydrogen isotopes consists of the following procedures:

- 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 (D 2+ + НТ+ + H2D+) 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 of coincidence events for protons and tritons on the corresponding detectors.

Our technology is based on a unique method of proton-deuteron and proton-triton coincidences. It enables to construct a working model of a heavy hydrogen device with practically zero background measurements and to obtain extremely high sensitivity.


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