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Appl Spectrosc. 2009 Nov;63(11):1238-50. doi: 10.1366/000370209789806867.

Detection of uranium using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy.

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  • 1Department of Science and Math, Alvernia University, Reading, Pennsylvania 19607, USA.


The goal of this work is a detailed study of uranium detection by laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) for application to activities associated with environmental surveillance and detecting weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The study was used to assist development of LIBS instruments for standoff detection of bulk radiological and nuclear materials and these materials distributed as contaminants on surfaces. Uranium spectra were analyzed under a variety of different conditions at room pressure, reduced pressures, and in an argon atmosphere. All spectra displayed a high apparent background due to the high density of uranium lines. Time decay curves of selected uranium lines were monitored and compared to other elements in an attempt to maximize detection capabilities for each species in the complicated uranium spectrum. A survey of the LIBS uranium spectra was conducted and relative emission line strengths were determined over the range of 260 to 800 nm. These spectra provide a guide for selection of the strongest LIBS analytical lines for uranium detection in different spectral regions. A detection limit for uranium in soil of 0.26% w/w was obtained at close range and 0.5% w/w was achieved at a distance of 30 m. Surface detection limits were substrate dependent and ranged from 13 to 150 microg/cm2. Double-pulse experiments (both collinear and orthogonal arrangements) were shown to enhance the uranium signal in some cases. Based on the results of this work, a short critique is given of the applicability of LIBS for the detection of uranium residues on surfaces for environmental monitoring and WMD surveillance.

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