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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Environmental Sampling

Environmental sampling is one of the IAEA's safeguards measures which contributes to the assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. Collection of environmental samples combined with ultrasensitive analytical techniques, such as mass spectrometry methods, particle analysis and low level radiometric techniques, can reveal information about past and current activities related to the handling of nuclear material

Baseline environmental signature: In the context of IAEA's safeguards, data, derived from the analysis of environmental samples taken at, and in the vicinity of, a location, that characterize nuclear materials handled and activities conducted at that location. More.
Bulk analysis: Analysis of environmental samples by methods that measure each sample as a whole, thus providing information about the average composition of the sample. More.
Composite sample: An environmental sampling technique where multiple samples are taken from several locations to quantify potential changes in the area. A known reagent is prepared and made to react with the unknown element, therefore allowing analysis and comparison to known stoichiometric chemical reactions. More.
Control sample: A measurement that is used to determine the background and potential cross contamination from the measurer’s hand. More.
Cross-contamination: The unintentional spreading of material onto a sample that could lead to a false result. More.
Fission track analysis: A technique used to isolate particles from an environmental sample by removing particles from the sample, spreading them on a fission track detector material, irradiating the detector with thermal neutrons and etching the fission tracks to identify the location of particles containing fissile isotopes. More.
Particle analysis : Analysis of environmental samples in which micrometer size particles are removed from the samples for analysis involving the measurement of the size and the morphology of the particles, and their elemental and isotopic composition. More.
Point sample: A sample taken from the environment that is obtained from a particular area. More.
Sampling kit : A pack of useful tools and items that can be used to obtain samples. They come preassembled so that cross-contamination from outside sources is absent. More.
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) : A technique used to analyze particles from an environmental sample by depositing them on a conducting substrate and examining them under high (1000-5000 ×) magnification. More.
Secondary ion mass spectroscopy (SIMS): A technique for measuring the isotopic composition of nuclear material in micrometer size environmental particles by mounting them on a conducting substrate and bombarding them in vacuum with energetic ions. This results in the ejection of secondary ions which are analyzed by a mass spectrometer to measure the isotopic composition of uranium and plutonium in the particle. More.
Swipe sampling: The process of obtaining a sample by swiping a surface with a piece of cloth that is then used for detection of materials. More.