Characterization of sources of radioargon in a research reactor

Fay, Alexander Gary
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On Site Inspection is the final measure for verifying compliance of Member States with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. In order to enable the use of ³⁷Ar as a radiotracer for On Site Inspection, the sources of radioargon background must be characterized and quantified. A radiation transport model of the University of Texas at Austin Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory (NETL) TRIGA reactor was developed to simulate the neutron flux in various regions of the reactor. An activation and depletion code was written to calculate production of ³⁷Ar in the facility based on the results of the radiation transport model. Results showed ³⁷Ar production rates of (6.567±0.31)×10² Bq·kWh⁻¹ in the re- actor pool and the air-filled irradiation facilities, and (5.811±0.40)×10⁴ Bq·kWh⁻¹ in the biological shield. Although ⁴⁰Ca activation in the biological shield was found to dominate the total radioargon inventory, the contribution to the effluent release rate would be diminished by the immobility of Ar generated in the concrete matrix and the long diffusion path of mobile radioargon. Diffusion of radioargon out of the reactor pool was found to limit the release rate but would not significantly affect the integrated release activity. The integrated ³⁷Ar release for an 8 hour operation at 950 kW was calculated to be (1.05±0.8)×10⁷ Bq, with pool emissions continuing for days and biological shield emissions continuing for tens of days following the operation. Sensitivity analyses showed that estimates for the time-dependent concentrations of ³⁷Ar in the NETL TRIGA could be made with the calculated buildup coefficients or through analytical solution of the activation equations for only (n,[gamma]) reactions in stable argon or (n,[alpha]) reactions in ⁴⁰Ca. Analyses also indicated that, for a generalized system, the integrated thermal flux can be used to calculate the buildup due to air activation and the integrated fast flux can be used to calculate the buildup due to calcium activation. Based on the results of the NETL TRIGA, an estimate of the global research reactor source term for ³⁷Ar and an estimate of ground-level ³⁷Ar concentrations near a facility were produced.