Measurement of isotopic uranium in water for compliance monitoring by liquid scintillation counting with alpha/beta discrimination

Elichia Anne Squires Venso, The University of Texas School of Public Health


A simple and inexpensive method is described for analysis of uranium (U) activity and mass in water by liquid scintillation counting using $\alpha$/$\beta$ discrimination. This method appears to offer a solution to the need for an inexpensive protocol for monitoring U activity and mass simultaneously and an alternative to the potential inaccuracy involved when depending on the mass-to-activity conversion factor or activity screen. U is extracted virtually quantitatively into 20 ml extractive scintillator from a 1-$\ell$ aliquot of water acidified to less than pH 2. After phase separation, the sample is counted for a 20-minute screening count with a minimum detection level of 0.27 pCi $\ell\sp{-1}$. $\alpha$-particle emissions from the extracted U are counted with close to 100% efficiency with a Beckman LS6000 LL liquid scintillation counter equipped with pulse-shape discrimination electronics. Samples with activities higher than 10 pCi $\ell\sp-1$ are recounted for 500-1000 minutes for isotopic analysis. Isotopic analysis uses events that are automatically stored in spectral files and transferred to a computer during assay. The data can be transferred to a commercially available spreadsheet and retrieved for examination or data manipulation. Values for three readily observable spectral features can be rapidly identified by data examination and substituted into a simple formula to obtain $\sp{234}$U/$\sp{238}$U ratio for most samples. U mass is calculated by substituting the isotopic ratio value into a simple equation. The utility of this method for the proposed compliance monitoring of U in public drinking water supplies was field tested with a survey of drinking water from Texas supplies that had previously been known to contain elevated levels of gross $\alpha$ activity. U concentrations in 32 samples from 27 drinking water supplies ranged from 0.26 to 65.5 pCi $\ell\sp{-1}$, with seven samples exceeding the proposed Maximum Contaminant Level of 20 $\mu$g $\ell\sp{-1}$. Four exceeded the proposed activity screening level of 30 pCi $\ell\sp{-1}$. Isotopic ratios ranged from 0.87 to 41.8, while one sample contained $\sp{234}$U activity of 34.6 pCi $\ell\sp{-1}$ in the complete absence of its parent, $\sp{238}$U. U mass in the samples with elevated activity ranged from 0.0 to 103 $\mu$g $\ell\sp{-1}$. A limited test of screening surface and groundwaters for contamination by U from waste sites and natural processes was also successful.

Subject Area

Environmental science|Geochemistry|Public health

Recommended Citation

Venso, Elichia Anne Squires, "Measurement of isotopic uranium in water for compliance monitoring by liquid scintillation counting with alpha/beta discrimination" (1993). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9422055.