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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Isotopic determination of uranium in soil by laser induced breakdown spectroscopy

  • Author(s): Chan, GCY
  • Choi, I
  • Mao, X
  • Zorba, V
  • Lam, OP
  • Shuh, DK
  • Russo, RE
  • et al.

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) operated under ambient pressure has been evaluated for isotopic analysis of uranium in real-world samples such as soil, with U concentrations in the single digit percentage levels. The study addresses the requirements for spectral decomposition of 235U and 238U atomic emission peaks that are only partially resolved. Although non-linear least-square fitting algorithms are typically able to locate the optimal combination of fitting parameters that best describes the experimental spectrum even when all fitting parameters are treated as free independent variables, the analytical results of such an unconstrained free-parameter approach are ambiguous. In this work, five spectral decomposition algorithms were examined, with different known physical properties (e.g., isotopic splitting, hyperfine structure) of the spectral lines sequentially incorporated into the candidate algorithms as constraints. It was found that incorporation of such spectral-line constraints into the decomposition algorithm is essential for the best isotopic analysis. The isotopic abundance of 235U was determined from a simple two-component Lorentzian fit on the U II 424.437 nm spectral profile. For six replicate measurements, each with only fifteen laser shots, on a soil sample with U concentration at 1.1% w/w, the determined 235U isotopic abundance was (64.6 ± 4.8)%, and agreed well with the certified value of 64.4%. Another studied U line - U I 682.691 nm possesses hyperfine structure that is comparatively broad and at a significant fraction as the isotopic shift. Thus, 235U isotopic analysis with this U I line was performed with spectral decomposition involving individual hyperfine components. For the soil sample with 1.1% w/w U, the determined 235U isotopic abundance was (60.9 ± 2.0)%, which exhibited a relative bias about 6% from the certified value. The bias was attributed to the spectral resolution of our measurement system - the measured line width for this U I line was larger than its isotopic splitting. Although not the best emission line for isotopic analysis, this U I emission line is sensitive for element analysis with a detection limit of 500 ppm U in the soil matrix; the detection limit for the U II 424.437 nm line was 2000 ppm.

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