LHMA - Laboratory for High and Medium Activity
The laboratory for high and medium activity (LHMA) consists of a number of facilities, capable of handling hazardous materials, especially radioactive and/or toxic materials. These facilities are located in a controlled area, with monitoring of in- and outgoing staff and materials, as well as a controlled ventilation (in depression with respect to the outside environment) of the LHMA building to prevent release of hazardous materials in the environment.
Depending on the nature of the hazardous materials, different types of facilities are required and present for their safe manipulation and testing.
Fume hoods are separately ventilated working areas for manipulation of low activity specimens, either activated or contaminated.
Glove boxes are tight working volumes, designed and built to avoid direct contact between the material and the staff/environment. These facilities are typically used for materials with low beta or gamma radiation levels, but where toxicity (e.g. beryllium) or radiotoxicity (e.g. plutonium) requires confinement of the material.
Hot cells are shielded facilities that protect the staff and the environment from irradiation and contamination.
Two hot cell classes are present at the LHMA laboratories:
- one for handling beta or gamma active materials (most structural materials);
- a second class for handling alpha active or contaminated materials (irradiated nuclear fuels based on uranium and/or plutonium, structural materials contaminated with alpha emitting nuclides due to their irradiation environment).
Main activities performed in the LHMA installations
The facilities of LHMA house a variety of material testing equipment as well as facilities for specimen preparation, conditioning and storage. The main activities performed in the LHMA installations are:
Specimen preparation from irradiated materials: after reception of irradiated materials, either from the own SCK•CEN facilities, external laboratories or commercial power plants, specimens may need to be isolated from them. This is done by machining, eventually followed by physical or chemical conditioning. This way, LHMA has capabilities of preparing nearly all types of specimens needed for its further testing activities.
- Mechanical and stress corrosion testing: a wide range of mechanical tests (tensile, fracture toughness, stress corrosion cracking in high temperature water or liquid metal embrittlement testing in liquid lead alloys) (MCA).
- Non-destructive and microstructure analysis: a wide range of testing techniques is available, capable of evaluating the effects of irradiation and exposure to the environment on active and/or contaminated materials. This includes non-destructive characterisation of irradiated fuel rods (dimensions, oxide thickness), physico-chemical characterisation of materials (spectrometry, density) and microstructure analysis (optical and electron microscopy, microprobe analysis, X-ray diffraction and photo-electron spectroscopy (MNA).
The facilities of LHMA are operated by the expert groups Structural Materials, Microstructural and Non-destructive Analysis and Infrastructure Operation.
Due to the wide variety of material handling, transport and testing capabilities, together with the presence of irradiation facilities on site, the laboratory plays a central role in offering a comprehensive support and service to research groups and industrial clients. More information about the services can be found in the section 'Our Services - Material testing'.
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