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Low-level radioactivity measurements

Radioactivity: invisible, yet present

Radioactivity has existed since the origin of the earth. It is therefore literally everywhere: in the water, in the air, in the soil and in living beings. Man himself is radioactive. Radioactivity is therefore a natural phenomenon, but it is also used in human activities. Think, for example, of electricity production, food sterilisation and the checking of welds. In that case we speak of artificial radioactivity. Whether we are talking about natural or artificial radioactivity, you cannot see, smell, taste or feel radioactivity. It can only be detected with advanced measuring equipment.

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The numbers tell the tale

SCK CEN is an expert in measuring radioactivity and low-level radioactivity in particular. The research centre identifies the type of radiation: alpha and beta radiation, which consist of particles, and gamma radiation, which consists of electromagnetic waves. It also determines its radioactivity. Why are these analyses important? By measuring low levels of radioactivity, we can check whether or not the legally established limits have been adhered to (for instance when importing and producing food).

Four areas of activity

People, the environment, food and the NORM industry are our four areas of activity.

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    Employees of a hospital or in the nuclear industry often work with radioactive substances. As a result, they could be exposed to internal or external contamination. SCK CEN conducts analyses to detect potential internal contaminations. To this end, they analyse the employees’ nasal mucus, urine or faeces. As such, SCK CEN plays a key role in control programmes and in the management of incidents.

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    The Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) keeps a close eye on the radioactivity levels on Belgian territory. This means that they measure and analyse the level of natural and artificial radioactivity in, a.o., the air, rain, surface waters and drinking water, the soil and vegetation, in the coastal region and in products from the food chain. SCK CEN is one of the main partners of FANC to perform these measurements. Every year, SCK CEN analyses thousands of samples

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    Het Federaal Agentschap voor de Veiligheid van de Voedselketen (FAVV) houdt scherp toezicht op de voedselketen in België. Als erkend laboratorium voor de controle van voedsel op radioactiviteit draagt SCK CEN bij aan het controleprogramma van FAVV. FAVV controleert zowel voedselproducten van eigen bodem/zee als van importproducten. Om producten van eigen bodem te kunnen exporteren, moeten bedrijven certificaten opstellen. Na analyse van de stalen levert SCK CEN de nodige data hiervoor.

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    NORM industry

    SCK CEN analyses materials for industrial use that contain naturally occurring radioactive material. These materials are frequently referred to using the acronym NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material) or TENORM (Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material). The presence of NORM in end products and/or its residues may, under certain conditions, entail a health risk for those that are exposed to them.

Snow White without the Seven Dwarfs

Since 2018, SCK CEN is in possession of Snow White (JL-900 Early Warning System), which is unique in Belgium. This installation sucks up large quantities of air (900 m³/hour) and leads it across filters. These filters are replaced and analysed on a weekly basis. Because the system sucks up such large quantities of air, SCK CEN can detect very low concentrations of radioactivity in the airborne dust. In this way, radioactive emissions, even when originating from abroad, do not remain unnoticed. Detections of low concentrations may indicate an abnormal emission, such as a hidden leak, or signal a nuclear incident.

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You want to have measurements performed yourself?

SCK CEN not only performs measurements on behalf of the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) and the nuclear industry, it makes its services and expertise available to everyone.

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