Skip to main content

You are here

DOE and NNSA labs work with CTBTO to reduce medical isotope emissions, enhance the effectiveness of nuclear explosion monitoring

CTBTO Preparatory Commission Executive signingMedical isotope mitigation efforts are one part of a comprehensive multi-laboratory NNSA approach to assisting the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in completing the treaty’s verification system. Several Energy Department laboratories are helping the CTBTO complete and operate the verification system for testing and evaluation purposes, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Idaho National Laboratory. Additional support for CTBTO activities is provided by the U.S. Departments of State and Defense.

Scientists from PNNL are among the experts featured in a new video, “Zeroing in on Xenon,” which demonstrates how the world’s “nuclear investigators” detect nuclear explosions. Produced by the preparatory commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the video highlights the sophisticated analysis methods and instrumentation developed at PNNL that better differentiate between medical- and nuclear explosion-related emissions. The video appears on the CTBTO’s website and YouTube

Emissions from medical isotope production facilities – even when within health and safety standards – can increase the radioxenon background level in the atmosphere, which complicates efforts to determine whether an event was a nuclear explosion. Increasingly, producers of medical and industrial isotopes are looking at methods to reduce emissions, including by exploring alternatives to fission-based production techniques that do not emit xenon. To facilitate this goal, the CTBTO Prepatory Commission, along with experts from PNNL, engages producers in the United States and worldwide to encourage them to pledge emissions reductions.

For example, Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary-elect of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission and Jean-Michel Vanderhofstadt, Managing Director of the Institute for Radioelements (IRE) in Belgium, signed the first pledge to cooperate to mitigate the effects of noble gas emissions on nuclear explosion monitoring. IRE is a major worldwide producer of radioisotopes used in nuclear medicine and its emissions – while safe from a health perspective – contribute to regional radioxenon levels that can adversely affect highly sensitive nuclear explosion monitoring sensors. Efforts by European producers to reduce radioxenon emissions serve as a model for international cooperation toward further enhancing the international community’s ability to detect nuclear explosions.