Uranium Ore Analysis

For my final year capstone design I worked with Rob Hewitt and Robyn Reist on a project for Areva Resources Ltd., under the supervision of Dr. Michael Bradley. Areva required an on-site measurement system to accurately analyze the grade of ore containing Uranium-238. The project included researching and understanding the decay of \(^{238}\)U, choosing an appropriate detector, mathematically quantifying the results of a measured spectrum, and designing a testing apparatus and software to automate the calculations. It had to be user friendly, as it is intended for a user with potentially limited knowledge of radiation physics.

In our design the grade of ore is determined by analyzing the activity from three gamma-ray peaks from \(^{238}\)U decay products (\(^{214}\)Pb and \(^{214}\)Bi at 295, 352, and 609 keV). \(^{238}\)U spectra from three different detectors were analyzed and compared, which resulted in a recommendation to use the Canberra Model IPROL-1 Intelligent LaBr Probe with the InSpector 1000 multi-channel analyzer. This detector provides clear resolution, fast stabilization, and affordability.

A software program was written to perform all of the calculations required for calibrating the detector and analyzing a measured \(^{238}\)U spectrum. The program simplifies the calibration and analysis processes and is accompanied by a detailed user manual. The software was originally written in C++ and given a user interface using QT, a cross-platform program that can be used to create graphical versions of C++ programs.

The system returns consistent results and can be used on the field or in a lab setting. It is portable and simple to use, even for someone with limited scientific background. Our project was awarded the best final year design presentation by department faculty and nominated to compete at the College of Engineering student paper competition. Areva is now implementing our system on a larger scale for mining operations in northern Saskatchewan.

LaBr detector system, mounted on the apparatus designed for measuring a gamma-ray spectrum from uranium ore.

\(^{238}\)U gamma-ray spectrum acquired from three separate detectors. The LaBr detector (red curve) provides adequate resolution and affordability. (Click to enlarge)