Analytical Chemistry Laboratories

The Analytical Chemistry Laboratories (ACL) at the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) conducts chemical analysis and chemical process development in support of research and development (R&D) at CNL and for the Canadian nuclear industry.  The ACL primarily performs inorganic chemical analysis of radioactive samples, but can also perform analysis of contaminated or potentially radioactive samples (e.g., effluents and groundwater).

The integration between the Analytical Chemistry Laboratories and other CRL site facilities allows for the rapid handling of higher activity samples; something that cannot be performed at other Canadian laboratories.  In particular, CNL’s Analytical Chemistry Laboratories can perform chemical analysis of irradiated fuel samples; including fuel burn-up, and Uranium/Plutonium isotopic analysis.

Within the ACL’s radiochemical analysis group, they can perform chemical separations and alpha, beta and gamma radiation analysis. These tests can identify and quantify actinides and fission products, including tritium, carbon-14, cobalt-60, strontium-90, zirconium-95, cesium-137, and americium-241.

The ACL’s isotopic analysis group employs various types of mass spectroscopy including: quadrupole, inductively coupled plasma–mass spectroscopy, and thermal ionization mass spectroscopy. These are used to perform highly specialized investigations, including analysis of:

  • Hydrogen/deuterium analysis for pressure tube samples
  • Fission-gas analysis for fuel post-irradiation examinations
  • Uranium and plutonium isotopic analysis for fuel burn-up and personnel dosimetry, and
  • Trace-level elemental analysis of heavy metals


The ACL’s multi-element analysis group uses high-performance liquid chromatography, ion chromatography, and inductively coupled plasma – atomic emission spectroscopy. These are used to separate and quantify uranium and plutonium from nuclear fuel and liquid waste tanks, and measure trace and major elements in liquid and solid matrices (e.g., alloy compositions, or environmental monitoring samples). 

The ACL’s chemistry control group performs nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectroscopy measurements for analysis of various waste stream solutions and certification/recertification of heavy water standards.  This group also provides chemistry support for CNL’s molybdenum-99 production facility and is developing cement formulations for the Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program stored liquid waste cementation project.

The waste processing technology group within ACL develops technologies for processing radioactive wastes from the CRL site and from CANDU® power stations.   This group is currently conducting a pilot-scale demonstration of a process for reducing the volume of solvent wastes at CANDU stations.

Finally, ACL’s glassblowing shop fabricates custom-made glass and quartz apparatus for R&D experiments and molybdenum production.

The Analytical Chemistry Branch is currently working with an Ontario company to demonstrate the capabilities of their water treatment technology for removal of radionuclides from various nuclear process systems and waste streams. They are also in discussions with another Ontario company to determine the applicability of their technology to the cleanup of surface waters surrounding the Fukushima plant in Japan.