Development and application of mass spectrometric techniques for ultra-trace determination of 236U in environmental samples-A review

Wenting Bu, Jian Zheng, Michael E. Ketterer, Sheng Hu, Shigeo Uchida, Xiaolin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Measurements of the long-lived radionuclide 236U are an important endeavor, not only in nuclear safeguards work, but also in terms of using this emerging nuclide as a tracer in chemical oceanography, hydrology, and actinide sourcing. Depending on the properties of a sample and its neutron irradiation history, 236U/238U ratios from different sources vary significantly. Therefore, this ratio can be treated as an important fingerprint for radioactive source identification, and in particular, affords a definitive means of discriminating between naturally occurring U and specific types of anthropogenic U. The development of mass spectrometric techniques makes it possible to determine ultra-trace levels of 236U in environmental samples. In this paper, we review the current status of mass spectrometric approaches for determination of 236U in environmental samples. Various sample preparation methods are summarized and compared. The mass spectrometric techniques emphasized herein are thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). The strategies or principles used by each technique for the analysis of 236U are described. The performances of these techniques in terms of abundance sensitivity and detection limit are discussed in detail. To date, AMS exhibits the best capability for ultra-trace determinations of 236U. The levels and behaviors of 236U in various environmental media are summarized and discussed as well. Results suggest that 236U has an important, emerging role as a tracer for geochemical studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalAnalytica Chimica Acta
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Chemical separation
  • Geochemical tracer
  • Mass spectrometry
  • U activity
  • U/U isotopic ratio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Spectroscopy


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