Radionuclide Generator

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The task in this Laboratory Exercise is to record a disintegration curve of 234mPa and from this curve determine the half-life of the nuclide. The 234mPa radionuclide is obtained from a generator system consisting of an ion exchanger column with fixed 234Th where the daughter is milked by a liquid elution process. The α particles from the produced 234mPa-source is recorded by a GM-detector.

Learning Goals

  • Understand mother-daughter relations and radioactive equilibrium
  • Understand how a radio-nuclide generator works and how it is used
  • Understand how radioactivity is "growing in"
  • Training in handling radioactive material and safety procedures

Explanation and Exercise Guide


Experimental procedure



  • HCl (MSDS) on 100 mL flasks, one for each student)
  • DOWEX 50x4 (MSDS) (50-100 mesh)
  • Uranyl Nitrate (MSDS) - UO2(NO3)2
  • NaAc (MSDS) + K4[Fe(CN)6] solution (on 100 mL flasks, one for each student) (prepared by mixing 8 g NaC2H3O2 and 40 g K4[Fe(CN)6 (MSDS)] in 1 L water)
  • 5% citric acid (MSDS) (on 100 mL flasks, one for each student)
  • 0.1 M AgNO3 (MSDS) (on 50 mL flasks)
  • Suitable columns which can be fitted with a stopper connected to a rubber ball so it can be pressurized (to quickly elute drops with short lived 234Pa from the column).
  • Stop watches (one for each student)
  • Sample holders to catch eluted drops from the colund and which can be mounted conveniently in the detector chamber
  • Detectors - GM counters works well, but we have also used plastic scintillators mounted on PMTs and NaI-detectors. High efficiency is necessary to get good counting statistics even after the first 5-6 minutes. 

Safety Aspects

  • Chemical safety - nothing particulary dangerous, 2 M HCl and 0.1 M AgNO3 should of course be handled according to normal safety precations. DOWEX residues and waste should be collected and handled according to normal procedures.
  • Rad. safety - very small amounts of uranyl nitrate is used, so rad. safety is mostly about regulations and not a real healt hazzard. Remember to collect the DOWEX from the ion-exchange collumns in separate containers as it is contaminated with 24-day 234Th (will be none-radioactive after one year).