Polyethylene encapsulation is a process that is being nvestigated for the solidification of radioactive nitrate salts at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Rocky Flats Plant. In the encapsulation process, radioactive-salt waste is mixed with polyethylene pellets, heated, and extruded as a molten stream. Upon cooling, the mixture solidifies to a monolithic waste form with excellent properties for long-term waste storage. This paper describes a novel method to monitor the composition of the salt/polymer stream as it exits the extruder.
The monitor is based on a technique known as transient infrared spectroscopy (TIRS). The TIRS monitor is able to capture the real-time mid-infrared spectrum of the processed waste stream as it exits the extruder. The wealth of chemical information contained in a mid-infrared spectrum makes this technique very appealing for on-line monitoring and process control. Data from the monitor can be used to guide processing, minimize waste volume, and certify the composition of the final waste form.