50 Years of Nuclear Standards Development

Since 1969, ASTM International’s committee on nuclear fuel cycle (C26) has led the way in developing globally relevant standards for crucial aspects of the nuclear industry. 

“For the commercial nuclear sector, standards from C26 are necessary for the efficient selling and buying of nuclear materials, especially across international borders,” says ASTM International member Donivan Porterfield, a scientist in the actinide analytical chemistry group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. 

Porterfield notes, “Our standards are also relevant in the area of nuclear safeguards, to provide a common set of methodologies for measuring nuclear materials to provide reliable material control and accountability of such materials as required by international agreements and national regulations.”

The beginning of the nuclear fuel cycle committee can be traced to the rapid growth of the nuclear industry – and the corresponding need for standards in the industry – in the 1950s and early 1960s. 

READ MORE: The Expanding Niche in Nuclear Plant Deactivation

A subcommittee formed in 1962 within the ceramics committee (C21) studied ceramic materials for nuclear applications. Then, in 1967, the Nuclear Standards Board of the American National Standards Institute assigned ASTM the responsibility for basic materials and materials testing involved in nuclear services. 

An organizational meeting in 1968 led to the founding of C26, which was first known as the Committee on Fuel, Control, and Moderator Material for Nuclear Reactor Applications. In 1978, the name was changed to Nuclear Fuel Cycle to reflect a change in scope that would begin to encompass subjects like waste materials, nuclear processing, and nondestructive assay. 

C26 subcommittees focus on:

  • Fuel materials;
  • Neutron absorber materials;
  • Nuclear methods of test;
  • Nuclear processing;
  • Nondestructive assay;
  • Safeguards;
  • Low activity and mixed waste;
  • Spent fuel and high-level waste; and
  • Remote systems.

The committee, which includes nearly 150 members representing 15 countries, has developed 176 standards covering all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle.    

Some of C26’s key standards include a practice for sampling surface soil for radionuclides (C998), specifications for uranium hexafluoride for enrichment (C787 and C996), and a specification for uranium ore concentrate (C967).

In addition, a guide for working reference materials used to analyze nuclear fuel cycle materials (C1128)
is the basis for training courses at U.S. Department of Energy sites and in China.

ASTM International recognized the importance of the nuclear fuel cycle committee’s work in 1981, when it awarded the committee the Charles B. Dudley Award for publications. This was the first and only time that a committee’s entire body of standards was honored with the Dudley Award. 

In addition, ASTM has recognized the dedication of individual C26 committee members by presenting 29 of them with the Award of Merit. The committee has honored its own members through achievement and appreciation awards, as well as two special awards named for former committee chairmen (Harlan J. Anderson and Don Sandburg).

The nuclear fuel cycle committee meets twice a year, both in and outside the United States. Everyone is encouraged to join the committee. Continuing its global reach, the committee will next meet in Beijing, China, June 10-14. 

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