National Physical Laboratory

Radioactive header image Research

NPL's Radioactivity team combines wide-ranging expertise with state-of-the-art equipment and laboratory facilities to support vital radioactivity measurements for UK industry.

The group undertakes a wide range of research activities. This work includes developing and maintaining the primary and secondary measurement systems which underpin the national standards of radioactivity, developing new standards and services, participating in international comparisons, evaluating nuclear decay data and addressing the needs of specific user sectors.

Radioactivity research

  • NPL continues to support work in the environmental radioactivity field by developing low-level standards and by running laboratory proficiency testing exercises. The last such exercise included a new concrete reference material.
  • As a signatory to the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA), NPL has continued to participate in international comparison exercises of radionuclide standards under the auspices of BIPM, including a recent comparison of Fe-55.
  • Work in this field includes the ongoing compilation of a new set of NPL-recommended decay data and the evaluation of actinide decay data for IAEA.
  • Initial research in this area has focussed on establishing user priorities for reference materials to support low-level measurements of waste. A comparison has been run using a new ‘soft-waste’ drum standard reflecting these priorities.
  • Around 1 million patients a year undergo a nuclear medicine procedure in the UK in order to diagnose, monitor, or treat diseases such as cancer. Radionuclides are playing an expanding role in medicine due to the ability to obtain images of physiological function.
  • NPL continues to maintain the coincidence counting equipment needed to produce primary standards of radioactivity and is also developing the technique of Digital Coincidence Counting (DCC).
  • NPL has continued to maintain its gas-counting capabilities and is developing a new standard for radioactive gases used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
  • A wide range of secondary measurement equipment is needed to measure or produce secondary standards that can be disseminated to users, and recent work has been aimed at upgrading this equipment.


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