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Title: Bridging the capability gap in environmental gamma-ray spectrometry
Author: Varley, A. L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 6949
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2015
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Environmental gamma-ray spectroscopy provides a powerful tool that can be used in environmental monitoring given that it offers a compromise between measurement time and accuracy allowing for large areas to be surveyed quickly and relatively inexpensively. Depending on monitoring objectives, spectral information can then be analysed in real-time or post survey to characterise contamination and identify potential anomalies. Smaller volume detectors are of particular worth to environmental surveys as they can be operated in the most demanding environments. However, difficulties are encountered in the selection of an appropriate detector that is robust enough for environmental surveying yet still provides a high quality signal. Furthermore, shortcomings remain with methods employed for robust spectral processing since a number of complexities need to be overcome including: the non-linearity in detector response with source burial depth, large counting uncertainties, accounting for the heterogeneity in the natural background and unreliable methods for detector calibration. This thesis aimed to investigate the application of machine learning algorithms to environmental gamma-ray spectroscopy data to identify changes in spectral shape within large Monte Carlo calibration libraries to estimate source characteristics for unseen field results. Additionally, a 71 × 71 mm lanthanum bromide detector was tested alongside a conventional 71 × 71 mm sodium iodide to assess whether its higher energy efficiency and resolution could make it more reliable in handheld surveys. The research presented in this thesis demonstrates that machine learning algorithms could be successfully applied to noisy spectra to produce valuable source estimates. Of note, were the novel characterisation estimates made on borehole and handheld detector measurements taken from land historically contaminated with 226Ra. Through a novel combination of noise suppression and neural networks the burial depth, activity and source extent of contamination was estimated and mapped. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that Machine Learning techniques could be operated in real-time to identify hazardous 226Ra containing hot particles with much greater confidence than current deterministic approaches such as the gross counting algorithm. It was concluded that remediation of 226Ra contaminated legacy sites could be greatly improved using the methods described in this thesis. Finally, Neural Networks were also applied to estimate the activity distribution of 137Cs, derived from the nuclear industry, in an estuarine environment. Findings demonstrated the method to be theoretically sound, but practically inconclusive, given that much of the contamination at the site was buried beyond the detection limits of the method. It was generally concluded that the noise posed by intrinsic counts in the 71 × 71 mm lanthanum bromide was too substantial to make any significant improvements over a comparable sodium iodide in contamination characterisation using 1 second counts.
Supervisor: Tyler, A. N. ; Smith, L. ; Davies, M. Sponsor: NERC ; Nuvia Limited
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Radioactivity ; Contaminated land ; Artificial intelligence ; Neural networks ; Spectral processing ; Support vector machines ; gamma-ray spectroscopy ; Gamma ray spectrometry