Fermilab produces tritium as an expected byproduct of accelerator operations. The lab actively manages tritium, using and disposing of it in ways that pose no health or environmental threat. One of the ways that tritium is discharged from the Fermilab site is by releasing it into the air.
This release occurs in various ways. Tritium in the form of water vapor is emitted into the air through ventilation systems designed to provide fresh air to the tunnels that house our accelerators. Water containing tritium is evaporated and released into the atmosphere. Small amounts of tritium may also be released during the repair of accelerator magnets.
The amounts of tritium released into the air are far lower than limits established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Radiation, as it affects the body, is measured in rems. One rem is considered a very large dose of radiation. The amounts of tritium Fermilab releases into the atmosphere are measured in millirems, or thousandths of a rem. The EPA has set a limit on the amount of radioactive material of any kind that can be released into the air: the person with the highest level of exposure to it can only receive a dose of 10 millirems over the course of a year.
The highest annual level of tritium emissions Fermilab has recorded since 2002 has been 0.002 millirems. Our emissions do not even meet the level (0.1 millirems) at which the EPA requires constant monitoring. Even though Fermilab is below that standard, we still regularly monitor the tritium we are emitting into the atmosphere.
Fermilab also collects tritium as solid waste material and disposes of it at a licensed facility. Tritium is collected when it is created in larger concentrations than can be safely discharged into surface water or air. Tritium in water form is poured into 55-gallon drums and then turned into a gel with an absorption agent. The drums are then taken on trucks to a licensed waste facility in Utah.
If you have any questions about tritium at Fermilab, call the Office of Communication at 630-840-3351, or submit a question online.