Hot cells are shielded radiation containment chambers that allow operators to safely handle and manipulate radioactive isotopes. They are used in both the nuclear energy industry and in nuclear medicine.
Hot cells are typically made of stainless steel and feature viewing windows made of lead glass. Some hot cells also feature cameras for image capture. Arm-like manipulators or telemanipulators enable personnel to operate equipment inside the chamber without putting their hands or arms inside, where exposure to dangerous doses of radiation can occur. Typically, hot cell operators also wear lead gloves.
Types of Hot Cells
There are several basic types of hot cells. Categories include research and development cells, stackable mini-cells, and produce and dispense cells.
- Research and development or R&D hot cells are often used to test new chemistry units or processes. Generally, these radiation containment chambers are large for maximum flexibility, as chemistry units can vary greatly in size.
- Stackable mini-cells are used to produce of radiopharmaceuticals. A chemistry unit is placed inside each cell and the production process is initiated. After radiation from the cyclotron is received and the process completed, the hot cells are left closed for a minimum of six hours to allow radiation to decrease to safe levels. With min-cells, manipulation is not required.
- Produce and dispense hot cells are used in nuclear medicine and require manipulation.
Hot cells differ in terms of product specifications and certifications or approvals. In addition to dimensional parameters such as depth, width, and height, these radiation containment chambers differ in terms of telemanipulator length. Generally, smaller hot cells are easier to clean. Units with shorter arms are also better suited for nuclear industry or nuclear medicine tasks that require speed and precision. Mini-cells come as dual units with over/under or side-by-side configuration and are available in four-unit quads.
Other specifications for hot cells include shielding thickness, airflow, and filtration type, for which requirements will vary based on the application and shielded material(s). Another specification for hot cells is the chamber door type, which can open vertically or horizontally and is often motorized or pneumatically-operated. In terms of certifications, hot cells may comply with FDA, cGMP requirements, and CETA testing guidelines.
The main uses of hot cells are in the nuclear energy industry and in nuclear medicine, specifically in the production of radiopharmaceuticals. However, they are also used in cleanroom environments for scientific research.