Comparison and statistical evaluation of neutron activation methodologies for the determination of gold in copper concentrate
Gold was determined in copper concentrate by an instrumental neutron activation analysis technique using the relative method. The determination was repeated by radiochemical and chemical neutron activation analysis with the aid of an anion exchange strategy for the chemical separation of gold from the matrix (Fe, Cu, and Zn). Irradiation of copper concentrate samples was carried out in APSARA reactor (BARC, India) with a thermal neutron flux of about 1012 cm−2 s−1. Analysis of variance established that the results obtained by instrumental, radiochemical and chemical methodologies were statistically indistinguishable. Among the three approaches, radiochemical activation showed superior detection limits, which was attributed to both the reduction in background and increase in sensitivity. The best measurement repeatability was observed in chemical activation methodology, compared to the other two. The rationale behind the improvement in measurement repeatability was the capability of chemical activation to process a larger mass of sample for each replicate, which resulted in improved counting statistics and reduction in sampling error with respect to gold. Combined uncertainty for all the three methodologies was evaluated through the bottom-up approach. Systematic evaluation of various uncertainty parameters showed that the major contributor to the combined standard uncertainty was the counting statistics during the instrumental approach and the chemical separation yield during radiochemical and chemical activation. The combined uncertainty for all the three approaches was less than the measurement repeatability indicating the inhomogeneous distribution of gold in copper concentrate. Calculations showed that the sampling constant for gold in copper concentrate was about 22 g.