Abstract Environmental assessment in the wake of a nuclear accident requires the rapid determination of the radiotoxic isotopes 89Sr and 90Sr. Useful measurements must be able to detect 10 8 atoms in the presence of about 10 18 atoms of the stable, naturally occurring isotopes. This paper describes a new approach to this problem using resonance ionization spectroscopy in collinear geometry, combined with classical mass separation. After collection and chemical separation, the strontium from a sample is surface-ionized and the ions are accelerated to an energy of about 30 keV. Initially, a magnetic mass separator provides an isotopic selectivity of about 10 6. The ions are then neutralized by charge exchange and the resulting fast strontium atoms are selectively excited into high-lying atomic Rydberg states by narrow-band cw laser light in collinear geometry. The Rydberg atoms are then field-ionized and detected. Thus far, a total isotopic selectivity of S > 10 10 and an overall efficiency of ξ = 5 × 10 −6 have been achieved. The desired detection limit of 10 8 atoms 90Sr has been demonstrated with synthetic samples.