Nuclear Science


Strategic Isotope Production

Typical capsules used in the transport of 252Cf source material inside heavily shielded shipping casks.

ORNL’s unique facilities at the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), Radiochemical Engineering Development Center (REDC), Irradiated Fuels Examination Laboratory (IFEL), and Irradiated Materials Examination Testing facility (IMET) are routinely used in the production, purification, packaging, and shipping of a number of isotopes of national importance, including: 75Se, 63Ni, 238Pu, 252Cf, and others.  The intense neutron flux of the HFIR (2.0 x 1015 neutrons/cm²·s) permits the rapid formation of such isotopes.  These highly irradiated materials are then processed and packaged for shipping using the facilities at the REDC, IFEL, and IMET.

75Se is a commercial product using customer-supplied source materials and capsules that are assembled on-site, irradiated in the HFIR, and packaged for shipping in IFEL. This isotope is used in gamma radiography.

ORNL is the exclusive producer of 63Ni in North America.  This isotope is used to detect explosives, or hazardous chemicals and vapors using beta emissions as an ionization source to strip electrons from the molecules that are given off by a material and analyzing the resulting ions in a detector. 63Ni is produced from enriched stable 62Ni targets prepared at the REDC that are irradiated with neutrons in HFIR for a period of ~ 2 years.

ORNL has been selected as the lead site for restart of production of 238Pu in the United States.  This isotope is used to fuel the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) that provide electrical power for the equipment used in NASA’s deep space missions, such as the Mars Science Laboratory.

ORNL also produces ~70% of the world’s supply of 252Cf.  This unique isotope is an intense neutron source that is provided to commercial encapsulators for use in numerous applications ranging from reactor start-up sources to mineral analyzers.

For more information, contact:
Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division


We're always happy to get feedback from our users. Please use the Comments form to send us your comments, questions, and observations.