ORNL Physics Division
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Isotope Production R&D

General Description

The Isotope Development and Production for Research and Applications (IDPRA) subprogram of the Office of Nuclear Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science is responsible for supplying stable and radioactive nuclei to a broad range of customers.

At ORNL, the Isotope Program has efforts in isotope production, research and development (R&D), material fabrication, and distribution. This work is performed with the cooperation of several Divisions (including the ORNL Physics Division) across multiple Directorates at ORNL, and is coordinated and managed by the ORNL Physical Sciences Directorate.

Detailed Description

ORNL's nuclear facilities, laboratories, and scientific and engineering staff provide a world-class set of capabilities for isotope production and R&D. Key resources for the Isotope Program include the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center (REDC) (see image of hot cell at right), and other radiological facilities for material science, nuclear science and technology, nuclear physics, chemical sciences/radioanalytical chemistry, and neutron sciences.

Typical activities include target fabrication, irradiation and processing. ORNL has pioneered many radiochemical separation processes, and continues to this day to develop new production techniques and applications for isotopes. Through the Isotopes Business Office of the National Isotope Development Center, ORNL ships isotopes directly from the site to locations throughout the world in support of myriad industrial, medical, and scientific applications.

Technical Description

Some current areas of focus include expanding the isotopes available for targeted alpha- and beta-emitting therapies such as those used for cancer treatment, expanding the availability of transcurium elements (Cf, Bk, Es, Fm) by incorporating production and processing improvements, and reestablishing capabilities to perform stable isotope enrichment.

The Isotope Program's major scientific impacts include discovery of new heavier elements and isotopes; basic research on the physics of heavy elements, electron behavior in orbitals, nuclear properties, and nuclear reactions; the discovery of bimodal fission in some nuclides with Z greater than 100; and basic research on the chemistry of heavy actinides, chemically stable compounds, the crystal structure of salts, solution chemistry, and spectroscopy.

Examples of industrial applications of ORNL-produced isotopes include on-line monitoring of coal, cement and other materials; analysis of fissile and transuranic material waste; and measurement of corrosion on bridges and highway infrastructure, among others.

As an example, a recent ARRA-funded collaborative project between the ORNL Physics Division and Fuel Cycle and Isotopes Division involved studies of 229Th production reactions. This long-lived isotope is important as a precursor to 225Ac and 213Bi, which are relatively short-lived alpha-emitters that are of great interest in alpha-radioimmunotherapy procedures in nuclear medicine. This work (with target chamber shown at right) measured the cross sections of the production of 229Th via (p,xn) reactions.

A second isotope R&D project was a measurement of the absolute decay probability of 82Sr with a new technique that resolved a controversy in the literature. This work is relevant for estimates of the number of radioactive nuclei in 82Sr - 82Rb generators that are extensively used as heart monitors. This new technique, which used a radioactive beam to directly measure the number of atoms in the sample, is less prone to the systematic errors [from chemical separations, or from a lack of knowledge of a complete decay scheme] in previous studies and can be used with a wide variety of radioisotopes.

For more details on these studies, see the "Publications" links below.


David Dean, Physics Division Director
deandj at ornl.gov