Nuclear Science and Energy Directorate

Isotope Development Group

The Isotope Development Group has 3 primary missions.  The first involves management and world-wide distribution of the US inventory of enriched stable isotopes and includes custom materials and chemical processing to prepare the isotopes into the forms needed for R&D, medical, commercial or national security applications under an ISO-9001 quality program.  The second is participating in the reestablishment of stable isotope enrichment capabilities in the US through the development of advanced electromagnetic isotope separation methods and the use of gas centrifuges.  The third area is R&D and production of medical radioisotopes.   

Stable Isotope Materials and Chemistry

Sales inventory of stable isotopes.
  Sales inventory of stable isotopes.

Reduction/distillation of calcium-48 metal valued at over $900,000.
  Reduction/distillation of calcium-48 metal valued
  at  over $900,000.

An inventory of ~2,300 batches of enriched stable isotopes of 53 different Elements with a list price of ~$360M is maintained and distributed to customers around the world.  Inorganic compound synthesis and metal reduction processes are used to prepare inventory-form stable isotopes in the desired chemical forms to meet most customer needs.  Metallurgical, ceramic, and high vacuum processing methods are used to prepare enriched stable isotopes in a wide variety of custom physical forms such as foils, thin films, wires, etc.  Chemical and materials characterization capabilities are also available.  A lease program for enriched stable isotopes is also maintained which allows access to high-value quantities of isotopes for non-destructive research that research customers would never be able to afford to buy.

Current capabilities include:

  • Inorganic chemical conversions
  • Pyrochemical conversionsArc melting and alloying
  • Hot and cold rolling of metal plates and foils
  • Arc melting and drop casting
  • Crucible melting and casting
  • Wire rolling, swaging and drawing
  • Metal and ceramic powder consolidation and sintering
  • Metal and ceramic hot-pressing
  • High-vacuum evaporation, plasma sputtering and ion beam sputtering to produce thin films and coatings
  • Scanning electron microscopy with x-ray energy spectroscopy
  • Crystal bar reduction processing.

Stable Isotope Enrichment

Freeman shaped Ion Beam.
  Ribbon shaped ion beam (100 mm max height)   produced by a Freeman type ion source with a
  1200  °C oven (1). Beam focused and separated
  by magnetic quadruple doublet (2) and a 60
  degree sector magnet (3). Reusable standard   collector pockets and flexible assembly (4) can be   used for a majority of stable isotopes.

IDG staff members are an integral part of a CSD-led project to reestablish stable isotope enrichment in the US.  Since the calutrons were placed in standby in 1998, DOE stable isotope inventories have continued to be depleted with no replacement.  The DOE Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics is in the process of funding the reestablishment of that capability and a combination of enhanced electromagnetic isotope separation methods and the design and operation of small gas centrifuges is the approach proposed to reestablish this vital US capability.


Medical Isotope Program

Medical Isotope Program.

The Group’s Medical Isotope Program is focused on the development of improved reactor production and processing methods to provide medical radioisotopes, the development of new radionuclide generator systems, the design and evaluation of new radiopharmaceuticals for applications in nuclear medicine and oncology, and association with Medical Cooperative Programs throughout the world for the further preclinical testing and clinical evaluation of agents developed at ORNL. The collective resources of ORNL including access to the stable isotope inventory, a High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), hot cell and glove box processing capabilities, and a wide range of support functions required for such research and radioisotope production provide unique capabilities for nuclear medicine research and radioisotope production.

Another major ORNL area of therapeutic radioisotope research includes production of the alpha-emitting radioisotope actinium-225, which is used in radiotherapy of cancer. Actinium-225 is routinely extracted from the thorium-229 stock, and ORNL is currently the largest supplier of this medical radioisotope supporting clinical trials around the world.  Several pathways are being investigated to increase the supply of thorium-229.  These include recovering it from aged U-233, evaluating reactor production in the HFIR, collaborating with Isotope Program accelerator production facilities at BNL and LANL.  Research has also been conducted on production at the ORNL HRIBF.  Investigations on the feasibility of a new, multi-particle cyclotron facility for medical isotope R&D at ORNL are also underway.