Physical Sciences Directorate

ORNL's Isotope Program

The Isotope Program at ORNL is responsible for the production, material fabrication, and distribution of stable- and radio-isotopes for the Department of Energy (DOE) and many other federal and commercial customers. The production and research and development (R&D) activities of the Isotope Program are performed with the cooperation of several divisions across multiple directorates at ORNL, and this work is coordinated and managed by the Physical Sciences Directorate.

ORNL’s nuclear facilities, laboratories, and scientific and engineering staff provide a world-class set of capabilitiesfor isotope production and R&D. Key resources for the Isotope Program include the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center (REDC) and other radiological facilities for material science, nuclear science and technology, nuclear physics, chemical sciences and 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. ORNL ships isotopes directly from the site to locations throughout the world in support of myriad industrial, medical, and scientific applications.

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 ≥ 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.

For more information about the ORNL Isotope Program, please contact David Dean at