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Pure Promethium: ORNL Extracts in-demand Isotope from Plutonium Leftovers

A new method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory proves that one effort's trash is another's valuable isotope. One of the byproducts of the Department of Energy lab's national plutonium-238 production program is promethium-147, a rare isotope used in nuclear batteries and to measure the thickness of materials.


It's difficult and costly to dispose of waste containing radioactive elements left over after neptunium-237 targets are irradiated in the High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science user facility, to produce Pu-238 for space exploration. But last year, a new ORNL project for the DOE Isotope Program began mining Pm-147 from the fission products left when Pu-238 was separated out of the target.


This effort's primary goal is to reestablish domestic production of Pm-147, which is in short supply, and it has a side benefit: reducing the concentrations of radioactive elements in the waste, so that it can be disposed of safely in simpler, less expensive ways both now and in the future.


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Source: EurekaAlert