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What You May Not Know About Californium-252

Discovered in 1950 at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, californium-252 (Cf-252) is a radioactive isotope that exhibits exceptionally high neutron emission properties – up to 170 million neutrons per minute.

It is characterized by a silver-white and metallic appearance, a half-life of 2.645 years, a melting point of 900° C, and high malleability. These characteristics, among others, make it well-suited as a neutron source in many industrial applications.  

Californium-252 is a unique element with many aspects that may not be common knowledge. In this blog, we aim to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the material by answering questions and addressing concerns regarding it.

How Is Californium-252 Made?

Californium-252 cannot be found in nature. As such, it is generally synthesized in laboratories for use in research and analysis operations. Cf-252 is created by using curium; a microgram of the material is bombarded with alpha particles, which results in the formation of 5,000 atoms of Cf-252. The materials are placed in a high-flux isotope reactor (HFIR) and bombarded by neutrons to produce Cf-252.

How Strong Is Californium-252?

Californium-252 is an exceptionally strong neutron emitter and is the only identified isotope with the ability to emit neutrons spontaneously. In one minute, one microgram of the material can release up to 170 million neutrons.

While this quality makes Cf-252 ideal for use as a neutron source in many applications, it also makes the material highly dangerous if mishandled. If ingested or inhaled, the isotope deposits particulates on the skeleton, liver, and other organs. The resulting radiation can cause cancer and tissue damage. Additionally, once it enters the body, it can remain for up to 50 years. For these reasons, strict safety protocols are recommended when handling the material.

What Is Californium-252 Used For Today?

Since its discovery, Cf-252 has found application in many industries, including the following:

  • Academic, Government, and Private Research: Cf-252 is used as a neutron source for many material identification and analysis processes to determine and understand the physical and chemical characteristics of various compounds.Californium-252 Element
  • Military and Defense: Cf-252 serves as a neutron source in portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy (PINS) operations, which allow military professionals to detect the composition of materials in containers. This ability is particularly useful when scanning for explosive or otherwise dangerous compounds. 
  • Nuclear Energy: Cf-252 serves as a method of initiating nuclear fission in nuclear reactors
  • Oil and Gas: Cf-252 is used in oil and gas extraction operations to detect and analyze the composition and characteristics of materials surrounding a borehole to determine whether the location is profitable. 

Californium-252 Sources at FTC

Californium-252 is a radioactive isotope that, when handled correctly, plays a critical role in many industrial operations. Its ability to spontaneously emit neutrons makes it ideal for use in neutron-based processes, such as portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy (PINS) and prompt gamma-neutron activation analysis (PGNAA). For Cf-252 sourcing needs, turn to the experts at Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC). 

At FTC, we are the premier provider of californium-252 neutron sources. We design and manufacture our single- and double-encapsulated neutron sources. For safe storage, transportation, and usage, FTC also makes Type-A containers. Once the source is depleted, customers can make use of our convenient fee-free return program to dispose of the spent containers safely. 

For additional information about californium-252 or our services and capabilities, contact us today.

The Basics of Neutron Scattering

Atom models, neutrons

Founded in 1984, Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC) has since established itself as a premier provider of sealed neutron sources. Our core source specialty, californium-252 (Cf-252)—a strong neutron emitting element—has practical applications across industries. Neutron scattering is one of the key ways in which Cf-252 finds use. 

In this blog, we will provide an overview of the neutron scattering process and reasons why californium-252 is an ideal neutron source to integrate.

What Is Neutron Scattering?

Neutron scattering refers to the dispersal of free neutrons by a neutron source, such as californium-252. While the process occurs naturally, it can also be used in experimental operations to determine the composition and structural characteristics of a material. 

Neutrons are ideal for studying the structure and dynamics of material on the atomic scale for the following reasons: 

  • They have a wavelength similar to the spacing between atoms and energy levels similar to that of atoms.
  • They have no charge that can be repelled or attracted by atomic or other subatomic particles. 
  • They have scattering patterns that are measurable and, therefore, comparable. 

Neutron scattering is an umbrella term that encompasses the following two processes: 

Elastic Neutron Scattering

Elastic neutron scattering—also referred to as neutron diffraction—measures the atomic structure of a substance without conveying any kinetic energy to it. The energy of the incoming neutron is retained by the neutron, which bounces off the sample at which it has been fired. The angle at which the neutrons are scattered allows observers to determine the fundamental structure of the material without affecting its atomic state.

Inelastic Neutron Scattering

Inelastic neutron scattering transfers kinetic energy into the sample upon impact. This energy transfer may enhance the state of excitation of the sample or reduce it, depending on the material. The process requires the tracking of both the direction in which neutrons are deflected and the energy they emit after impact. These measurements help observers to better understand the vibration and state of excitation of the sample’s atoms. 

Advantages & Applications of Neutron Scattering

Neutron scattering is a non-invasive method of observing and analyzing the structure and nature of a variety of materials. By using neutron sources with varying levels of radiation intensity, researchers can attain a deeper understanding of the physical and chemical properties of materials. This knowledge can then be used to develop new working theories and technologies that have a significant impact on societal operations. 

Since its discovery in the 1940’s, neutron scattering has contributed to developments in many industries, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Computers and Information Technology
  • Environmental Science
  • Material Engineering
  • Medical
  • Nanotechnology and Robotics
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Physics Research
  • Renewable Energy

Neutron Scattering & Californium-252

Californium-252 is a highly radioactive element and cannot be found in nature. However, its high neutron emission levels make it one of the only transuranium elements with practical applications. 

As established previously, Cf-252 is suitable for use in neutron scattering operations. Some examples of applications that employ the process include: 

  • Prompt Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis (PGNAA). Cf-252 neutrons are used to determine the moisture and energy levels of samples through the analysis of their atomic properties, structure, and composition. 
  • Oil Well and Borehole Logging. Cf-252 sources facilitate the identification and analysis of the physical, chemical, and structural characteristics of rock and earth compositions surrounding a borehole, which allows industry professionals to determine whether the area is profitable for oil and gas extraction operations. 
  • Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS). PINS technology uses Cf-252 sources to penetrate a container and determine its internal contents. The process is used for everything from chemical containers and military munitions to parcels and storage tanks.

Californium-252 Neutron Sources at FTC

Neutron scattering is a highly useful process used in many industrial applications to facilitate material identification and analysis. As the process requires the use of a strong neutron emitter, radioactive compounds—such as Cf-252—are ideal. 

For assistance sourcing californium-252 for neutron scattering applications, turn to the experts at Frontier Technology Corporation. As the industry leader in the design and manufacture of californium-252 sources, we can meet your needs. To learn more about our product and service offerings, contact us today.  

Detecting & Defeating IEDs With Californium-252 and the PINS System

Californium-252 is a very strong neutron emitter, giving off approximately 139 million neutrons per minute. This aspect, combined with Cf-252’s half-life of 2.645 years, melting point of 900°C, and easily-cut form makes this neutron source very useful in a variety of industrial applications. Cf-252 cannot be found in nature, so it is produced synthetically by bombarding plutonium, americium, and curium with neutrons. Various applications of californium-252 include: 

  • Initiating nuclear reactions for nuclear fission
  • Material scanning through prompt-gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA)
  • Well logging in the oil and gas industry

When californium-252 is implemented within military and defense equipment, it enables the use of Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS). PINS systems typically use Cf-252 to identify explosive devices, weapons, and more, specifically by analyzing the gamma-ray signatures of the target’s contents. 

In this blog, we share why californium-252 is an ideal radioactive aid for military and defense purposes, as well as explore PINS systems and how californium-252 can detect chemical warfare materials.

Why is Californium-252 Used in Military & Defense Applications?

Californium’s strong neutron emission makes it ideal for penetration-based analysis since the neutrons can easily and deeply pass through target materials. Not only can the neutrons provide analysis of complex items down to their individual components, but it can also evaluate large or protected items. It does this by measuring and analyzing the gamma-ray signature that every component in a targeted item returns after being hit by neutron bursts. 

Different materials give off different signatures, and the analysis equipment can break down those signatures, compare them against a known database, and identify the materials associated with each signature. Military and defense entities use Cf-252 in detection equipment, like bulk analyzers, to scan potential threats and cargo loads.

Because manufacturers produce Cf-252 through synthetic means, they can also customize the design of the element to meet military and defense clients’ specifications best. Californium suppliers can tailor californium packaging to unique size needs. A supplier can also outfit these neutron sources with various shielding materials, layers or degrees of protection, and other unique configurations that best fit the intended application.

It is important to note that while californium-252 does emit millions of neutrons – which are a definite health hazard if exposed to – sources are entirely safe and can handle all kinds of transport, storage, and environmental conditions when properly contained. Radioactive containers—such as Type-A shipping packages—should meet international shipping regulations, USA DOT Type-A certification requirements, and Specification 7A package requirements. 

Not only do the containers protect the contents throughout transport, but they also shield the radioactive contents in the case of adverse conditions in the end application. To ensure the Cf-252 source container can maintain peak form at all times and pass these stringent requirements, it must successfully pass the following:

  • Compression tests
  • Freefall drops
  • Penetration tests with falling items
  • Water spray that simulates two inches per hour of rainfall

In short: californium-252 is ideal for military applications due to its inherently strong nuclear nature, as well as the ability to custom-build sources with protective containers that keep surrounding personnel, equipment, and environments safe from exposure risks.

All About the Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS) System

The Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS) system is a means of material analysis that works by identifying and analyzing unique gamma-ray signatures with neutron sources. This includes sealed packages, items with multiple internal parts, and land with unknown compositions. 

The system was developed by Dr. Gus Caffrey of the Idaho National Laboratory in 1992 to evaluate chemicals inside chemical warfare weapons. Since then, PINS has grown in use as it is not a highly destructive system, and it can provide reliable results in the field.

Since its first field tests in the 1990s, PINS has gone on to test IEDs and chemical munitions around the world. Numerous military and governmental agencies use PINS Systems, including border protection personnel, customs, homeland security, and the National Guard.

How the PINS System Works

PINS requires a strong neutron source, such as californium-252. The element emits neutrons and saturates targeted material. In response, the material gives off a gamma-ray signature of unique electromagnetic radiation waves that clearly identify the chemicals or materials inside an item. 

PINS software can “translate” the gamma-ray signature with its custom software to reveal the compounds and mixtures inside of any tested device. Not only is this process accurate and safe to nearby operators and emergency personnel, but it’s also fast: the analysis can be completed in as little as 100 seconds. More sophisticated analyses take only 1,000 seconds, or fewer than 20 minutes, to complete.

 PINS tests can analyze the following items, for example:

  • Artillery projectiles: 75 to 175-mm
  • Bombs: “weteye,” MC-1, M-70, M-79, and cluster bombs
  • Mortar projectiles: 3-, 4-, and 4.2-inch stokes
  • Rockets: M-55 rockets, inside S/F tubes and overpacks
  • Other weapons such as land mines and livens projector shells or items such as gas cylinders and DOT 500X ton containers.

PINS has helped military and government organizations assay 13,000 CAIS, recovered chemical warfare equipment, and ton containers since 1992. In addition, over 73,174 chemical weapons and warfare materials have been destroyed with the aid of PINS identification.

Contact Frontier Technology Corporation to Learn More About Cf-252 and PINS Systems

Californium-252 is a powerful isotope that is frequently implemented in PINS systems worldwide, due to the neutron source’s ability to read unique gamma-ray signatures. Through the use of Cf-252, military organizations have identified and destroyed thousands of dangerous chemical weapons, and continue to do so today.

Frontier Technology Corporation is a leading provider of californium-252 neutron source manufacturing. We offer high-quality neutron sources for PINS systems, as well as Type-A shipping containers and WEP shielding to keep the material contained during transportation and storage.

We have provided the U.S. Army with our sources and support for 20 years, and we continue to invest in PINS system product improvements. Each of our systems is developed and manufactured to meet our customers’ needs under CMADOE, INL, and NSCMP regulatory standards. Contact us today to learn more about our californium-252 solutions for PINS or other military and defense applications.

Choosing the Right Californium-252 Supplier

Discovered in 1950 by scientists in UC Berkeley’s Radiation Laboratory, Californium-252 (Cf-252) has the second-highest atomic mass of all produced elements and is very radioactive. It is the only isotope to spontaneously emit neutrons, and these neutrons can be used in nuclear reactor start-ups, material scanners, and oil well logging.

The neutron-emitting qualities of Cf-252 have also proven useful in cancer treatments and the creation of new elements, adding to our understanding of what is possible in elemental science. Californium-252 is valuable in a variety of private industry, government, and academic research projects, as well as for military defense applications.

Cf-252 can be dangerous to the end user or during shipping if not handled with the appropriate precautions, so it’s important to work with a supplier that can verify adherence to all safety, government, and industry regulations and standards. In this eBook, we will discuss the most important factors to consider when choosing a supplier for all your Cf-252 needs.

Customer-Tailored Sources

Cf-252 can be used in a broad range of industries and applications, but there’s no one-sizefits-all source solution. Many Cf-252 suppliers create large batches of the element and sell them off in large quantities, forcing buyers to tailor their needs to the resulting source, as opposed to the source being tailored to them. A customer-centric source production will instead focus on the needs, specifications, and requirements of each individual customer. By choosing a supplier that produces Cf-252 per request, you’ll get a source that is much more fitting for your particular industry or purpose. Depending on your unique Cf-252 requirements, you may require a different capsule length, capsule material, or application. Without the option to create a custom source, you’ll be pushed to adapt your specifications to someone else’s design, preferences, and production schedule. Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC) tailors our Cf-252 sources to the submitted specifications. We can custom-fabricate a range of source sizes, quantities, and transport materials to meet your application’s needs. FTC’s custom sources include variations such as handling rods, pigtails, cables, lanyards, and more. We are able to customize wall thicknesses, integration points, and source capsule holders as well. We use 304L stainless steel, Zircaloy-2, and platinum in capsule fabrication, and other alloys. Our Model 10 and Model 100 sources provide examples of the high quality you can expect from FTC.

Secure Worldwide Shipping

Once the Californium-252 source is created according to your exact specifications, the necessary next step would be to ensure that a secure shipping plan is in place. This plan needs to adhere to the strict guidelines and laws that regulate the transport of radioactive elements, especially if it would be an international delivery.

Licensing

Holding the correct licensure is a non-negotiable for Cf-252 suppliers, especially for international shipments. FTC holds the RAM license for its domestic customers and ships internationally under the NRC General License, and works with each customer to make sure that there are no documentation or Customs surprises (or delays) along the way. With these licenses, we can reach customers all over the world in an efficient manner.

Safety

While strict adherence to shipping regulations ensures that sources cannot harm anyone or anything in transit, it is also essential to protect the sources themselves against any potential damage during the transportation process. High-quality packaging materials keep the source’s condition intact as it moves from the supplier to its destination.

FTC fabricates our own Type-A shipping containers to shield each of our shipped sources. Designing and fabricating these containers in-house ensures that every container meets not only international shipping requirements, but also our own rigorous standards for source protection. FTC assists each customer with packaging selection, making recommendations to guarantee each shipment adheres with legal transport index requirements while also taking into account the requested external radiation levels.

Cf-252 packaging should take the following factors into consideration:

Cf-252 Packaging

FTC’s container sizes range from the 5 Gallon Model 50240 to a myriad of custom shipping containers available for rental. We can also add custom layers of shielding within existing shipping containers and packages.

Hassle-Free Depleted Source Returns

Responsible suppliers of radioactive materials will provide a means to carefully dispose of depleted sources. A supplier should not only create sources, but also take accountability for receiving and disposing of them as well. An option to return depleted sources would mean that new sources can be installed seamlessly.

At FTC, we accept depleted or return sources at no cost to the customer other than for shipping. Returning the materials is a simple process of either sending the depleted source back in a new source’s shipping container or requesting an appropriate shipping container to be furnished by FTC.

Suppliers are not required to provide return and disposal services, so not every company will have the same policy. We offer return and disposal services as a commitment to responsible source production.

Cf-252 As You Need It

A tailored approach, utmost safety, and efficiency should all be part of your Cf-252 order experience. To ensure that is the case, select a supplier who offers sources that can be created exactly towards your needs, can be shipped safely and under the correct licenses worldwide, and that feature the option to return depleted sources. These factors will guarantee the integrity of the product as well as your own peace of mind.

FTC stands by our commitment to supply Cf-252 responsibly to a wide variety of industries, including academic research, nuclear, oil and petrochemical, military and defense, and more. To discover how FTC can deliver on your Cf-252 needs, request a quote today!

The Value of Oil Well and Borehole Logging

Oil well and borehole logging documents information about the geologic formations penetrated by new boreholes. This process comes with many benefits, helping drillers to gather valuable data that they could not otherwise obtain without taking costly core samples.

This process has come a long way since its birth in the early 1800s, when well loggers had to scale derricks to record information by hand. Today, oil well and borehole logging uses state-of-the-art computer technology to gather robust and useful data for accurate decision making.

Frontier Technology Corporation is a leading neutron source provider within the oil well and borehole logging process. We manufacture Californium-252 neutron sources used to test the properties of geologic formations, helping to gather data about the best way to extract hydrocarbons in each location.

What is Oil Well and Borehole Logging and How Does It Work?

The oil well and borehole logging process starts with the insertion of specialized instruments into boreholes to determine the properties of the surrounding geological formations. After digging the borehole to around 100 feet, drillers lower a cable with the logging tools into the hole.

The lowered cable electronically transmits information to a central processor that collects it in a standardized log sheet. This data reveals the borehole’s lithological classifications as well as important chemical, physical, and structural properties. Geologists the use this information log to make predictions about the borehole and how to safely and efficiently proceed with drilling.

Logging tools come in many shapes and sizes. Drillers can attach special tools that assess the boreholes:

  • Resistivity
  • Natural gamma properties
  • Electromagnetic induction
  • Spontaneous potential
  • Deviation
  • Temperature
  • Heat pulse flow meter
  • Acoustic and optical properties
  • Downhole seismic properties

Borehole logging also uses instruments such as video cameras, three-arm calipers, televiewers, and ground-penetrating radar to assess well conditions.

Benefits of Oil Well and Borehole Logging

Implementing a good oil well and borehole logging plan saves you time and money. Without tools that can monitor conditions directly in the hole, you can only gather information about your well by costly core examination.

Oil well and borehole logging records and examines data relating to:

  • Strata types including limestone, sandstone, and shale
  • Permeability, presence of liquids, and porosity
  • Structural weaknesses and the risk of cave-ins
  • Borehole dimensional properties including the hole’s shape, size, and trajectory
  • Properties of fluids present in the borehole, such as pressure, salinity, and saturation
  • The feasibility of gas and oil extraction

Using neutron emission sources including Californium-252, the oil and gas industry can learn more about the borehole’s quality and nuclear characteristics. This enables drillers to better assess the possibilities of hydrocarbon extraction.

Working with Frontier

Frontier Technology Corporation’s Cf-252 sources are manufactured and encapsulated following a strict quality assurance program, ensuring they meet or exceed industry standards. All of our sources are fully capable of withstanding the high temperatures and pressures characteristic of deep wells.

To learn more about our Cf-252 neutron emission sources and how they can benefit your well logging application, contact us and request a quote today.

The Advantages of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy offers a variety of positive attributes that benefit a wide range of industries.

Before discussing the advantages of nuclear energy, it’s important to understand what it is and how it can be harnessed as an energy source. It’s also helpful to know how it compares with other energy sources in terms of costliness, environmental impact, and stability. In this post, we examine some of the benefits nuclear energy can offer.

The Advantages of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power results from nuclear fusion or fission produced by modifying materials on an atomic scale. Generally operating on uranium or plutonium, nuclear energy bombards heavy metals with neurons to spark fission or fusion processes that create thermal energy. This thermal energy heats water into steam, which spins turbines to create electricity.

On December 20, 1951, the United States developed the use of nuclear power for electric applications for the first time in Arco, Idaho. Today, there are currently 60 operating nuclear power plants with 98 reactors in the U.S., spread over 30 states. The U.S. is the leading national producer, producing over 30% of the world’s nuclear power.

As an energy source, nuclear energy offers many advantages, including:

Inexpensive

Nuclear power plants incur low operational costs because they rely on relatively simple operations. Additionally, nuclear plants only need to refuel every 18–24 months, meaning that fluctuating fuel prices affect them less than more volatile industries like oil and natural gas. Heavy metals like uranium, nuclear power’s main energy source, appear throughout the world and are only needed in small amounts, meaning that they also cost less.

Environmentally Friendly

Compared with other types of energy, nuclear power stands out as an environmentally friendly energy source. Nuclear power generates clean energy by bombarding uranium with neutrons as opposed to burning fossil fuels.

Nuclear reactors do not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions, and any indirectly produced emissions have negligible impacts on the environment. In addition, most nuclear waste has a fairly low level of radioactivity.

Requires Low Amounts of Fuel

Heavy metals have higher energy densities than fossil fuels. This means that smaller quantities of nuclear fuel provide greater amounts of energy than comparable amounts of other materials. Because of this, nuclear plants require fewer resources spent on acquiring and storing fuel.

Stability

You can pair nuclear energy with other renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar. However, on its own, nuclear energy provides a more stable form of energy than wind and solar power because nuclear power plants can operate in any environmental condition.

Nuclear power plants rarely pause their operations because they do not rely on external factors to operate efficiently. This makes nuclear power one of the most reliable energy options available.

High Degree of Safety

As technology continues to advance, nuclear energy is becoming an increasingly safe and stable option for energy production. As Bill Gates said, “Nuclear energy, in terms of an overall safety record, is better than other energy.”

Safety is paramount at every U.S. nuclear power plant, and every facility incorporates a well-developed and much-tested set of safety procedures. In nuclear power’s history as an energy source, there have only been three major incidents worldwide. While these incidents generated a large amount of media coverage and attention, they happened against the backdrop of over 60 years of nuclear production, totaling more than 17,000 cumulative reactor years of safe nuclear power production in 33 nations.

Industries Benefiting From Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy touches multiple industries, including (but not limited to):

  • The medical sector, which uses radiation to diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer
  • Food and agriculture, which uses radiation to genetically modify crops
  • Consumer product, which relies on radioisotopes
  • A wide range of industrial applications, which are fueled by nuclear power

Revolutionize Your Industry with Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy has multiple benefits associated with it. It touches dozens of industries and sectors and comes with a versatile range of uses.

Frontier Technology Corporation offers an extensive product line for various nuclear applications. To request a quote for your nuclear energy application needs, contact us today!