Tag Archive: Cf-252

  1. Californium-252 vs. Neutron Generators: What are the Differences?

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    Many industries require powerful neutron sources for fuel and data analysis. As its name suggests, a neutron source is any device that releases neutrons, including radioactive isotopes such as californium-252 (Cf-252), particle accelerators, and sealed-tube neutron generators. They are used for analytical and exploratory operations in physics, medicine, biology, chemistry, and nuclear power production, among other applications. Technologies that employ neutron sources can be classified as small, medium, or large devices; these device types emit various energy levels and neutron volumes. Depending on the source and its use, the overall cost of ownership and maintenance, and applicable government regulations will vary. 

    As an alternative to Cf-252, some industries employ neutron generators. In this blog, we will talk about some of the differences between Cf-252 and neutron generators as neutron sources.

    About Californium-252 Neutron Sources

    Californium-252 Neutron Sources

    Californium was originally discovered in 1950 at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley by bombarding curium with alpha particles. While most californium radioisotopes do not have much practical value, californium-252 has become a nuclear industry standard for use in nuclear startup rods, as well as for material analysis and data collection. Cf-252 is produced by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee using their High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR). 

    HFIR produces the californium-252 isotope by irradiating curium targets with alpha particles. The same end goal can be achieved through long-term irradiation of plutonium and americium, but these methods take more time and produce Cf-252 in significantly smaller amounts.

    Because Cf-252 is an exceptionally strong neutron emitter, it exhibits a short half-life. It is a soft, silver-white substance with a metallic sheen and a melting point of approximately 900°C. 

    Cf-252’s radioactive nature is both its greatest benefit and most critical hazard. The isotope can release 170 million neutrons per minute, which makes it an excellent neutron source for energy fuel and data analysis needs—however, this level of radiation makes it extremely hazardous to the human body. For this reason, Cf-252 must be created, transported, and stored within specialized Type-A radioactive shipping containers

    Californium-252 is used in a broad range of applications and industries that can draw data from neutron emissions. Some of the most common applications include. 

    • Nuclear Reactors. Cf-252 is well-suited as a source of stable neutron emissions used to initiate nuclear chain reactions in nuclear reactors.
    • Oil Well Logging. Cf-252 neutron emissions help the oil and gas sector to map underground features for oil drilling.
    • Material Detection. Neutrons from Cf-252 can be used to detect and analyze materials and processes for defects that are not readily apparent. 

    Although it is an excellent neutron source, Cf-252 does present some disadvantages. It has a 2.6-year half-life, which means that depleted sources of Cf-252 must be replaced every 2.6 years. Since the isotope is not found in nature, it must be synthetically manufactured in a highly specialized facility with very specific equipment. In addition to the necessary production conditions to ensure top quality sources, the highly radioactive nature of Cf-252 requires specialized packaging and transport methods, which contributes to higher costs. 

    About Neutron Generators


    Neutron generators are neutron sources that produce neutrons through the use of linear particle accelerators. While Cf-252 spontaneously radiates neutrons, neutron generators initiate fusion reactions by fusing hydrogen isotopes. Neutron generators are typically composed of a neutron source, a particle accelerator, and a target. Deuterium or tritium isotopes are propelled through the accelerator into a metal hydride target that contains the same isotopes. The resultant fusion releases neutrons which can be used in detection and analytical applications.

    Neutron generators are electrically powered and can therefore yield a high number of neutrons in a steady stream when the equipment is operating reliably. Unfortunately, neutron generators are largely affected by external environmental factors such as power loss, vibration, and temperature fluctuations. In addition, the complexity of the system and number of components increase the risk of failure and problems due to part deterioration. 

    Since they require a great deal more equipment than radioisotopes, neutron generators tend to take up much more space, which can make them difficult to incorporate into confinement requirements in operations such as mining and oil drilling. They also require more maintenance over time, as generator tubes tend to burn out quickly and are expensive to replace (offsetting initial lower prices). Coupled with the potential for malfunction due to shock and heat fluctuations, neutron generators may offer less reliability than radioisotope neutron sources. 

    Key Differences Between Californium-252 and Neutron Generators

    The primary differences between Cf-252 and neutron generators include ease-of-use and cost. Although generators may be less expensive to procure initially, they require more maintenance in the long-term and are less reliable than Cf-252 sources. The potential for error and system failure is significantly higher for neutron generators; not only does this reduce the reliability of the system, it increases overhead for time, labor, and repairs. Powerful radioisotopes such as californium-252 offer a more reliable and intense source of neutrons. Overall, Cf-252 is considered an excellent alternative to neutron generators in every aspect apart from upfront cost. 

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    Californium 252 vs. Neutron Generators What Are the Differences

    Neutron Sources at Frontier Technology Corporation

    At Frontier Technology Corporation, we offer top quality californium-252 neutron sources for industries around the world. For more than 30 years, FTC has been a premier provider of reliable, cost-effective neutron sources and Type-A shipping containers for everything from nuclear reactors to oil and gas drilling. To learn more about the differences between californium-252 and neutron generators or about our neutron sources and capabilities, reach out to us today.

  2. About the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

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    Neutron source

    At Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC), we specialize in the supply of californium-252 (Cf-252) sources, which are strong neutron-emitters that play a critical role in nuclear power generation, neutron analysis techniques, and many other applications. The Cf-252 isotope is produced by the high flux isotope reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The facility serves as the sole producer of californium-252 in the western world and a leading supplier of californium-252 in the global market. 

    In the following blog post, we talk about ORNL’s role in the field of neutron sciences and how HFIR works – particularly, how it produces californium-252. 

    About the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

    Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the largest science and energy facility sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated by UT-Batelle. It houses a staff of 4,750 scientists and engineers from more than 100 disciplines and 3,200 annual visitors, all of whom are focused on developing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most compelling energy and security problems. 

    ORNL maintains leadership in four areas of science and technology: neutrons, computing, advanced materials, and nuclear fission and fusion technologies. The facility’s work with neutrons enables researchers to answer many of the questions regarding the fundamental nature of matter at the atomic scale. These answers lead to a better understanding of materials and biological systems, which, in turn, may lead to the development of more powerful, effective, and durable product solutions for industrial, commercial, and consumer applications.  

    The Neutron Sciences sector of ORNL operates two of the world’s leading neutron scattering facilities: the high flux isotope reactor (HFIR) and the spallation neutron source (SNS). The HFIR produces steady-state neutron streams, while the SNS produces pulsed neutron beams. As indicated above, the HFIR is also responsible for producing a majority of the world’s supply of Cf-252. Its importance is highlighted by the fact that there is currently only one other nuclear reactor in the world capable of producing the critical element—the SMR3 at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR) in Russia. 

    What You Need to Know About the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR)

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    About the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

    In the mid-1960s, the high flux isotope reactor was designed and constructed to fulfill the demand for technology capable of producing transuranic isotopes (such as curium, plutonium, and californium-252). It has since expanded to serve the purposes of material irradiation, neutron activation, and neutron scattering operations. High neutron flux can now be leveraged to attain a better understanding of material composition and dynamics, including atomic positioning, movement, and interactions. Results from such analysis can then be used to fuel technological advancements in a diverse set of industries, including computer, energy, medical, military, and pharmaceutical. 

    Despite the deviation from its original mission, the HFIR remains the primary producer of the western world’s supply of californium-252. Given the importance of Cf-252 to nuclear power generation and research technologies, the HFIR is set to continue to produce Cf-252 for the foreseeable future – until at least 2050.

    Neutron Sources at Frontier Technology Corporation

    Thanks to the neutron research and technologies at ORNL, Frontier Technology Corporation is able to design and manufacture high-quality californium-252 sources for use in a wide range of industrial applications. 

    For additional information about this extraordinary element, check out our facts, applications, and resources pages. 

    To learn more about ORNL, HFIR, or our products and capabilities portfolio, reach out to us today.

  3. What You May Not Know About Californium-252

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    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.Californium-252 Element

    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?

    What You May Not Know About 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.
    • 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.

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