Californium-252 is a radioactive chemical element of the actinide series of the periodic table, atomic number 98. It was first synthesized in 1950 in the University of California Radiation Lab in Berkeley, by bombarding a microgram of curium-242 with alpha particles (helium-4 ions) in a 60-inch cyclotron.
Because curium is highly radioactive, researchers took about three years to collect the few milligrams required for the experiment. In 1954, the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho successfully produced weighable amounts of Californium using a high flux isotope reactor.
The isotope Cf-252 is a powerful neutron emitter and gives off neutrons when it breaks apart. It has applications in metal detectors, military applications, and water and oil detectors. Perhaps one of its most important uses is detecting metal stress and fatigue in airplanes.
Frontier Technology develops Californium-252 to help solve different problems in the following industries.
Military and Defense
Cf-252 is used in portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy (PINS) systems, technology that analyzes the hazard level of sample compositions. PINS uses neutron sources to detect the presence of chemical agents or explosives without having to open containers or set off the compound. This ensures the team’s safety.
PINS systems are highly portable, making them ideal for use in the field. Plus, they provide users with information on the spot, instead of having to transfer it to a lab first.
Oil, Gas, and Shale
In downhole or borehole logging equipment, Cf-252 can offer oil, gas, and shale industry experts with critical details about the surrounding rock’s structural integrity, composition, porosity, liquid presence, fluid properties, and borehole dimensions. With this information, drilling operators can better understand the area, allowing them to adjust their drilling operations to match geological conditions.
Cf-252 is especially suited for initializing nuclear fission reactions and informing workers of the presence of explosives. Fresh nuclear fuel is often not enough to begin a fission reaction. Cf-252 ensures there are enough neutrons in the core to initiate chain reactions with fuel rods and create a smooth and safe start for the reactor.
Development of Californium-252
Californium doesn’t exist naturally and must be manufactured through nuclear processes. Currently, the Oak Ridge National Lab uses its high flux isotope reactor to produce an average of 25 milligrams per year. Because it is produced from the radioactive element curium-242, Cf-252 must be carefully produced, packaged, and shipped.
Californium-252 can emit hazardous radiation if not well-sealed. Thus, it is essential to use custom neutron shielding, Type-A radioactive containers to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the creation, transportation, delivery, and storage of Cf-252.
Californium-252 from Frontier Technology Corporation
The radioactive properties of Cf-252 make it suitable for a range of applications, including Prompt Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis (PGNAA), Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS), reactor start-up rods, scanners, and more. Cf-252 is an essential component in nuclear reactors, well logging, material scanners, and even cancer treatments.