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.


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