Frontier Technology Corporation (FTC) is the world’s expert and leading global supplier of nuclear start-up rod assemblies.

Frontier Technology manufactures complete rod assemblies to include the Californium-252 sources, antimony-beryllium pellets, NDT, and all parts of the rod assembly, according to our customer’s specifications. All start-up rods produced by Frontier Technology meet and exceed the highest level of safety requirements and standards set by the nuclear industry.

How a Nuclear Reactor Works

Nuclear reactors generate approximately 10% of the world’s electricity today. They generate electricity by splitting atoms from specific elements such as uranium—a process that gives off a great deal of heat. That heat is channeled toward reservoirs of water to create steam, which then generates electricity by propelling the turbines of a generator. This process of splitting atoms is called nuclear fission. 

Today’s nuclear reactors are largely based on two types of reactors that were originally created in the 1950s to power naval vessels. They are made up of several different systems that power the fission reactor, control and build the reaction, and contain the process to keep the surrounding materials and workers safe. Some of the key components of nuclear reactors include:

  • Containment equipment. The barriers around the reactor and steam generator are designed to protect anything outside from radiation in the event of a malfunction. Containment barriers are made from a combination of concrete and steel, and they can be over a meter thick.
  • Control rods. Control rods absorb neutrons and can control the rate of a nuclear reaction. Operators can insert and remove rods to slow down, speed up, or improve the efficiency of the nuclear reactions. Control rods are typically made from materials that absorb neutrons, including boron, cadmium, and hafnium. 
  • Coolant. Nuclear fission reactions generate a large amount of heat that must be safely modulated. Coolant fluids circulate through the core of the reactor, dissipating the heat and carrying it to other units where it can be used to create steam.
  • Fuel. The most common element used for nuclear fuel is uranium. Most reactors used uranium rods formed from uranium oxide pellets placed in rods.
  • Moderator material. Moderator material, such as water or graphite, slows down the release of neutrons so the reaction can trigger greater reactions. 
  • Pressure tubes/pressure vessels. The core of the reactor and moderator material are typically contained within a durable steel pressure vessel and/or a series of steel pressure tubes. 
  • Steam generator. Steam generators are used to generate electric power. The cooling system releases the coolant into the generator, and the resulting steam and pressure turn the turbine.

Types of Nuclear Reactor Rods and Their Roles

Nuclear reactors use three key types of rods to power and control nuclear reactors:

Startup Rods

Startup rods are used to initiate a nuclear chain reaction in the fuel within the nuclear reaction assembly. Startup rods are interspersed with fuel rods within the reactor core to provide the initial reaction that triggers a long chain of nuclear fission reactions from the fuel rods. Reactor technicians use startup rods as a means to create an observable and controllable nuclear fission reaction. Common applications for startup rods include:

  • Axial offset control
  • Emergency shutdowns
  • Reactor and Power control
  • Reactor shutdown
  • Reactor startup

While americium-241, plutonium-238, polonium-210, or radium-226 are sometimes combined with beryllium to initiate a reaction, californium-252 is preferred for its ability to generate spontaneous fission.

Fuel Rods

Fuel rods are long, slender, zirconium alloy tubes that typically contain high-density uranium dioxide pellets for use in the core of a nuclear reactor. 

Control Rods

Control rods can slow or speed up the rate of fission in a nuclear reactor. They can absorb neutrons without triggering their own fission reaction, which makes them a stabilizing element. Nuclear reactors use different control rods based on the fuel sources they use and the expected rate of fission.

Californium-252 as a Startup Neutron Source

Californium-252 is a powerful element used within startup rods, which trigger the start of a nuclear fission reaction. It provides a high, stable emission of neutrons that can bombard uranium oxide fuel rods and start a sustained nuclear reaction. Uranium alone can’t reliably start a nuclear fission reaction. Californium-252 sources’ spontaneous fission capability and the resulting neutron flux spur uranium and other fuels to start the fission reaction process.

As a strong neutron emitter, californium-252 is also useful in other applications beyond nuclear reactors. Some of these include:

  • Californium-252 may be used to analyze how the ground interacts with the emitted neutrons to determine if an area has water, petroleum, and other resources that make it a viable candidate for oil drilling. 
  • Prompt-gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA) uses californium-252 to interact with elements in the materials, which then emit secondary, prompt gamma rays that can be measured.
  • The military, Homeland Security, and other government agencies use californium-252 in portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy (PINS), a technique used to scan and identify explosive devices, weapons, and more. 
  • Californium-252 is used in the medical sector as a neutron source for radiotherapy in the treatment of highly aggressive, resistant, or advanced forms of cancer. 

If you want to learn more about californium-252’s capabilities in nuclear, oil & gas, and other industries, we recommend these resources:

Nuclear Reactor Rod Assemblies and Services at Frontier Technology Corporation

Since 1984, Frontier Technology Corporation has been providing startup rods, protective Type-A radioactive shipping containers, and shielding to ensure the safest possible transportation and use of californium-252. We specialize in providing high-quality californium-252 in startup rods and samples for a wide variety of government, nuclear, oil and gas, and medical applications. 

Our additional services include:

  • Nuclear research and design services. We design and thoroughly test new products as part of our turnkey design, development, and production services.
  • Turnkey nuclear solutions. Our turnkey nuclear industry services make managing a nuclear reactor simpler. We provide encapsulating materials, shielding, and are able to assist in setting up freight logistics.
  • Fee-free depleted source return program. Depleted californium-252 can be a hazard for companies without the resources to safely contain and dispose of it. We offer free disposal of all depleted californium-252 sources originally manufactured and provided by us. 
  • Safe transportation. Frontier Technology Corporation ships nuclear start-up rod assemblies in custom Type-A radioactive shipping containers which are made for safe and efficient transportation and unloading. We can also handle international shipping and logistics. 

For more information about our nuclear reactor startup rod assemblies or other products and services, reach out to our team today.

Case Study – Westinghouse