Californium-252 is used in a number of applications due to its radioactive properties.
Applications include use as a neutron source in nuclear reactors, material scanners, certain types of cancer treatment, and well logging in the oil industries.
As a man-made element, Californium is not found in nature and must be manufactured through nuclear processes.
The element was first produced at the University of California’s Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley. A microgram of curium was bombarded with alpha particles in the lab’s cyclotron to produce 5,000 atoms of the element with a half-life of 44 minutes. Weighable quantities of Cf-252 were later produced in 1954 and, today, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee uses its High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to produce an average of 25mg of the isotope per year.
Using the HFIR reactor, neutrons are used to bombard berkelium-249, which forms berkelium-250. This element then quickly decays and forms Cf-250. Further neutron bombardment forms californium-252. Long-term neutron irradiation of plutonium, americium, and curium can produce Cf-252 in milligram amounts. Curium isotopes have also been used to produce the isotope.