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)

(Click to Expand)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.