Californium-252 (Cf-252) is a lab-created, radioactive chemical isotope synthesized by bombarding curium with alpha particles. This synthetic material is a pure metal and is used for a range of applications from the creation of new elements to treating certain cancers, but one of its most prominent uses is in homeland security. Cf-252 plays a critical role in material scanning, identification, and analysis operations, especially when implemented in portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy (PINS) systems.

An Overview of Californium-252


Californium-252 is beneficial for use in homeland security due to its many advantageous properties, including:

  • Strong neutron emission
  • Non-destructive material penetration
  • Exceptional data analysis capabilities
  • Highly portable – on-site analysis

Due to Cf-252’s strong neutron emission and data analysis capabilities, it is commonly used in the production of neutron source-powered devices that gather information.

Find more information about Cf-252 and its various properties at the following resources:

How is Californium-252 Used in Homeland Security?

Portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy (PINS) is a system used to identify hazardous materials such as explosives, chemicals, and nerve and blister agents often contained in improved electronic devices (IEDs) or other chemical warfare apparatuses, including projectiles, rockets, or bombs. PINS is used extensively by the National Guard, Homeland Security, United States Armed Forces, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The system operates by using a Cf-252 neutron source to deeply penetrate a suspicious container or material with neutrons. As these neutrons bombard the object, the elemental composition within emits a unique gamma-ray signature. This signature gives insight into the contents of the object; most advantageously, this is done in a non-destructive way that does not put nearby personnel at risk. Appropriate measures can then be taken to destroy or disarm the device safely while limiting personnel exposure to hazardous materials or explosives. 

In addition to use in PINS systems, Cf-252 can be incorporated in handheld neutron detection devices used by emergency responders, as well as stand-alone neutron detection instruments placed in nuclear plants, medical facilities, and many other critical applications.

Homeland Security Solutions at Frontier Technology Corporation

Californium-252’s exceptional neutron emitting properties make it invaluable for homeland security applications that require a safe, highly analytical method of evaluating an environment or object. Their tiny size and high yield per unit mass make it possible for Cf-252 neutron sources to be constructed in a variety of configurations designed to address the shape, size, and other requirements of nearly any application. 

At Frontier Technology Corporation, we are world leaders in Cf-252 neutron source design and manufacturing and have supplied Cf-252 neutron sources to military and defense customers for over two decades. We offer single- and double-encapsulated nuclear containers with the ability to construct handling rods, pigtails, cables, lanyards, and more to integrate with PINS systems. We also offer custom nuclear product research and design services. With a commitment to continually improving our performance and quality, we ensure that all our products adhere to industry standards set by ODH, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ISO 2919, ASTM, and ANSI. 

To learn more about how californium-252 neutron sources are used in homeland security, or for more information about our services or capabilities, reach out to us today.