Californium-252 is a very strong neutron emitter, giving off approximately 139 million neutrons per minute. This aspect, combined with Cf-252’s half-life of 2.645 years, melting point of 900°C, and easily-cut form makes this neutron source very useful in a variety of industrial applications. Cf-252 cannot be found in nature, so it is produced synthetically by bombarding plutonium, americium, and curium with neutrons. Various applications of californium-252 include: 

  • Initiating nuclear reactions for nuclear fission
  • Material scanning through prompt-gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA)
  • Well logging in the oil and gas industry

When californium-252 is implemented within military and defense equipment, it enables the use of Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS). PINS systems typically use Cf-252 to identify explosive devices, weapons, and more, specifically by analyzing the gamma-ray signatures of the target’s contents. 

In this blog, we share why californium-252 is an ideal radioactive aid for military and defense purposes, as well as explore PINS systems and how californium-252 can detect chemical warfare materials.

Why is Californium-252 Used in Military & Defense Applications?

Californium’s strong neutron emission makes it ideal for penetration-based analysis since the neutrons can easily and deeply pass through target materials. Not only can the neutrons provide analysis of complex items down to their individual components, but it can also evaluate large or protected items. It does this by measuring and analyzing the gamma-ray signature that every component in a targeted item returns after being hit by neutron bursts. 

Different materials give off different signatures, and the analysis equipment can break down those signatures, compare them against a known database, and identify the materials associated with each signature. Military and defense entities use Cf-252 in detection equipment, like bulk analyzers, to scan potential threats and cargo loads.

Because manufacturers produce Cf-252 through synthetic means, they can also customize the design of the element to meet military and defense clients’ specifications best. Californium suppliers can tailor californium packaging to unique size needs. A supplier can also outfit these neutron sources with various shielding materials, layers or degrees of protection, and other unique configurations that best fit the intended application.

It is important to note that while californium-252 does emit millions of neutrons – which are a definite health hazard if exposed to – sources are entirely safe and can handle all kinds of transport, storage, and environmental conditions when properly contained. Radioactive containers—such as Type-A shipping packages—should meet international shipping regulations, USA DOT Type-A certification requirements, and Specification 7A package requirements. 

Not only do the containers protect the contents throughout transport, but they also shield the radioactive contents in the case of adverse conditions in the end application. To ensure the Cf-252 source container can maintain peak form at all times and pass these stringent requirements, it must successfully pass the following:

  • Compression tests
  • Freefall drops
  • Penetration tests with falling items
  • Water spray that simulates two inches per hour of rainfall

In short: californium-252 is ideal for military applications due to its inherently strong nuclear nature, as well as the ability to custom-build sources with protective containers that keep surrounding personnel, equipment, and environments safe from exposure risks.

All About the Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS) System

The Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS) system is a means of material analysis that works by identifying and analyzing unique gamma-ray signatures with neutron sources. This includes sealed packages, items with multiple internal parts, and land with unknown compositions. 

The system was developed by Dr. Gus Caffrey of the Idaho National Laboratory in 1992 to evaluate chemicals inside chemical warfare weapons. Since then, PINS has grown in use as it is not a highly destructive system, and it can provide reliable results in the field.

Since its first field tests in the 1990s, PINS has gone on to test IEDs and chemical munitions around the world. Numerous military and governmental agencies use PINS Systems, including border protection personnel, customs, homeland security, and the National Guard.

How the PINS System Works

PINS requires a strong neutron source, such as californium-252. The element emits neutrons and saturates targeted material. In response, the material gives off a gamma-ray signature of unique electromagnetic radiation waves that clearly identify the chemicals or materials inside an item. 

PINS software can “translate” the gamma-ray signature with its custom software to reveal the compounds and mixtures inside of any tested device. Not only is this process accurate and safe to nearby operators and emergency personnel, but it’s also fast: the analysis can be completed in as little as 100 seconds. More sophisticated analyses take only 1,000 seconds, or fewer than 20 minutes, to complete.

 PINS tests can analyze the following items, for example:

  • Artillery projectiles: 75 to 175-mm
  • Bombs: “weteye,” MC-1, M-70, M-79, and cluster bombs
  • Mortar projectiles: 3-, 4-, and 4.2-inch stokes
  • Rockets: M-55 rockets, inside S/F tubes and overpacks
  • Other weapons such as land mines and livens projector shells or items such as gas cylinders and DOT 500X ton containers.

PINS has helped military and government organizations assay 13,000 CAIS, recovered chemical warfare equipment, and ton containers since 1992. In addition, over 73,174 chemical weapons and warfare materials have been destroyed with the aid of PINS identification.

Contact Frontier Technology Corporation to Learn More About Cf-252 and PINS Systems

Californium-252 is a powerful isotope that is frequently implemented in PINS systems worldwide, due to the neutron source’s ability to read unique gamma-ray signatures. Through the use of Cf-252, military organizations have identified and destroyed thousands of dangerous chemical weapons, and continue to do so today.

Frontier Technology Corporation is a leading provider of californium-252 neutron source manufacturing. We offer high-quality neutron sources for PINS systems, as well as Type-A shipping containers and WEP shielding to keep the material contained during transportation and storage.

We have provided the U.S. Army with our sources and support for 20 years, and we continue to invest in PINS system product improvements. Each of our systems is developed and manufactured to meet our customers’ needs under CMADOE, INL, and NSCMP regulatory standards. Contact us today to learn more about our californium-252 solutions for PINS or other military and defense applications.