NNSA Recycles Irreplaceable Heavy Isotopes Valued at $8.8 Million

Press Release
Oct 17, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), working with the DOE Office of Science and Office of Nuclear Energy, has transferred 40 grams of the special isotope curium-244 from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL). 

The 40 grams of curium-244 has an estimated market value of $8.8 million. The transfer preserves a valuable and rare national asset and fits into NNSA’s goal of transforming a Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex into a 21st-century nuclear security enterprise. In addition, the transfer of the curium-244 is an example of NNSA’s commitment to being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.

“NNSA is committed to modernizing the national security infrastructure while supporting the heart of the NNSA’s vital science and technology mission,” said Don Cook, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “This close cooperation between all who took part in the transfer demonstrates our commitment to teamwork and continuous improvement.”

NNSA formerly used the curium-244 to support nuclear security research work. With advances in the Stockpile Stewardship program that enable certification of the nuclear weapons stockpile without underground nuclear weapons testing, the curium was no longer needed for that purpose and became available for other uses. The curium was stored in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility at LANL, which is being prepared for decommissioning as part of the on-going strategy to reduce the nuclear facility footprint in support of a smaller 21st century nuclear security enterprise.

In coordination with NNSA’s Office of Nuclear Material Integration, LANL determined that the material was crucial to isotope production and research.

LANL transferred two containers of the material to INL. There, the Office of Nuclear Energy conducts research into a new generation of nuclear reactor fuels using several transuranic isotopes, including curium-244. This material will support international agreements with France and Japan to conduct fuels research work. 

LANL transferred the remaining eight containers to the Isotope Program at ORNL. The Office of Science’s National Isotope Program provides isotopes for sale in applications including medicine, manufacturing and research. Curium-244 is a key feedstock for continued production of californium-252, another valuable isotope, at the ORNL High Flux Isotope Reactor.

LANL staff conducted all packaging in compliance with safety certification requirements for capsules and containers established by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Three separate shipments occurred over a span of several months.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. NNSA homepage: http://www.nnsa.energy.gov/index.htm