Category Archives: plutonium

Upkeep on ORNL’s hot cells

If case you haven’t noticed, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been adding some nuclear work for its multiple hot cell facilities, including the lab’s heralded role in producing plutonium-238 for the space program and conducting research on high-burn-up nuclear fuel from the North Anna Reactor in Virginia.plutonium

There is $26 million in the administration’s proposed FY 2017 budget to be applied to the four hot-cell facilities at ORNL. That would reportedly be a big step up from the base operating budget and help meet the need for refurbishments.

But, as ORNL Deputy Lab Director Jeff Smith noted the other day, it’s just a proposal at this stage of the game.

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ORNL achieves milestone in producing plutonium-238 for space missions


An Oak Ridge National Laboratory employee uses a remote-manipulator to move a vial of plutonium-238 oxide inside a shielded hot cell at ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. (ORNL photo/Jason Richards)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced Tuesday it had achieved production of 50 grams of plutonium-238. That’s roughly the mass of a golf ball, according to the Department of Energy, but it’s considered an important milestone in re-establishing a U.S. stockpile of Pu-238 for use as a power source on deep-space missions.

ORNL has been developing the capability over the past couple of years with funding that NASA provided via the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The lab uses the High Flux Isotope Reactor for production of the plutonium isotope and then processes and purifies the radioactive material in a series of shielded hot cells. Continue reading

Thom Mason on upcoming Red Team review: ‘We’re not constrained on what we might recommend’

mason11Asked about being called upon to head yet-another Red Team review for the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason joked, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But, later on, he made it clear he was proud to lead an independent review of alternatives for disposing of tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, and he said others he’s asked to serve on the team have expressed similar feelings.

“This is an important issue,” he said via telephone during an airport stopover on his way home from Hong Kong for the Gordon Conference on Neutron Scattering. “It’s important to the nation.”

He said it’s also important internationally because of U.S. commitments to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and reducing the number of weapons and special nuclear materials. Continue reading

ORNL’s Mason to head another Red Team; this time focus will be on MOX and alternatives

mason.jpgOak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, who last year headed a Red Team review of uranium operations at Y-12 and alternatives to the big-box approach for the Uranium Processing Facility, will now head another major review for the Department of Energy.

This time Mason will head a Red Team review of alternatives for disposing of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Continue reading