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Radioisotope Science and Technology

Providing new options for science, medicine, industry, security

The Radioisotope Science and Technology Division is a global leader in actinide science, research and development of the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 89 to 103, actinium through lawrencium. Scientists at ORNL are continually improving radiochemical processing methods, allowing the lab to produce and rapidly deliver radioisotopes for science, medicine, industry, and security.

ORNL's historic expertise in nuclear materials processing and characterization and radioisotope production makes it a natural fit to research new uses for radioisotopes, produce and package currently in-­demand radioisotopes, and develop better applications and processes. ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor, shielded hot cells, and glove box laboratories make possible innovations in feedstock processing, target design and fabrication, safety assessments, target disassembly, and radiochemical science and engineering to purify products to meet sponsors' and customers' needs.

This includes radioisotopes needed for medical tests and treatments, research, and industrial applications. But it also applies to researching, developing, and deploying technology that enhances nuclear nonproliferation and safeguards, reduces threats to nuclear material and at-risk facilities, and expands national capabilities in radiation detection and nuclear forensics. For this work, scientists in the Radioisotope Science and Technology Division collaborate with the National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and other government agencies. 

From building the world's first operational nuclear reactor for plutonium production to recently helping power the Mars 2020 mission, ORNL has decades of renowned expertise in isotope research and production. We are the keepers of that legacy, and we strive to continue expanding radioisotope science and technology to the betterment of humankind.

- Brad Johnson, director, Radioisotope Science and Technology

ORNL-produced tech fuels NASA's Perseverance mission to Mars

ORNL produces some pretty out-of-this-world materials. Plutonium-238, a unique iridium alloy, and carbon-bonded carbon fiber are all key ingredients for deep space exploration. NASA uses these materials in the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG.