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Radiochemical Science and Engineering

The Radiochemical Science and Engineering (RSE) Group performs research and development utilizing radioactive materials to develop unique radiochemical products and sources for a wide range of applications and sponsors, which includes the Department of Energy, NASA, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the National Nuclear Security Administration. RSE is one of two research groups that operate in the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center (REDC), which is a Hazard Category II nuclear facility employing heavily shielded hot cells and glovebox and chemical laboratories. 

The RSE group has expertise in the following areas:

  • Radiochemistry and radiochemical separations
  • Hot cell operations
  • Radiochemical engineering
  • Radioactive material production and characterization
  • Actinide oxide and cermet pellet production
  • Nuclear reactor target production
  • Nuclear battery development
  • Spectroscopic analysis methods (e.g., laser-induced breakdown and Raman spectroscopy)
  • Proliferation detection

RSE staff work closely with several other ORNL research and operations organizations. The RSE group’s research and development focus is concentrated in the following areas:

Plutonium-238 Production: The RSE Group develops process flowsheets to produce plutonium-238 to meet NASA’s deep space mission power demands. The RSE Group produces the neptunium-237 targets that are irradiated in the High Flux Isotope Reactor(HFIR) to produce plutonium-238 by transmutation. The group also directs the chemical processing of the irradiated targets in the REDC hot cells.

Californium-252 Chemical Processing: The RSE Group supplies chemical engineering and hot cell operations expertise in support of the production of californium-252 and other heavy elements produced through the irradiation of curium targets in the HFIR. The group provides technical oversight of all hot cell unit operations used to recover these valuable isotopes (e.g., dissolutions, chemical separations by ion exchange, and solvent extraction).

Fuel Cycle Research and Development: The RSE Group performs research related to the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. These efforts focus on identifying transformational approaches to reprocessing that reduce cost, simplify flowsheets, and reduce waste and effluents.

National Security: RSE staff perform research and development toward realization of specialized radioisotope power sources for use in a variety of power generation applications. The group also develops and produces specialized sealed radioactive sources for use in the evaluation of detector systems and in personnel training exercises. The group operates a variety of instruments including a Hybrid K-Edge Densitometer to identify and quantify heavy elements in samples and conduct research to expand their application. Additionally, the group performs separations chemistry research to support the nation’s need for rare earth elements. The group has also created a test bed for development of multimodal informatics (data fusion) to correlate signals associated with proliferation.