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NNSA Recycles Irreplaceable Heavy Isotopes Valued at $8.8 Million

October 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