In 2017, Nuclear Operations & Facilities embarked on two initiatives that will enhance our nation’s ability to counteract illegal trafficking of nuclear substances.In collaboration with the National Research Council, NOF scientists are working to expand Canada’s nuclear forensics capabilities by developing a “nuclear stop-watch” for characterizing uranium samples. In nature, the radioisotope uranium-235 (U-235) decays over a period of many years to another radioisotope, Pa-231. However, when uranium is chemically processed, the Pa-231 is removed, “resetting” the U-235/Pa-231stop-watch to zero.

In collaboration with scientists at the National Research Council, NOF staff outlined a research project to develop a rapid and efficient means of generating Pa-233 using neutrons from MNR. With supervision from NOF scientists, undergraduate researchers explored several approaches to producing and isolating Pa-233, and optimized the most promising method. NOF can now generate, purify, and distribute this radioisotope to researchers or forensics specialists within 48 hours of a request.

This work was recently presented at the Methods and Applications in Radioanalytical Chemistry Conference, which took place April 2018 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The work was well received by various scientists and national labs from across the globe, allowing for more opportunities for NOF to connect and engage with researchers.