ORNL: Isotopes – Faster Ac-225 production

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher has invented a version of an isotope-separating device that can withstand extreme environments, including radiation and chemical solvents.

ORNL’s Kevin Gaddis designed the automated high pressure ion chromatography, or HPIC, system to improve purification of actinium-225, an isotope used in cancer treatments, from thorium targets that have been irradiated in a particle accelerator.

Previously, technicians relied on gravity to perform separations in hot cells, since high radiation levels would destroy an HPIC’s electronic components. Gaddis used radiation-tolerant materials to build a HPIC that uses air pressure, not electricity, to control the flow of the sample and chemicals that separate Ac-225 from byproducts. In tests, the HPIC cut separations time by 75%.

That’s important because demand is high for Ac-225, which has a short half-life. “Hours matter,” Gaddis said. “If we can reduce the time for the separation, we can get more product out.”

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