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Isotope-enrichment process starts commercial production

| By Scott Jenkins

Traditional isotope enrichment to separate radioactive atoms is highly capital intensive, and the supply chains for the materials are constrained, with the majority of enriching capability located in Russia. In a bid to expand isotope availability and lower costs, ASP Isotopes Inc. (Washington, D.C.; recently began commercial production of isotopes at a facility in South Africa.

The company says it is now enriching 14C and 28Si isotopes using technology that drastically cuts the capital cost of separation and does not produce waste materials (radioactive or otherwise). 14C is used for radiolabeling of compounds in biomedical research applications. And due to its improved thermal conductivity, isotopically pure 28Si can help augment computer chip performance in quantum computing applications, for example.

The commercial isotope-separation technology, known as Aerodynamic Separation Process (ASP), has its origins in development work conducted around uranium enrichment in the 1980s in South Africa. In ASP, the material to be separated, in raw gas form, is injected at high speed (several hundred meters per second) tangentially into a stationary tube via specially sized and positioned openings in the tube’s surface. ASP Isotopes says the gas then “follows a flow pattern that results in two gas vortexes occurring around the geometrical axis of the separator.” In this way, isotopes can be separated by mass difference.

“Two ASP plants are now operating in South Africa, and a third is being built in Iceland, where we will take advantage of inexpensive energy to further lower enrichment costs,” says ASP CEO Paul Mann.

In addition to the commercial aerodynamic separation process, ASP Isotopes is also building a facility for separating other isotopes, including 100Mo and 68Zn for computed tomography imaging applications, and 176Yb for oncology treatment, among others. This technology, called quantum enrichment, separates isotopes by their differing ionization energies. A precisely tuned laser selectively ionizes one isotope species, which is separated by a charge collector (diagram).

The company is also developing the technologies for generating enriched 37Cl, 6Li and 235U isotopes for use in nuclear energy applications, such as small modular reactors (SMRs).


isotope enrichment

Source: ASP isotopes