Laser technology breakthrough for transmutation

3 September 2003

Scientists at the University of Strathclyde working in collaboration with Imperial College (in London, UK), the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (Oxfordshire, UK) and ITU (Karlsruhe, Germany) have transmuted I-129 ­ a fission fragment from power reactors with a half-life of 15.7 million years ­ into I-128 (half-life of 25 minutes) using laboratory lasers. This is the first time an isotope has been transmuted using laser technology. The principal was described last month in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, published by the Institute of Physics.

Professor Ken Ledingham, head of the Laser Induced Nuclear Physics programme at the University of Strathclyde, told NEI that the technology would take as long to develop as accelerator-based transmutation, but it had several advantages. "It's not practical for us to get big accelerator-driven reactors, but we can still study the basic science of transmutation on a laboratory scale using lasers," he said.

In addition, he pointed out that the technique would provide a cheaper and simpler way than cyclotron methods for generating PET (positron emission tomography) radioactive sources for use in diagnostic oncology.

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