Public Release: 

Plutonium: Size does matter

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Oct. 15, 2002 -- Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have found a better way to measure plutonium oxide particles in glove boxes where plutonium research is done. The new system will help improve the quality and safety of several key plutonium processes.

Los Alamos technician Carl D. Martinez of PIT Disposition Science and Technology group (NMT-15) today presented findings on improved glove-box measurements of plutonium oxide particle size at the Rocky Mountain Regional meeting of the American Chemical Society in Albuquerque. Martinez's work focuses on the implementation and use of a new Beckman Coulter Counter particle measurement instrument. The Coulter unit is one of three instruments that will be used to gather particle data with a third instrument being installed in November. The project is part of a quality assurance initiative in place at NMT-15.

Using off the shelf instrumentation such as the Coulter Counter, Lab researchers are working to improve the methods and quality of the data gathered. With just two of the three instruments up and running the researchers have begun to take data and have begun the process of comparing the data and evaluating the instruments. Once all three instruments are online, data from all the instruments will be taken and compared to one another as well as against existing standards. "This in turn will help us create a baseline for developing a systematic approach for measuring Plutonium oxide and how process changes affect particle size," said Donna Smith, technical staff member with NMT-15.

In addition to providing valuable data, the new quality improvement initiative will also help to ensure that production is meeting program specifications and that methods and processes employed remain safe, with the majority of measurable plutonium particle size above 5 micrometers. "The data and information that we have gotten so far has been invaluable and will help us as we continue forward with our plan" Martinez said. "It will be very helpful in ensuring the quality and safety of our oxide operations".


Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health and national security concerns.

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