[ RadSafe ] Diffusion, Uranium and all that

Brennan, Mike (DOH) Mike.Brennan at DOH.WA.GOV
Mon Dec 28 13:50:28 CST 2015

Separating the different flavors of U is easy, in the abstract.  The actual engineering is rather more involved.

The various electro-magnetic separation schemes involve vaporizing the uranium compound, ionizing it, then using the fact that heavier ions don't corner as well as lighter ions to separate the U-235 from the U-238.  This would be easier if there were a greater mass difference, or if the elements the U is compounded with didn't have isotopes with almost as great a mass difference.  Or if you didn't need to keep a vacuum in your machine, to keep the air from scattering your ion beam.  Or if the ions didn't want to plate out on the walls of your machine at the first opportunity.  Or if you had anything but the most indirect ways of telling what was going on inside your machine.  I figure that anybody who decides this is the path they are going to follow to enrich uranium should be offered technical hints, at least half of which should be good.

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at health.phys.iit.edu [mailto:radsafe-bounces at health.phys.iit.edu] On Behalf Of Joseph Preisig
Sent: Friday, December 25, 2015 7:52 PM
To: radsafe
Subject: [ RadSafe ] Diffusion, Uranium and all that

Dear Radsafe,

     There are a few ways to separate U235 from U238.  Diffusion, laser separation, use of Accelerators/calutrons etc.  See the internet for diffusion and laser separation.

      Start with Uranium ore.  Chemically or otherwise, separate the Uranium from other rock, dirt, impurities.  What you have is Uranium Oxide, U3O8, or whatever.  For gaseous diffusion, convert the Uranium to UF6 or whatever.

      For accelerator/calutron separation, refer to the book by Livingston and Blewett, the internet, or other books.  If one ends up with a bunch of
U235 and a bunch of U238, think about putting the U238 into a reactor and making Plutonium.  This process is described in Nuclear Physics books by Kaplan, Segre and so on.  Many nuclear/particle physics grad students become competent in these accelerator concepts in grad school.  Sometimes, Grad students from China/Taiwan have copies of fundamental physics graduate level texts (Goldstein, JD Jackson, Arfken, Matthews and Walker, Schiff,
etc.) that are in paperback form and were printed in China/Taiwan.

    At ORNL during WW2, some accelerators were used to obtain U235.  These were called Calutrons, and from recent movies I have seen on TV, there were many Calutrons at ORNL.  Quite an effort.  These calutrons had rather large beam pipes, perhaps somewhat like heating ducts in your family home.  There were magnets external to the ducts, some for bending the alleged beam and some for rather crudely keeping the beam in the beam pipes.  Similar accelerators to the Calutron might be the Cosmotron at Brookhaven Lab, and the Zero Gradient Synchrotron at Argonne Lab (USA).  One of  the external magnets for the Cosmotron used to be outside of the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron building (BNL).

     Later on, particle accelerators started to have smaller beampipes and started to use the concept of Alternating Gradients (magnets focused beam in the horizontal and/or vertical directions as the beam went forward).
The magnets were electromagnets, and not so much Permanent Magnets.  See Livingston and Blewett about all this, (and weak focusing and strong focusing).  The Alternating Gradient stuff was developed at Brookhaven Lab, and possibly also suggested independently by Christofilos.  Alternating Gradient magnets are used in many serious particle accelerators in many different countries.  This technology was invented quite a while ago now, and is in the public domain.

     So, all I will say now is that one could build a modern accelerator using Alternating Gradients, modern magnets etc. to separate U235 from 238.  It is all quite do-able and there is nothing secret about it.  Such an accelerator would work better than a Calutron.  Clearly, one is using the charge to mass ratio to separate U235 from U238.  One can use electric fields, magnetic fields and/or both to do the separation.  See E and M books by Lorrain and Corson, Reitz and Milford, Kip etc.  Heck a kid in the Trenton, NJ area won the Trenton Science Fair by building a mass spectrometer in the 1970's.  Nothing new here, but it is interesting and fun.

     Joe Preisig
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