Getting Purer Berkelium, Faster than Ever
Image courtesy of Jaimee Janiga, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
A new method of purifying berkelium-249 (Bk-249) separates the isotope using a stacked column. The method is faster, results in very high purity, and is simpler, with less room for error. The method could be applied to other actinides in the future.
Researchers need a better way to extract individual heavy metal elements, called actinides, to obtain a purer product. In 2018, researchers discovered that the actinide berkelium, when oxidized, does not form negatively charged ions in solutions of high nitric acid, as other actinides do. This meant an anion exchange column could separate berkelium by absorbing other actinides with negatively charged ions. This system moves berkelium dissolved in highly concentrated nitric acid through a series of columns. The top column blocks negatively charged impurities. The lower column collects berkelium while positively charged impurities pass through. Nitric acid then strips purified berkelium from the lower column. This produced the world’s purest Bk-249 to date.