14 Where and how the Californium 252 a most expensive metal in the world is made

Where and how the Californium 252 a most expensive metal in the world is made

Posted on August 21, 2016 by konst4


If you think that gold and platinum are the most valuable metals in the world, then you are wrong. Comparing with some artificially produced metals, the price of gold can be compared with the cost of rust on an old piece of corrugated iron. Can you imagine the price of 27 million US dollars per one gram of the substance? It is the real price of radioactive element called Californium – 252. Only antimatter is more expensive, but it is the most expensive substance in the world (about 60 trillion dollars per gram of antihydrogen).

Now there is only 8 grams of Californium-252 in the world and 40 milligrams is produced annual. And there are only two places in the world where it is regularly produced: at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US and … Dimitrovgrad, Ulyanovsk region.

Do you want to know how almost the most expensive material in the world is produced and what is it made for?


At 80 kilometers from Ulyanovsk on the Cheremshan River, there is the city of Dimitrovgrad with a population of about 100000 people. Its main enterprise – the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR), which was established in 1956 because of Kurchatov. Originally it was an experimental station for nuclear reactors tests, but now the variety of activities has expanded. Now RIAR tests various materials to explore how they behave in conditions of prolonged radiation, create radionuclide sources and preparations, which are used in medicine and science, solve technical issues of ecologically clear technologies and do a lot of scientific activity. The RIAR employs approximately 3,500 employees and have got 6 reactors.

Shine but don’t heat

None of the six reactors are used as an energy source for heating of the city – you won’t see the giant installations for thousands of MW. The main task of these “little ones” – to create maximum neutron flux density, which the scientists of the institute use to bombard various targets, creating creating things that don’t exist in nature. Reactors of RIAR operate under the “10/10″ scheme – ten days of working and 10 days of vacation, prevention and refueling. In this mode it is simply impossible to use it for water heating. And the maximum flow temperature is only 98 C, water is cooled rapidly in small towers and goes in the circle.

The most powerful

One of the 6 reactors is really loved by scientists of RIAR. It is also the first one. And it is the most powerful, which gave it a name – MP. In 1961 it was the MP-1, with a capacity of 50 MW, in 1965 after the upgrade, it became the MP-2, in 1992 – MP-3, which would work until 2017. It is a unique reactor and it is the only one in the world. It is unique because of a very high neutron flux density, which it is able to create. Neutrons themselves are the main products of RIAR. With the help of neutrons a lot of problems like studying of materials and the creation of useful isotopes can be solved. And even to make the dream of medieval alchemists come true – to turn plumbum into gold (in theory).

Without going into details, the process is very simple – you take one substance and fire it with neutrons. Thus, for example, with neutron nuclear fragmentation of the uranium it is possible to obtain lighter elements like: iodine, strontium, molybdenum, Xenon, and others.

The start of MP-1 reactor work and its success caused a great resonance in the scientific world, that encouraged the building of a high-flux reactor with a hard neutron spectrum – HFBR (1964) and HFIR (1967) in USA. The best nuclear physics including the father of Glenn Seaborg were coming to RIAR, and adopted the experience. Yet no one else could create the same elegant and simply reactor.

MP reactor is ingeniously simple. Its active area – is almost a cube of 42 x 42 x 35 cm. But the dissipated power of the cube – is 100 megawatts! Around the active zone there is a special tube with different substances to be bombarded with neutrons.

For example, recently flask with iridium from which the desired isotope was received was pulled from the reactor. And now it hangs up and cools down.

After that, a small container with radioactive iridium will be immersed in a special protective plumbum container, weighing several tons, and a car will be sent to the customer.

All used fuel (a few grams) will also be cooled, canned into the plumbum barrel and sent to a radioactive repository on the territory of the institute for the long-term storage.

Blue pool

There is not only one reactor in this room. Next to the MP there is the other – RBT – pool-type reactor, which works in tandem with it. The fact is that the fuel in the MP reactor burns out only on a half. Therefore, it is necessary to burn it out in RBT.

Generally, RBT is an amazing reactor, you can even look inside it (we couldn’t). It does not have the usual thick steel and concrete housing, and for protection from radiation it is simply placed in a huge pool of water (it is named because of it). Water column holds the active particles, slowing them. The particles moving at a speed exceeding the speed of light in the environment, cause a bluish glow familiar to everybody from different films. This effect is called in the name of the scientists who described it – Vavilov – Cherenkov.


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14 Responses to “Where and how the Californium 252 a most expensive metal in the world is made”

  1. john dudley says:

    One if not the most interesting posting from english russia.Such talented physicist.Excellent read.Keep up the good work.

  2. monosodiumglutamate says:

    Another “gift” of cold war era.today no one imagine,Russia can afford this kind of “high end” ultra modern technology.Actually cold war was very useful in every field of science an tech.

    • Agent Beeman says:

      …”today no one imagine,Russia can afford this kind of “high end”….”. As the pics show, that’s your warped ‘imagination’ only.

  3. Frank says:

    Thank you. Very interesting, I am looking forward to the Molybdenum article as well.

  4. Nath says:

    I really enjoyed this article, the captions are exhaustive and highly informative. Thank you !

  5. Douglas says:

    Nice article but I want to see their lunch room. What food are they served for mid-day meal.

  6. jhon says:

    thank you for informative

  7. jhon says:

    thank you very nice

  8. Gary Sellars says:

    Californium is not valuable… its utterly worthless as it has no actual real value. It has not uses, and its possession gives no benefit. Just because it is horrendously expensive to make does not confer actual value….

    • Frank says:

      Why don’t you inform yourself?? surely you can read the wikipedia article about it. Why would you think it is produced if it had no value. For a few not all too common requirements it is the best and most cost effective thing to do the job.

  9. rob says:

    Very exciting. One should have a hundred grams bar of californium.
    Only 8 grams of it the world, still there are humans stupid enough to blow it up in a bomb.

  10. RB says:

    why does it have to be called Californium, why cant it be called Siberiaum?

    • www says:

      Who found a new element has the right to name it. Californium was discovered by Glenn T. Seaborg, Stanley G. Thompson, Albert Ghiorso, Kenneth Street in 1950 at USA. Origin of name: named after the State and University of “California”, USA.

      Dubnium (105) – the origin of the name dubnium is the Joint Nuclear Institute at Dubna (Russia) and Moscovium (115).

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