Abstract: The short half-life (87.7 yr) of the isotope plutonium-238 makes it ideal for use in radioisotope power systems – nuclear power systems that derive their energy from the heat produced by spontaneous radioactive decay, as distinguished from nuclear fission. 238Pu has become an important source of power for fuelling NASA unmanned interplanetary spacecraft, and instruments on Mars. The use of plutonium in space exploration poses interesting policy questions that balance safety against scientific understanding of the solar system. I will provide an overview of the production, safety, component fabrication, and peaceful applications of this very important plutonium isotope.
About the Speaker: David L. Clark is a Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow and Director of the Laboratory’s National Security Education Center (NSEC). He joined Los Alamos as a postdoctoral fellow in 1988. Since then he has held various leadership positions at the Laboratory, and become an international authority on the chemistry and physics of the actinides. He has published 170 peer-reviewed publications, encyclopedia and book chapters, and is currently co-editing the 2nd edition of the Plutonium Handbook. He is a CISAC affiliate whose research interests are in the molecular and electronic structure of actinide materials, applications of synchrotron radiation to nuclear security, behavior of actinide and fission products in the environment, the aging effects of nuclear weapons materials, and education and training in actinide science.