The Production and Distribution of Radioisotopes
Production and distribution of radioisotopes at Oak Ridge National Laboratory helps advance medicine, industry, and agriculture.
Conceived in wartime, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) managed the transition to peacetime, in part, through the production and distribution of radioisotopes, perhaps the most important scientific byproduct of the Manhattan Project. These radioactive forms of chemical elements have a myriad of medical, industrial, and agricultural uses. The availability of radioisotopes led to advances in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and many other applied and theoretical sciences.
The production and distribution of radioisotopes became part of the answer to the question of what would happen after the end of World War II to Clinton Laboratories, which fell under the purview of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), created in 1946 to oversee the transfer of atomic energy from military to civilian control. In 1947, the AEC changed the name to Clinton National Laboratory (in 1948 the named changed again, to Oak Ridge National Laboratory). More importantly, the AEC decided to utilize the existing Graphite Reactor at Clinton and to take advantage of the facility’s scientific knowledge by maintaining it as a center for basic and applied chemical research and for isotope research and production.
Today, most radioisotopes are made outside the United States, but ORNL continues to produce specialty isotopes at its High Flux Isotope Reactor, which centers on the development of new radiopharmaceuticals and radioisotope generators for diagnosis and treatment of human diseases, including various cancers and heart ailments.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about the production and distribution of radioisotopes.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program