Nuclear archeology in a bottle: Evidence of pre-trinity U.S. weapons activities from a waste burial site

Jon M. Schwantes, Matthew Douglas, Steven E. Bonde, James D. Briggs, Orville T. Farmer, Lawrence R. Greenwood, Elwood A. Lepel, Christopher R. Orton, John F. Wacker, Andrzej T. Luksic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


During World War II, the Hanford Site in Washington became the location for U.S. plutonium production. In 2004, a bottle containing a sample of plutonium was recovered from a Hanford waste trench. Here, state-of-the-art instrumental analyses, reactor model simulations, and investigative science techniques were used to provide insights as to the origin of this unknown sample, a process collectively termed as nuclear archeology. Isotopic age dating conducted on the sample in 2007 indicated the sample was separated from the spent fuel 61.6 ± 4.5 years earlier. The isotope 22Na, a detectable product of a secondary nuclear reaction, proved useful as a powerful tool for nuclear forensic analysis as (1) an easily detectable signifier of the presence of α emitting actinides, (2) an indicator of sample splitting, and (3) a measure of the time since sample splitting. Analytical results of minor actinide isotopes and reactor model simulations confirmed the material originated from the X-10 reactor in Oak Ridge, TN. Corroborated by historical documents, we concluded this sample was part of the first batch of Pu separated at T-Plant, Hanford, the world's first industrial-scale reprocessing facility, on December 9, 1944. This sample represents the oldest known collection of man-made 239Pu in the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1297-1306
Number of pages10
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Analytical Chemistry


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