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02/07/94

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Plutonium experiments continue at SLAC

STANFORD -- A set of experiments with plutonium and other radioactive materials began Friday, Feb. 4 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Continuing work begun during 1993 by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, the tests will be performed using intense X-ray beams available at the SLAC synchrotron radiation facility.

The principal investigator in this research is Steven Conradson of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who is studying the chemical properties of plutonium and its compounds. The information is needed by the U.S. Department of Energy in its efforts to decommission nuclear warheads and to dispose of plutonium and other radioactive materials.

As in the 1993 series of experiments, only a tiny amount of plutonium - six-tenths of a gram, or two-hundredths of an ounce - has been brought on site, enclosed in triple-walled containers. This material is being handled according to stringent safety procedures reviewed by a safety committee at the linear accelerator center, and is being administered by SLAC personnel. Once the experiments are completed, the plutonium samples will be returned immediately to Los Alamos.

In addition to these tests, Conradson and scientists from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratories will use X-ray beams to examine the contents of 10 small (1 gram) samples extracted from nuclear waste storage tanks on their Hanford, Wash., site. The purpose of this experiment is to examine whether such a measurement technique can accurately determine the contents of these tanks. Immediately after completion of this experiment, which will be run according to the same safety standards, the radioactive samples will be removed from SLAC.

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