Man has been sifting through trash for millennia, but the extraction of americium-241 waste from the UK's stockpile of civilian plutonium takes the exercise to a whole new dimension. Am-241 - a decay product of plutonium-241 - is the most prevalent isotope of americium in long-term stored plutonium and is currently considered to be waste.
The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in north-west England is just two years away from producing the first developmental pellets of Am-241 for radioisotope power sources in its contract with the European Space Agency. Sourcing plutonium for the project from the nearby Sellafield nuclear complex, NNL chemists hope the Am-241 they are producing could one day be used in thermoelectric generators to power deep space programs. Read more..