Isotope Separation

Plasma centrifuge research and development at LAP

Plasma centrifuges are devices designed to achieve isotope enrichment and separation. In the configuration presently under development at LAP a vacuum arc produces a plasma column which rotates by action of an applied magnetic field. The heavier isotopes concentrate in the outer edge of the plasma column resulting in an enriched mixture that can be selectively extracted. Experimental and theoretical work carried out at LAP concentrates in the characterization, optimization and modeling of the rotating arc discharge.

The vacuum arc plasma centrifuge is suited for isotope enrichment with applications in medicine and production of special alloys. The radial component j of the current density in an approximately cylindrical plasma column interacts with the axial magnetic field B. The column rotates, due to the j × B azimuthal force, without any mechanical limitation. This configuration is also suited for applications in coating and surface treatment of materials.


The vacuum arc plasma centrifuge of the Associated Plasma Laboratory achieved in 1996 the record angular rotation frequency of 8×105 radians per second.

Who is conducting this research at LAP?

  1. Dr. Edson Del Bosco
  2. Dr. Ing Hwie Tan
  3. Dr. Renato Sérgio Dallaqua

Other methods of isotope separation using plasmas

  1. In the Calutron, originally used for electromagnetic separation of isotopes, a long, thin beam of ions is produced from a magnetoelectrically confined plasma discharge (modified Penning discharge).
  2. In the cyclotron resonance method a radiofrequency field selectively energizes one of the ionized isotopes in magnetically confined plasma; isotopes are differentiated and the more energetic is collected.
  3. In the laser induced selective ionization method an electric field extracts the ions from the weakly ionized plasma and guides them up to collecting plates.
One of the strong motivations for the development of efficient isotope separation methods is the industrial production of reactor grade uranium. In the process of isotope separation by laser-induced selective ionization, the uranium 235 photoions are extracted by an electric field and collected on product plates. The remaining vapor, consisting mostly of unionized uranium 238 atoms, streams through and condenses on the tails collector plate.

The laser induced selective ionization method is investigated in the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Aerospace Technological Center, in São José dos Campos, SP (

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