Helium-3 to be produced from tritium stored at Canada’s Darlington station

September 16, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
Don Perrie (left), of OPG, and Michael Lefebvre, of Laurentis Energy Partners, examine the He-3 extraction tool installed at Darlington NPP

Laurentis Energy Partners, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), has launched a new program to produce helium-3. The He-3 will be obtained from tritium stored at OPG’s Darlington nuclear power plant, a four-unit CANDU station located about 100 kilometers east of Toronto.

Darlington houses one of the world’s largest reserves of tritium, which is a by-product of the heavy water used in CANDU reactors.

The process: Laurentis will extract He-3 from Darlington’s immobilized tritium containers (ITCs) using a new, custom-designed tool that the company installed and is now commissioning. The tritium in the ITCs slowly turns into He-3, which releases into the void space of the container where it can be extracted using the tool developed by Laurentis and its partners. Production of the isotope will begin before the end of the year, the company announced on September 15.

Applications: Laurentis noted that He-3 has a wide range of uses, including:

  • As a medical isotope, He-3 is a non-toxic inhalant used to produce detailed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of airways in the lung.
  • In border security, it is used in portal monitors to detect radioactive materials.
  • In neutron research, it is used in colliders to study anti-matter, one of the great mysteries of the universe.
  • In quantum computing, He-3 is used to reach near-absolute-zero temperatures, which reduces noise or interference in calculations; it is similarly used as a super-coolant in cryogenics.
  • It is also a potential fuel for fusion reactors.

Partner wanted: Laurentis is looking to develop a long-term commercial agreement with a company to further refine and distribute the rare isotope to customers around the world in health care, security, and advanced research.

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