Rapid analysis of trinitite with nuclear forensic applications for post-detonation material analyses

Nicholas Sharp, William F. McDonough, Brian W. Ticknor, Richard D. Ash, Philip M. Piccoli, Dana T. Borg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Analysis of post-nuclear detonation materials provides information on the type of device and its origin. Compositional analysis of trinitite glass, fused silicate material produced from the above ground plasma during the detonation of the Trinity nuclear bomb, reveals gross scale chemical and isotopic heterogeneities indicative of limited convective re-homogenization during accumulation into a melt pool at ground zero. Regions rich in weapons grade Pu have also been identified on the surface of the trinitite sample. The absolute and relative abundances of the lanthanoids in the glass are comparable to that of average upper crust composition, whereas the isotopic abundances of key lanthanoids are distinctly non-normal. The trinitite glass has a non-normal Nd isotope composition, with deviations of −1.75 ± 0.60 ε (differences in parts in 104) in 142Nd/144Nd, +2.24 ± 0.75 ε in 145Nd/144Nd, and +1.01 ± 0.38 ε in 148Nd/144Nd (all errors cited at 2σ) relative to reference materials: BHVO-2 and Nd-Ames metal. Greater isotopic deviations are found in Gd, with enrichments of +4 ± 1 ε in 155Gd/160Gd, +4.19 ± 0.75 ε in 156Gd/160Gd, and +3.48 ± 0.52 ε in 158Gd/160Gd compared to BHVO-2. The isotopic deviations are consistent with a 239Pu based fission device with additional 235U fission contribution and a thermal neutron fluence between 1.4 and 0.97 × 1015 neutrons/cm2.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-67
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Oct
Externally publishedYes


  • Laser-ablation and solution inductively coupled mass spectrometry
  • Nd and Gd isotopic ratios
  • Nuclear forensics
  • Trinitite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Pollution
  • Spectroscopy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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