Gallium Safety in the Laboratory Page: 2 of 10
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Gallium Safety in the Laboratory
Mr. Lee C. Cadwallader
Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
P.O. Box 1625
Idaho Falls, ID 83415-3860
voice (208) 526-1232 / fax (208) 526-2930
A university laboratory experiment for the US Department of Energy magnetic fusion research
program required a simulant for liquid lithium. The simulant choices were narrowed to liquid
gallium and galinstan (Ga-In-Sn) alloy. Safety information on liquid gallium and galinstan were
compiled, and the choice was made to use galinstan. A laboratory safety walkthrough was
performed in the fall of 2002 to support the galinstan experiment. The experiment has been
operating successfully since early 2002.
The US Department of Energy magnetic fusion research program has been investigating ideas
for improving the longevity and operational availability of fusion experiments, and potentially,
fusion power plants. One of the suggestions is to use flowing liquid walls to protect the vacuum
vessel rather than solid armor tiles that have been used in the past. The liquid walls have the
advantages of being "self-renewing" under radiation and thermal damage, they transfer heat well,
and they shield the vessel walls well.1 Experiments have been initiated to test liquid walls in
fusion conditions.2 The Magnetic Toroidal Liquid Metal Flow Loop (MTOR) experiment3 at the
University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) was designed to test and develop models for the
flow properties of unirradiated liquid metal as it traverses a magnetic field similar to the
magnetic fields used for ion confinement in a fusion experiment. While liquid lithium and
lithium-tin are the leading candidates for the liquid wall material, and would be the best fluids to
test in the MTOR experiment, the university lab staff were reluctant to handle large quantities
(50 liters and more) of 200 C lithium. Alternatives were sought to determine if any other liquid
metals would behave similarly to lithium or Li-Sn so that experiment results could be scaled to
give general results for lithium. After surveying the likely candidate metals, gallium was the
obvious choice. Gallium is much less chemically reactive than lithium or other alkali metals, it
melts at a lower temperature than other light metals, and is less costly than pure alkali metals.
Gallium properties and industrial uses were investigated to determine if there were any unique or
special hazards associated with gallium. The gallium alloy, galinstan, was also investigated to
compare to gallium metal. This paper discusses the safety issues with using gallium and
galinstan, the choice of galinstan alloy, and overview results of the safety walkthrough.
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Cadwallader, Lee C. Gallium Safety in the Laboratory, article, June 1, 2003; [Idaho Falls, Idaho]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc883384/m1/2/: accessed November 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.