This new neutron facility will support key research that underpins nuclear fission and fusion. Research into reactor materials and neutron sensors underpins the government’s clean energy and carbon emission targets. The thematic research areas that such a facility underpins include:
In order to develop next generation nuclear reactors and better validate the life-expectancy of current generation reactors, understanding materials degradation under neutron irradiation is important. There has been a tendency to rely on the use of protons as a surrogate for neutrons, but the validity of such studies is questionable. The present facility is targeted at materials and systems which lie beyond the reactor pressure vessel, i.e. not fuels. Beyond the civil nuclear applications, this facility would support research associated with the UK nuclear defence programme.
Nuclear fission and fusion data
The measurement of a series of key reactions, many involving neutron capture with higher energy neutrons, forms part of the challenge for a more precise understanding of the nuclear processes associated with both fusion and fission.
Nuclear waste management
The safe storage of nuclear waste requires a detailed understanding of the effects of nuclear radiations on the storage media (e.g. glass and ceramics for fission products) in order to understand the long-term effects of radiation on the materials’ characteristics.
High power targets
The development of many new facilities such as accelerator-driven subcritical reactors, or next generation spallation sources, involves development challenges around target design. The new facility will allow a UK base for such developments.
Understanding the radiobiology of neutron interactions is also very important, from cancer therapy to the effect of nuclear radiation from industrial, medical and space environments. Neutrons are used in a range of medical applications, but boron neutron capture therapy is a promising area, which has been developed initially in the UK and has potential clinical deployment opportunities.
The availability of a well-calibrated and controllable neutron source will be useful for nuclear metrology and the testing of new radiation monitoring systems, while also opening up an opportunity for the development and characterisation of new radiopharmaceuticals.
Neutron capture reactions are an important tool in nuclear spectroscopy and nuclear astrophysics, particularly in mapping the s-process paths close to the valley of stability – the key to understanding the synthesis path of heavier elements is being able to accurately determine both the spectroscopy and the neutron capture rate. The spectrum of neutrons produced will be very close to that in stellar environments.