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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Building A Portable Neutron Generator For Industrial Applications

Recent Indian effort to build a portable Neutron Generator.

Neutron Generators are finding increasing application for accurate detection of explosives, fissile materials & narcotics. They are also extensively used in the oil & gas exploration, detecting mineral purity, as well as waste management. Neutrons generating methods include conventional Nuclear Reactors, as well as Radioisotope materials, like Pu-Be, Am-Be, Cf, utilising fission decay process to obtain Neutron. However, associated with these methods are inherent safety risk of continual radioactivity, as well as their low source strength. These setups are bulky, requiring large power source for operation.


The search for a safe & portable Neutron Generator to meet industry requirement is leading researchers to explore other processes of generation. One such method, utilising Fusion process is the Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion principle. The Institute for Plasma Research [IPR], in its January 2017 Newsletter, announced operation of its Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion [IECF] device, built at its Centre of Plasma Physics [CPP] campus in Nazirakhat, Assam. The first such indigenous device in India, they have reported generation of 10^8 Neutrons/second, in steady state operation, while in the pulsed mode, it is expected to produce 10^10 Neutrons/second. Being based on fusion, the reaction can be turned on and off as required, by controling the electric field and flow of gas, generating no radioactivity, when not operational.


In a nutshell, the ICEF device generates Neutron by fusing 2 lighter atoms of Deuterium [Proton:1; Neutron:1, each] into a Helium-3 atom [Proton: 2; Neutron: 1], freeing up a Neutron. The setup consists of a gas injection system, attached to a cylindrical vacuum chamber, housing a coaxial cylindrical electric grid, across which is applied a potential difference of -30 to -60 kV. When Deuterium is injected into the chamber, the electric field ionises it, turning it into plasma. The positively charged Plasma accelerates towards the negatively charged inner grid, where they collide with each other, undergoing Fusion, to produce stable Helium-3 atom, as well as releasing Neutrons & energy.

This is, in fact, also the answer to the question put forth in the earlier post.


Also Read: FBR-600 - India's Next-gen Commercial Fast Breeder Reactor [CFBR]