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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/M02489X/1
Title: Imaging and location of fast neutron emissions by real-time time-of-flight
Principal Investigator: Joyce, Professor MJ
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Engineering
Organisation: Lancaster University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 10 December 2015 Ends: 09 March 2020 Value (£): 530,918
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy - Nuclear
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
05 Aug 2015 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 5 August 2015 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The proposed research comprises a study into a different way in which to use neutrons to characterise nuclear environments. The proposed project is a collaboration led by the Department of Engineering at Lancaster University with expertise from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. Neutrons make up approximately half of the subatomic particles that constitute the nuclei of matter around us. They are uncharged and therefore do not interact strongly with the environment in comparison with other common forms of radiation such as gamma rays, protons electrons etc. However, they are emitted as a result of nuclear reactions in reactors and particle accelerators and are thus present in many environments associated with truly global applications of nuclear technology such as nuclear power, propulsion, the prevention of nuclear proliferation and nuclear medicine. Fortunately, because fast neutrons do not travel at the speed of light in the same way that gamma rays do, they are readily separated from gamma rays on the basis of how long they take to travel a set distance. This approach is widely referred to as 'time-of-flight' (ToF).

Exploiting the difference between the speed of fast neutrons and gamma rays on the basis of their time-of-flight is currently limited to rather esoteric applications such as finding the energy of neutrons at standards laboratories and particle accelerator facilities, for example at NPL and nTOF (CERN), respectively. Whilst this application is very important in the specific field of radiation metrology, wider application of the technique to infer the location of radioactive substances and the distribution of radiation emissions in industry and medicine has not yet been achieved.

The focus of this proposal is to invert the widely-accepted ToF approach referred to above (by which the usual objective is to estimate the energy of neutrons) to see if we can locate and image the origin of fast neutrons in environments where they arise. The hypothesis at the focus of this proposal is that, based on our prior knowledge of the energy distribution of neutrons in typical environments of interest (such as power reactors and medical facilities), is to determine whether it is possible to obtain an estimate of the distance from the site of detection to the site of neutron emission. This information might then be used to locate and potentially image a neutron-emitting system or substance; an Engineering use of the time-of-flight method that has not been explored before. This research will thus determine whether time-of-flight, performed digitally and in real-time, can be used to indicate the location and to potentially image a source of neutron radiation. The key objective of this research is to determine whether the ToF approach can be applied as an Engineering capability that will have a range of potential applications in industry and medicine. These include for example: preventing the theft of nuclear materials (nuclear safeguards), nuclear reactor characterisation, nuclear security and the characterisation of neutron fields that result from the use of protons in cancer therapy.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.lancs.ac.uk