The UK’s first high-flux neutron facility has been launched at the University of Birmingham. The facility will enable scientists to study the properties of materials used in nuclear energy production, with the aim to support the development of the UK’s next-generation nuclear energy generators.
Alongside this, it will provide research and training opportunities from understanding how neutrons interact with matter through to better understanding the nuclear fusion reactions that take place in stars.
The High Flux Accelerator Driven Neutron Facility is part of the National Nuclear User Facility, funded by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The machinery, supplied by Neutron Therapeutics, is capable of producing neutron fluxes, or flows, powerful enough to simulate the damage incurred by highly radiated components such as cladding or structural materials – vital knowledge in the development of nuclear power stations.
Other research opportunities will include the ability to gain a better understanding of the nuclear processes associated with both fusion and fission; understanding the long term effects of radiation on material used to store nuclear waste; designing the targets required for next generation neutron scattering facilities or subcritical nuclear reactors; and exploring the use of neutrons in medical therapies such as boron neutron capture therapy, used in selective treatment of cancer cells.
Opening the facility, the Rt Hon Lord Willetts FRS, former Minister for Universities and Science, said: “I am delighted to be opening this new facility in Birmingham, where I come from. It will operate at the far boundaries of scientific research and also be of enormous practical value for safe sustainable nuclear power.”
Professor Adam Tickell, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, said: “This facility is the first of its kind in the UK and we are proud to be hosting it here at the University of Birmingham, where our experts in nuclear physics are leaders in the field. It will provide immense opportunities for national and international research collaborations, as well as helping to solve some significant challenges in energy production.”
Chris Grovenor, chair of the National Nuclear User Facility Management Group said: “The Birmingham neutron source is the largest of the 35 facilities funded by the £82 million NNUF project to expand the UK’s ability to undertake world-class science and engineering on nuclear materials. It is very exciting to see the hard work of the team in very difficult times coming to fruition in the opening of the new centre. I am looking forward to seeing all the new data generated on neutron irradiation of materials support the nuclear renaissance in the UK that will contribute to stabilising our energy needs for many years to come.”
Dr Elizabeth Reczek, chief executive officer of Neutron Therapeutics, said: “Neutron Therapeutics is proud to be a part of this exciting project at the University of Birmingham. We look forward to continuing to support the important research that will be carried out here by the nuclear physics experts at the university and their many international collaborators. As the leading manufacturer of compact, high flux accelerators for boron neutron capture therapy in the hospital setting, we are particularly excited about the potential for collaborative research to drive innovation in this emerging field of cancer therapy.”