Intense Photoneutron Sources For Nuclear Material Detection

Gozani, Tsahi; Shaw, Timothy; King, Michael
June 2011
AIP Conference Proceedings;6/1/2011, Vol. 1336 Issue 1, p696
Academic Journal
Intense neutron sources are essential for cargo inspection for a broad range of threats from explosives, to contraband, to nuclear materials and especially SNM (Special Nuclear Materials). To be effective over a wide range of cargo materials, in particular for hydrogenous cargo such as food, and to offer practical inspection times, the neutron source must be very strong, typically >1010 neutrons per second. Unfortunately there are currently no reasonably compact and economical neutron generators with the required intensities. The insufficiency and inadequacy of intense neutron sources are especially conspicuous in the ≤2.5 MeV range (low voltage (d,D) generator). This energy range is needed if the strong signature of prompt fission neutrons (≈3 per fission) is to be detected and discerned from the numerous source neutrons. The photonuclear reactions of x-rays from commercial linacs in appropriate converters can provide ample intensities of neutrons. These converters have a very low (γ,n) energy threshold: 1.67 MeV for beryllium and 2.23 MeV for deuterium. The intense x-ray beams provided by commercial x-ray systems, more than compensate for the relatively low (γ,n) cross-sections which are in the milli-barn range. The choice of converter material, the geometrical shape, dimensions and location relative to the x-ray source, determine the efficiency of the neutron conversion. For electron accelerators with less than 10 MeV, the preferred converters, Be and D2O, are also very good neutron moderators. Thus, while increasing the converters' thickness leads to an increase in the overall neutron yield, this causes the softening of the neutron spectrum, which reduces the neutron penetration especially in hydrogenous cargos. Photoneutron sources can be optimized to meet specific needs such as maximum fission signals in various cargo materials of interest. Efficient photoneutron sources with different energy spectra were investigated. Conversion efficiency of more than 10-4 neutron per 9 MeV electron yielding neutron intensities of more than 1011 n/s for commercial 100 μAmp electron accelerators has been modeled and designed. The simulation was validated in laboratory experiments using small Be and D2O converters.


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