Phoenix’s neutron generator technology utilizes deuterium-deuterium (DD) and deuterium-tritium (DT) nuclear fusion reactions to generate an extremely high and stable neutron flux. Our neutron generators are the strongest fusion-based neutron sources in the world, with a high yield making them suitable for industrial applications of both thermal and fast neutrons.
Phoenix’s Neutron Generator Technology
Phoenix, LLC builds the strongest compact neutron generators in the world. By using an electrically driven accelerator to cause nuclear fusion reactions, our neutron generators can create enough neutron radiation to drive critical industrial applications, such as radiation effects testing, neutron imaging, nuclear fuel assay, ion implantation, medical isotope production, and more.
By using a miniature particle accelerator and an ion beam to cause a fusion reaction and produce tens of trillions of neutrons per second, Phoenix’s high-yield, high-flux neutron generators provide a compact, accessible, clean alternative to reactor facilities for nondestructive testing and other industrial applications.
Neutron Generators for Sale
Phoenix designs and manufactures intermediate- and high-yield neutron generators. Our neutron generators are compact, with small footprints and huge outputs, making them ideal solutions for neutron radiography, medical isotope production, radiation survivability testing, cargo screening, explosives testing, and special nuclear material testing. Our neutron generators can be installed onsite, providing unlimited access to neutron radiation and reducing the need for third-party neutron sources such as reactors.
High Yield Neutron Generator
Our Alectryon system is the world’s strongest compact DT neutron generator, with a gaseous target to maximize neutron yield and system lifetime. Alectryon can be configured to operate with either a tritium target for maximum output or a deuterium target.
Compact Neutron Generator
Our Thunderbird system offers high neutron yield using deuterium-deuterium reactions. Due to the absence of tritium within the system, regulatory burdens are low and the system’s footprint is notably smaller than the Alectryon’s. A more compact, mobile version of Thunderbird provides intermediate neutron yield.
What Is a Neutron Generator?
A neutron generator is a device that produces neutron radiation. Neutron generators are one of several sources of neutron radiation. Other sources include nuclear fission reactors, large-scale particle accelerator systems (spallation sources), and intense neutron-emitting elements (such as the synthetic element californium-252, or 252Cf). Neutron generators come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but the common element between all neutron generators is that they produce neutrons by nuclear fusion.
Unlike other neutron sources, neutron generators do not rely on breaking atoms apart to produce neutron radiation. Instead of splitting heavy elements apart to create lighter ones, neutron generators combine light elements to create heavier ones, liberating a few neutrons from the involved nuclei in the process.
Neutron generators tend to be much more compact than reactors; some are even small enough to fit on a desktop. However, the smaller ones produce a low neutron yield. Low-yield neutron generators are very useful for many applications such as oil well logging, but unlike the intermediate- and high-yield generators built here at Phoenix, they are not strong enough for certain critical industrial, research, and defense applications.
Phoenix has developed the first fusion neutron generator that is both high-yield and compact in its design compared to a reactor. With an accelerator-based system capable of producing more neutrons in a sustained reaction than any other man-made fusion reactor, Phoenix’s neutron generators can match nuclear reactor performance in many areas, making them ideal for critical industrial applications including neutron imaging and radiation effects testing.
How Do Neutron Generators Work?
Neutron generators use a compact linear particle accelerator to fuse isotopes of hydrogen together. Phoenix’s current generation of neutron generators primarily use a beam of deuterium ions to drive neutron production. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen with one extra neutron in its nucleus (a hydrogen atom typically consists of only a proton and an electron). By stripping away a deuterium atom’s single electron, you end up with a positively-charged atom consisting solely of a neutron and a proton. The positively-charged ions are consolidated into a beam and fired at a target at up to 300kV.
The target inside a neutron generator can be a solid or a gas, and it can contain either more deuterium or another hydrogen isotope called tritium. Neutron generators with a deuterium target are known as DD neutron generators (deuterium-deuterium) because the ensuing fusion reaction caused when the ion beam hits the target is between two deuterium atoms. Neutron generators with a tritium target are likewise called DT generators (deuterium-tritium).
When the ion beam hits the target, atoms of deuterium or tritium within the target fuse with the deuterium ions to create heavier isotopes of hydrogen and release extra neutrons. These extra neutrons are emitted from the neutron generator to be used for a wide range of industrial applications.
One key benefit neutron generators offer over other neutron sources, especially nuclear reactors, is that by relying on light elements such as hydrogen isotopes, they produce very little nuclear waste. While DT neutron generators have increased regulatory burdens over DD neutron generators due to the presence of tritium, both variants of neutron source require much less oversight than fission reactors. Unlike reactors, which are very tightly regulated to prevent radioactive material from harming people or the surrounding environment, neutron generators are much cleaner and much easier to safely maintain.
DD and DT neutron generators, unlike reactor sources and neutron emitters, can be turned off quickly and easily when the need arises. On the other hand, nuclear reactor shutdown procedures are complex and slow, and neutron emitters like 252Cf cannot be shut off at all.
Phoenix’s Neutron Generator Advantage
Intermediate-yield DD neutron generators and high-yield DT neutron generators
High neutron flux and fluence ideal for critical industrial and research applications
Open tube accelerator system allows for easy target replenishment even when in operation
Phoenix’s neutron generators are comparatively compact, low-waste, and simple to operate
Compact neutron generator design enables onsite installation
Low regulatory burdens
Sealed Tube Neutron Generators vs Open Tube Generators
The vast majority of neutron generators are “sealed tube” neutron sources, so named because the critical components of the generators, including the ion source and beam target, are contained within a vacuum-tight enclosure. The earliest sealed neutron tube was invented in the 1930s not long after the discovery of the neutron and has largely driven neutron generator technology since then.
Sealed tube neutron sources have some drawbacks, especially when paired with gas beam targets. The gas target in a sealed tube neutron generator quickly depletes itself over the course of its operation and must be replaced at great expense. However, Phoenix’s neutron generators utilize an open tube system which allows the gas target to be continually replenished even while the generators are still in use.
Neutron Generator Applications
Neutron generators of sufficiently high yield have many applications in a wide variety of sectors and industries, such as:
Nondestructive testing (NDT) professionals use radiography techniques to inspect the inner workings of objects without having to dismantle or break them. Neutron radiography sees the most use in aerospace and defense, where it is used to root out flaws that X-rays cannot detect in high-volume parts with high costs of failure such as aircraft engine turbine blades, munitions, and ejection mechanisms. Phoenix’s neutron generators are the first compact fusion neutron source with a high enough yield to match the throughput of nuclear reactor facilities.
Medical Isotope Production
Medical radioisotopes are vital for performing medical imaging scans and diagnosing patients of maladies such as cancer and heart disease. Tens of thousands of these procedures are done on a daily basis around the world. There are frequent shortages because the radioisotopes decay so rapidly and there are so few sites in the world producing molybdenum-99 (99Mo), which the other isotopes are all derived from. Phoenix’s high-yield neutron source can also be used for medical isotope production with a smaller footprint and cleaner environmental impact compared to nuclear reactors.
Radiation Survivability Testing and Radiation Hardening
Manufacturers of materials in the aerospace, defense, and energy sectors frequently have to deal with the fact that their products may have to operate in high-radiation environments, such as space or the interiors of nuclear reactor facilities. Circuitry used in spacecraft and satellites must be designed to withstand the destructive forces of radiation without malfunctioning or failing. Boron composite shielding used to contain spent nuclear fuel must function properly as a radiation absorber in order to prevent radiation from leaking out and causing harm to people and the surrounding environment. Phoenix’s neutron generators can be used to test such products and help manufacturers develop better radiation-hardened components.
Nuclear Fuel Scanning
Neutron radiation plays a critical role in quality assurance for nuclear fuel rods. Nuclear fuel rods must meet high quality standards before being installed in a fission reactor, such as size, shape, and enriched uranium content. Damaged and defective fuel rods must be rooted out in order to ensure that the reactor operates smoothly, and neutron radiation can be applied to find these damages and defects. Most nuclear fuel scanning systems use californium-252 as a neutron source. Phoenix is investigating a nuclear fuel scanning system using a high yield neutron generator as a source in lieu of 252Cf.
Screening and detection
Neutron radiation can be used as a tool for detecting and identifying the compositions of explosives such as IEDs and can also be used to scan for special nuclear material (SNM). When neutrons interact with certain energetic compounds found in explosive devices or radioactive materials, they cause the materials to give off gamma radiation. The wavelengths of the radiation can be used to identify the materials. Phoenix has developed a mobile screening and detection system using our intermediate-yield neutron generators that can be deployed in the field to find hidden explosives such as IEDs.
Low-yield neutron sources also see use for applications such as concrete inspection and oil well logging. Since low-yield neutron generators can take up very little space, they are most useful for situations which prioritize portability over neutron yield.
Other Neutron Sources
Most neutron sources rely on nuclear fission, or the splitting of heavy elements such as uranium into lighter elements. When an atom of uranium breaks apart into lighter elements such as krypton and barium, the process leaves a small amount of extra neutrons which are not attached to any nucleus. Spallation sources produce neutrons by shooting a high-energy particle at an atom to break the neutrons off of the nucleus. Neutron emitting elements such as californium-252 are constantly undergoing radioactive decay and produce free neutrons as the material breaks down.
Fission neutron sources all have their own drawbacks. Nuclear reactor facilities are extremely heavily regulated because if accidents happen, they can cause serious harm to human life and to the surrounding environment. For this reason, there are only a handful of nuclear reactors in the US that can be rented out for commercial use, such as industrial neutron imaging or radiation hardening, and they can be difficult to access. Spallation sources are massive particle accelerators that can only be used for research purposes. Neutron emitters are difficult to procure since they are not naturally-occurring elements and must be synthesized in a lab.