Neutron radiation plays a key role in many forms of testing and analysis for both research and commercial purposes, including nondestructive materials evaluation and the production of lifesaving medical radioisotopes. Until now, accelerator-based DD and DT neutron generators have had low neutron yields (neutrons per second), limiting their usefulness in some of these areas.
Phoenix develops and builds the strongest compact DD neutron generators in the world. When it comes to neutron yield, our high flux neutron generator systems outmatch all other systems of similar or lesser size and form factor and provide lower costs-per-neutron with simpler regulatory burdens compared to a nuclear reactor facility.
The neutron radiation produced by our deuterium-deuterium fusion neutron generators can be used for a wide variety of research and industrial purposes, including:
- Neutron radiography
- Neutron activation analysis
- Radiation effects testing
- Nuclear fuel scanning
- Screening and detection
Our DD neutron generators produce intermediate to high neutron yields, ideal performance levels for industrial applications of neutron radiation.
A DD neutron generator, or deuterium-deuterium neutron generator, is a system that creates neutron radiation by fusion reactions between deuterium atoms. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen containing an extra neutron. When two deuterium atoms collide and produce a fusion reaction, they create free neutrons which comprise neutron radiation along with helium ions.
Phoenix’s neutron generator designs are accelerator-based rather than relying on fissile material to generate neutrons. A compact particle accelerator produces an ion source which plasma beam comprised of positively-charged accelerated deuterium ions. The ion source creates accelerated ions in the beam collide with a target containing deuterium, causing a fusion reaction and neutron production.
Fission reactor facilities produce neutron radiation by breaking down fissile, highly enriched uranium and produce heavy radioactive elements such as krypton and barium, which remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years, as waste. Accelerator-based fusion neutron generators, on the other hand, produce far less waste and have far fewer safety and logistical regulatory burdens. In fact, DD neutron generators produce no radioactive byproducts apart from high-energy neutrons, limiting possible danger to personnel and environmental health.
DD neutron generators can use a solid target or a gas target to produce fusion reactions. The solid target consists of layers of material containing deuterium. Phoenix’s solid-target generator has a lifetime of over 10,000 hours of operation before the target must be replaced.
Gas targets contain pure deuterium in gaseous form. Phoenix’s unique open neutron tube system allows the gas target to be continuously replenished while the system is in operation; the open neutron tube system for an essentially indefinite lifespan.
DD neutron generators are an intermediate- to high-yield fusion neutron source compared to DT (deuterium-tritium) neutron generators, which have a higher yield and produce higher energy neutrons. DT neutron generators produce fusion reactions between deuterium and tritium, another hydrogen isotope.
While DT neutron generators are more powerful than DD neutron generators, there are more regulatory burdens in place regarding their development, installation, and use. Tritium is a regulated material and produces beta radiation that is hazardous to humans, so DT generators require extra shielding.
DD neutron generators and DT neutron generators occupy separate, overlapping niches when it comes to their uses. DD neutron generators are the ideal system to meet your radiation needs if you require an intermediate neutron yield within the range of 109 to 1012 neutrons per second. For higher neutron yields, DT neutron generators system are ideal. Phoenix’s Alectryon systems can be configured as DT neutron generators for customers requiring higher neutron yields.
The Thunderbird300 and Alectryon300 are Phoenix’s compact, intermediate- to high-yield deuterium-deuterium (DD) neutron generators. Our DD neutron generators were designed for customers who require a high neutron yield, do not want to deal with the regulatory burdens associated with tritium systems, and have limitations in terms of the physical size and weight of the system.
Thunderbird is the highest output solid target DD neutron generator available. Because the system uses no tritium, regulatory burden and required shielding are significantly reduced. Thunderbird is a lower flux system but is compact enough to be self-shielded, allowing it to be used without a bunker.
Thunderbird utilizes a self-loading, self-impregnating solid target to produce variable neutron output between 1×109 and 1×1011 neutrons per second. The solid target is composed of titanium and copper, and because it is self-loaded, its lifetime is drastically increased compared to other solid target systems, with a lifetime exceeding 10,000 hours. Furthermore, the system’s neutron yield remains constant over the life of the target, thanks to a propriety target cleaning and replenishing procedure that can be performed while the system is in operation.
The Thunderbird system is packaged with an integrated control system, all power supplies, and all other associated electronics. Shielding and moderator material is available upon request. The form factor of this system can be modified within certain bounds to fit within an existing facility.
Our largest DD system, the Alectryon300, can be used for neutron imaging, radiation effects testing, and other experimental work requiring a high flux with large irradiation zone. A thermal neutron flux cavity is indispensable for testing radiation shielding components or performing radiation survivability testing or radiation hardening on items. Thermal neutrons, or neutrons which have been slowed down by a moderator such that their energies drop to around 0.025 eV, are frequently used to simulate the conditions of high-radiation environments. Our DD neutron generators can apply a uniform thermal flux as high as 108 neutrons per square centimeter per second to relatively large neutron flux cavities, enabling radiation hardening and effects testing for large parts.
Phoenix’s DD neutron generator systems are useful for a number of different applications including explosives and SNM detection, nuclear fuel scanning, fast neutron radiography, and as a source for thermal neutron flux cavities.
Phoenix is developing nuclear fuel inspection systems relying on our Thunderbird system as a neutron source. Neutron radiation is used to check the enrichment levels in the uranium fuel pellets inside fuel rods used in nuclear reactors to ensure that they can be used safely. Typically, the neutron sources used in fuel rod testing systems are californium-252, a synthesized isotope of californium that produces massive amounts of neutron radiation. Since californium-252 does not occur in nature, it can be difficult to procure. Additionally, it only has a half-life of 2.5 years, so it must be replaced regularly. A deuterium-deuterium neutron source can provide sufficient neutron yield for fuel rod inspection without the drawbacks associated with this element.
A heavily modified version of our Thunderbird system with a smaller form factor geared toward mobile usage forms the basis of NEMESIS, a prototype system for the standoff detection of buried and concealed IEDs. The principle of neutron activation, in which elements release gamma radiation when exposed to neutrons, can be used to detect certain materials. In addition to detecting improvised explosives, Phoenix is also looking into the possibility of utilizing neutron activation for detecting smuggled nuclear material and other contraband detection applications at border crossings and ports of entry.