After much hard work from our engineers, we have now demonstrated the capability to take ASTM Category I neutron radiographs at our new accelerator-based industrial radiography facility, the Phoenix Neutron Imaging Center (PNIC) in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. Though we’ve come close in the past, this is the first time we have managed to meet and exceed all of the criteria set forth by ASTM International regarding the highest possible quality of neutron images. ASTM Category I images are the highest image quality level specified by ASTM E545, the gold standard for defining the quality of neutron radiographs, and until now only nuclear reactor facilities were capable of producing the magnitude of neutrons needed to create Category I images.
It isn’t just about neutron yield, though, though having the most powerful fusion neutron generators in the world plays an important role. It’s about the whole system. Every little detail about the materials used in the system and its design plays a role in squeezing out as much quality as possible. This milestone wouldn’t have been possible without our engineers at PNIC giving it their all to make our neutron radiography system the best it can be.
Neutron imaging has always lagged behind its cousin, X-ray imaging, because whereas X-rays were comparatively easy to produce, neutron radiation has always required nuclear reactions and thus advanced nuclear technology. When Phoenix began constructing its first neutron imaging system back in 2012 under a Small Business Innovation and Research contract with the US Army, the idea that a compact neutron generator that used nuclear fusion could create high-quality neutron radiographs was still just an idea. Reactor facilities were still the kings of quality, being the only neutron imaging vendors capable of producing Category I radiographs. The ability to generate ultra-high-quality neutron images with a small, relatively low-cost, accelerator-based neutron imaging system is truly an industry game-changer. With the Phoenix system able to duplicate reactor throughput as well as quality, this marks a turning point in the realm of N-ray analogous to the early use of compact x-ray generators in medical diagnostics over a century ago. It is a first step in making neutron imaging as ubiquitous as x-ray imaging is today.