Award Date

5-1-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Materials and Nuclear Engineering

Department

Mechanical Engineering

First Committee Member

Alexander Barzilov

Second Committee Member

William B. Culbreth

Third Committee Member

Yitung Chen

Fourth Committee Member

Gary Cerefice

Number of Pages

120

Abstract

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, there has been a strong demand for the development of efficient technologies for the detection of ionizing radiation. According to the United States' Department of Energy, the accurate assessment of fissile materials is essential in achieving the nonproliferation goals of enhancing safety and security of nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear energy facilities [1]. Nuclear materials can be characterized by the measurement of prompt and delayed neutrons and gamma rays emitted in spontaneous or induced fission reactions [2] and neutrons emitted in fission reactions are the distinctive signatures of nuclear materials. Today, the most widely used neutron detection technologies rely on thermal neutron capture reactions using a moderating material to cause the neutron to lose its energy prior to the detection event. This is necessary because as the fission event occurs, neutrons are emitted carrying high amounts of energy, typically on the order of mega electron volts (MeV). These energetic particles are classified as "fast" neutrons. For detecting the thermal neutrons, the Helium-3 (3He) gas-filled counters are arguably the most widely used technology of neutron detection.

3He counters have been the scientific standard for the nuclear engineering community for several decades, and have earned their place as a reliable technique for the detection of neutrons. However, 3He gas-filled counters have several disadvantages. First, gas-filled counters are not rigid and are sensitive to vibrations. Secondly, gas-filled counters are prone to the count rate limitations due to the physical processes of charge multiplication and transport in the gas medium in the electric field. Lastly, 3He gas-filled counters suffer from a supply shortage of the 3He isotope. As it is stated in [3], this shortage is created by the new demand for Helium-3 due to the deployment of neutron detectors at the borders after the 9/11 attack to help secure the nation against smuggled nuclear and radiological material. Moreover, the production of 3He isotope as a byproduct of security programs was drastically decreased. This isotope shortage coupled with the disadvantages of relying on a detector that requires neutron moderation before the detection of fission neutrons, poses a significant challenge in supporting the existing detection systems and the development of future technologies [4].

To address this problem, a reliable and accurate alternative technology to detect neutrons emitted in fissions must be developed. One such alternative technology that shows promise in this application is the use of scintillators based on solid state materials (plastics) which are sensitive to fast neutrons. However, plastic scintillators are also sensitive to photons. Hence, it is necessary to separate the neutron signals from the photon signals, using the pulse shape discrimination (PSD) analysis. The PSD is based on the comparison of the pulse shapes of digitized signal waveforms.

This approach allows for the measurement of fast neutrons without the necessity of their moderation. Because the fission spectrum neutrons are mainly fast, methods employing fast neutron detection are applicable for the assay of fissile materials. In addition, the average time of scintillation of the plastic medium is much shorter than those of the gaseous counters, thus allowing scintillation detectors to be used in high count rate environments. Furthermore, the temporal information of the fast neutron detection using multiple sensors enables the time correlation analysis of the fission neutron multiplicity. The study of time correlation measurements of fast neutrons using the array of plastic scintillators is the basis of this work.

The array of four plastic scintillator detectors equipped with the digital data acquisition and analysis system was developed. The digital PSD analysis of detector signals "on-the-fly" was implemented for the array. The time coincidence measurement technique using the list mode was employed for two detectors operating on the single time scale. This was necessary as no fission source was available to be used as a fast neutron multiplicity source. The detection technology was tested using isotopic photon sources and a plutonium-beryllium neutron source. It was shown that the system can be effectively used for fast-neutron multiplicity measurements, through a "proof-of-concept" model, enabling a shorter width of the time coincidence window compared to the 3He counters. This result opens prospects to reduce the false coincidence rates in the neutron multiplicity measurements, thus increasing the sensitivity of nuclear material detection.

Keywords

Fast neutrons; Ionizing radiation; Neutron counters; Radioactive substances—Detection; Scintillators

Disciplines

Nuclear | Nuclear Engineering | Remote Sensing

Language

English


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