A Portable Neutron Source

A scientist or a researcher always works with a motivation that he should enroll himself with the necessities that could foster the retarding features of the society with scientifically advanced routes.  In this article, I would like to bring to your notice about an experimental device which would not only benefit but also nurture the essentials for the smooth running of the social inhabit with a developed phase. The device is based on the principle of inertial electrostatic confinement fusion (IECF) mainly runs in the fusion concept and  can be operated in pulsed as well as in continuous mode. The basic idea of IECF is to confine the plasma particles (mainly ions) electrostatically within a small domain preferably cylindrical or spherical geometry as shown in figure 1(a) & (b) respectively. Thus the device portability uplifts its operational characteristics and makes it more appealing compared to other fusion devices. Although, in this text, I have not discussed about the big fusion machines such as Tokamaks, Stellarators and Inertial confinement (pellet based laser enhanced confinement) which are basically utilized as a fusion power source or can be called as the future power generators.

Moreover, before discussing the well beings and functional prospects of IEC devices, it is necessary to mention that although the device drives on the principle of fusion but deviates from the above-mentioned fusion machines because the amount of energy released after fusion i.e. Q = Pfus/Pin (Pfus is the fusion power produced after nuclear fusion and Pin is the input power required to initiate the fusion) value is much smaller than the input energy required for initiating fusion of the ions. However, researchers employed the device for various near-term applications such as Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA), detection of land mines, neutron radiography, clandestine material detection at air and seaports, medical isotope production, plasma space propulsion, subcritical fusion–fission hybrid reactors, tunable x-ray sources etc.  It is necessary to mention that along with the laboratories of US (ITT labs, Wisconsin University, Ilinois, LANL etc), Japan (Kyoto, TITech etc) and Australia, India (CPP-IPR) also joined the elite group in the year 2014 with the goal of doing extensive research and development for bringing out an economic and compact linear neutron source based on the IEC principle for diverse practical utilities.

The device developed at CPP-IPR, India, shown in figure 1(b) basically consists of a nearly transparent hollow cathode of cylindrical geometry housed inside a vacuum chamber filled with the fuel gas (deuterium). Initially, glow discharge is initiated to ionize the background gas medium by making hot and cold cathode discharges. The deuterium ions, subject to the large electrostatic field of the order of few tens of kV, are accelerated towards the negatively charged inner cathode grid and subsequently create the fusion reactions. The fusion products that are emitted from the device would be diagnosed by employing suitable diagnostic tools such as neutron detector, gamma detector, proton detector etc.

A study on the historical background of the work, the discharge processes carried out in the present set up at CPP-IPR will be discussed briefly in my article to be followed next.


A research patron working in the field of Plasma and Nuclear Science. He prefers the hobby in writing scientific prologs and keeps a strong feeling in mind to promote knowledge by holding technology in hand.


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