University of Birmingham to open national neutron facility

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A national High-Flux Accelerator facility is being developed on the University of Birmingham campus to support the study of neutron interactions in materials for the nuclear sector.

The High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility will create a new international research capability and a national training programme to boost the UK skills base in these state-of-the-art techniques.

The facility will be used to accelerate low energy protons to produce neutrons, providing researchers with the opportunity to better understand the science of how neutrons interact with matter, with applications extending to nuclear medicine and space.

Scientists will also be able to study the properties of materials used in nuclear energy production - such as fission and fusion - through to the nuclear fusion reactions that take place in stars. But principally, the facility is designed to support the development of the UK’s next generation nuclear energy facilities. The proton accelerator installation will take place in spring 2022 and this new national facility will be fully operational by summer of 2022.

Professor Bill Chaplin , Head of the School of Physics, said: ’We’re delighted to be hosting this important new national facility, which will leverage a long-standing track record of expertise and experience in the School.’

Noah Smick, Chief Operating Officer at Neutron Therapeutics , the supplier of the High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility said: ’Neutron Therapeutics is thrilled to be involved in this exciting project. The team at the University of Birmingham are leaders in the field and we look forward to supporting their research program. The facility is the first of its kind and we hope it will serve as a model for others interested in using neutrons for research without relying on a nuclear reactor.’

The High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility at the University of Birmingham forms part of the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF). NNUF is funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as a Government investment in the UK’s nuclear future.

Chris Grovenor, Professor of Materials at the University of Oxford and PI of the NNUF Management Group, said: ’The Management Group of the National Nuclear User Facility project is delighted to welcome the progress being made with installing the new neutron source in Birmingham. We are looking forward to the exciting new research on nuclear materials that it will allow the UK academic community to undertake in support of the nuclear industry which will be providing us with reliable baseload electricity for many decades.’

Neil Bateman, Senior Portfolio Manager at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), delivery partners for the NNUF, said: ’The University of Birmingham has a longstanding history of operating research in such facilities and has the infrastructure to provide the shielding and technical expertise to ensure the safe operation of the facility. The facility will be operated in accordance with the strict guidelines set out and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency. The National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF) panel have backed the development of the facility, recognising that the building and experience offered by the University will allow the accelerator to be developed successfully and operated safely.’

He added: ’Having these unique facilities on the University of Birmingham campus will also offer training opportunities. This is across the spectrum from accelerator science, materials science and irradiation, management of high radiation environments and applied nuclear science. The type of skills and training, that a hands-on facility can provide, will allow researchers to be active players in the operation and future development of other international facilities and their programmes.’


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