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NPL and CERN partner to foster the development of new nuclear technologies

5 minute read

NPL has signed an MoU with the European Laboratory for Particle Physics - CERN to join its neutron time-of-flight facility (n_TOF) in Geneva, Switzerland. n_TOF is a world-leading facility for neutron measurements delivering a high-flux neutron beam with a wide energy range. The n_TOF collaboration includes more than 50 research institutes worldwide carrying out research programmes which underpin a range of scientific ambitions from fundamental science to applied nuclear physics.

At the CERN facility, NPL will perform accurate cross section measurements of neutron induced nuclear reactions relevant to the development of new nuclear technologies including advanced nuclear reactors (Gen-IV) and fuel cycles. A particular interest of NPL is to study reactions producing Hydrogen, Tritium, and Helium in a range of materials. This data underpins the development of tritium breeding blankets, plasma-facing armor components, and reactor component lifetime against radiation damage—all of which are key to the commercialisation of fusion.

Nuclear fusion is seen as a long-term sustainable energy source. The UK government recently outlined plans to increase the UK’s nuclear generation by up to four times by 2050, and new investments for £650 million on top of the country’s existing fusion programmes. A significant part of the investment in nuclear power will be in the private sector and universities, with the aim of stimulating the intense research and development which is required to overcome specific technical challenges associated with generating electricity from nuclear fusion. These include material issues resulting from the intense flux of neutrons involved and creating the conditions to achieve ignition, to ensure nuclear fusion is fit for purpose as a safe, stable and sustainable source of energy.

In collaboration with other n_TOF members, the NPL team hopes to open the way for a dedicated experimental programme at n_TOF that will lead to more reliable simulation and operational understanding of next generation fission and fusion reactors. NPL will be working closely with a range of other UK centres, including the University of Manchester, University of Surrey, University of Birmingham, Lancaster University, University of York, and UKAEA. Critical to NPL ambitions is the support of the PostGraduate Institute (PGI) at NPL, which has already helped in securing two PhD students to enable NPL to provide a leading role in the collaboration.   

The proposed collaboration is likely to have long-term technological and economic benefits, particularly with respect to the development of ‘next generation’ nuclear fusion systems for energy production. The programme will also help underpin the longstanding NPL neutron research programme, using the recently funded upgrade to the existing on-site neutron facility for key measurements and traceability chains, and also allowing the further dissemination of key NPL-based expertise in nuclear metrology and radiochemistry.

Cyrus Larijani, Strategic Business Development Manager, said, “I am very pleased that NPL will join the n_TOF collaboration, this expands the NPL external network, and gives our scientists a new opportunity to lead solutions to the world’s challenges. It is also an effective return of investments that UK has made over the years at CERN.”

Giuseppe Lorusso, NPL Senior Scientist, said, “This is a great opportunity to participate in frontline nuclear physics research and provide answers to long lasting open questions. Being a member of the n_TOF scientific board gives me an important platform to influence the direction in which international research is undertaken.”

Prof. Paddy Regan, NPL Fellow in Nuclear and Radiation Science and Metrology, said, “The new formal agreement between CERN and NPL regarding the n_TOF collaboration should be a gamechanger in terms of the UK’s neutron research capabilities and impact. In particular, the proposed future international research programmes of relevance to next generation nuclear fission and fusion research are the cutting edge of this work internationally.”

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02 May 2024