The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has announced a new neutron measurement facility that will play a critical role in the safe and secure operation and continued development of the U.K.’s nuclear energy, defense, and fusion research sectors. The facility consists of a new particle accelerator and is one of only a few known facilities worldwide that offers precision traceable neutron standards.
In July 2023, the U.K. government outlined plans for a new series of nuclear reactors in a bid to boost U.K. energy security and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In addition, earlier this month, the government announced a roadmap that sets out how the U.K. will increase nuclear generation by up to 4 times by 2050. The new facility at NPL’s site in Teddington, south-west London, will provide all-important traceability regarding established safety protocols and stringent regulatory compliance that ensures these new-build reactors can help drive the rapid and safe expansion of nuclear power in the U.K.
More than 60 years after the installation of NPL’s first neutron measurement facility at Teddington, the new system allows the U.K. government to continue to “provide an enduring and resilient measurement infrastructure, ensuring that measurements can always be made in the U.K. with integrity and consistency”, as set out in the British Government’s 2022 U.K. Measurement Strategy for the National Measurement System.
The new accelerator system is six times as powerful as the one it is replacing and will be a 2.0 MV Coaxial VHC Tandetron manufactured by High Voltage Engineering Europa, The Netherlands, the same company that manufactured the current KN3000 Van de Graaff accelerator over 60 years ago.
The upgraded neutron facility addresses several current, future, and emerging needs in the nuclear sector, including:
- The characterization of new instrumentation and detectors required to ensure the U.K.’s nuclear infrastructure and future reactors operate safely and efficiently
- Provide the expertise and facilities to enable the characterization of neutron diagnostics, neutronics benchmark and validation experiments, and nuclear cross-section and decay-data measurement, to support the work at U.K.-based world-leading fusion research organizations and their supply chains
- Produce both monoenergetic and thermal neutron fields for U.K. Defense and Security
- The characterization and calibration of new area survey instruments and personal dosemeter products to assure the safety of workers within the nuclear sector
The upgrade has been funded by the former Department for Business for Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) PSRE Infrastructure Fund.
“We are reviving our nuclear industry to deliver net zero and secure our energy independence, with plans to build new large- and small-scale reactors,” said Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie.
“These upgrades to National Physical Laboratory’s (NPL) neutron facility will enable the safe and efficient operation of our new projects, as we ramp up clean and reliable nuclear power.”
“By extending the U.K.’s capability in neutron standards and device calibration which leads to improved accuracy and direct measurement in place of extrapolated data and therefore helping to accelerate work on advanced nuclear technologies, we are ensuring the U.K. is leading in this field,” said Dr. Peter Thompson, CEO of NPL.
“This is an exciting time for U.K. nuclear science and this facility is a concrete example of that. With this machine we will be able to continue to provide standards to U.K. and international customers with greater efficiency and reliability whilst extending our research into new areas such as nuclear data measurements in support of fusion,” said Michael Bunce, Senior Scientist and Technical Lead at NPL.