High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility


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PI: Prof Martin Freer
The High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility, commissioned December 2023, supports the study of neutron interactions in materials for the nuclear sector, ranging from fission to fusion. In particular, this facility offers a broader programme relating to the understanding of neutron interactions with materials with applications extending to nuclear medicine and space.

 The high-flux proton machine with pressure vessel retracted to reveal the accelerator column.

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Based at the University of Birmingham, this is the first UK neutron facility capable of providing fluxes for the characterisation of degradation of materials in the reactor periphery. The high flux proton/deuteron beams create neutrons through the interaction with a high power target. It will also be the first UK facility to possess a dual beam ion facility (expected to be available from 2025-26) capable of providing the necessary fluxes to easily simulate the damage incurred by highly irradiated components such as cladding in current generation plant or structural materials in Gen IV or fusion reactors.

The new irradiation capability of this facility will combine with the existing high-energy light-ion Cyclotron Facility to create a single UK user irradiation facility. This is the most intense accelerator-driven neutron source worldwide.

For the University of Birmingham, this new facility creates a new international research capability, and an opportunity to collaborate on more programmes on a national and international scale and train a new generation of researchers in state-of-the-art techniques.

There are also opportunities to develop a wider community which draws in those interested in fundamental nuclear physics, cancer therapy (e.g. BNCT), development of high power targets and radiobiology.


Impact on research

This new neutron facility supports key research that underpins nuclear fission and fusion. Research into reactor materials and neutron sensors underpins the government’s clean energy and carbon emission targets. The thematic research areas that such a facility underpins include:

Nuclear materials

In order to develop next generation nuclear reactors and better validate the life-expectancy of current generation reactors, understanding materials degradation under neutron irradiation is important. There has been a tendency to rely on the use of protons as a surrogate for neutrons, but the validity of such studies is questionable. The present facility is targeted at materials and systems which lie beyond the reactor pressure vessel, i.e. not fuels. Beyond the civil nuclear applications, this facility would support research associated with the UK nuclear defence programme.

Nuclear fission and fusion data

The measurement of a series of key reactions, many involving neutron capture with higher energy neutrons, forms part of the challenge for a more precise understanding of the nuclear processes associated with both fusion and fission.

Nuclear waste management

The safe storage of nuclear waste requires a detailed understanding of the effects of nuclear radiations on the storage media (e.g. glass and ceramics for fission products) in order to understand the long-term effects of radiation on the materials’ characteristics.

High power targets

The development of many new facilities such as accelerator-driven subcritical reactors, or next generation spallation sources, involves development challenges around target design. The new facility provides a UK base for such developments.

Medical physics

Understanding the radiobiology of neutron interactions is also very important, from cancer therapy to the effect of nuclear radiation from industrial, medical and space environments. Neutrons are used in a range of medical applications, but boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT)) is a promising area, which has been developed initially in the UK and is being deployed for clinical use around the world.

Nuclear metrology

The availability of a well-calibrated and controllable neutron source will be useful for nuclear metrology and the testing of new radiation monitoring systems, while also opening up an opportunity for the development and characterisation of new radiopharmaceuticals.

Nuclear physics

Neutron capture reactions are an important tool in nuclear spectroscopy and nuclear astrophysics, particularly in mapping the slow neutron capture-process (s-process) and intermediate process (i-process) paths close to the valley of stability – the key to understanding the synthesis path of heavier elements is being able to accurately determine both the spectroscopy and the neutron capture rates. The spectrum of neutrons that can be produced  is very close to that in stellar environments.

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The University of Birmingham campus

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An impression of the outside of the facility showing the top of the accelerator bunker and the medical physics building housing the neutron target room and Birmingham Cyclotron facility.

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Training for new users

Having these unique facilities on the University of Birmingham campus offers exceptional training opportunities. This is across the spectrum from accelerator science, materials science and irradiation, to management of high radiation environments,  applied nuclear science and nuclear physics research. The type of skills and training that these hands-on facilities can provide will allow researchers to be active players in the operation and future development of other international facilities and their programmes. Additionally, the University has the capacity to offer beam time on the Birmingham Cyclotron Facility.

To have an informal discussion regarding accessing these facilities as an external user, please contact one of the team:

Prof. Carl Wheldon (Director): c.wheldon@bham.ac.uk

Prof. Tzany Kokalova (Low-energy Theme Lead): t.kokalova@bham.ac.uk

Dr Jack Bishop (Neutron Lead): j.bishop.2@bham.ac.uk

Dr Ben  Phoenix (Technical Lead): b.phoenix@bham.ac.uk

Prof. M. Freer (PI): m.freer@bham.ac.uk

For more information, please consult the facility's page on the University of Birmingham's website.



The High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility commenced operations December 2023 .

The  Birmingham Cyclotron Facility is also currently available for user access; see this page on the University of Birmingham's website for details on the capability.

Please do reach out to the team, to start discussing access  at either facility.  



© 2020 University of Birmingham All Rights Reserved.