High-efficiency large-area neutron scintillation detectors for radiation portal monitors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


Large area neutron detectors are used as a component of radiation portal monitors, intended to detect concealed fissionable material at international borders and at the gates of nuclear processing plants. A further application is in the ensuring that scrap metal is free from radioactive contamination before melting. Existing neutron detectors utilize helium-3 proportional tubes. Helium-3 is no longer available due
to an international shortage followed by a ban on further usage for this application. The proposed detectors are intended as a low cost replacement for helium-3 proportional tubes. They use natural boron compounds in forms manufactured for other industrial uses. A general approach of using only materials easily and cheaply available has been taken with the intention that the design is immune from future market shortages or reliance on specific suppliers. Prototype detectors exist and it is the aim of this project to explore their operational characteristics in realistic harsh environments. The designs will be enlarged and considerable effort spent on developing and improving the fabrication of detector components. Pre-manufacturing prototypes will be assessed and calibrated by internationally approved validation laboratories. It is intended that at the end of the project, a mass produceable version of the design will be available for the partner to manufacture.

Planned Impact

Radiation portal monitors are used for the interdiction of Special Nuclear
Materials at borders and elsewhere. Due to the shortage of helium-3,
there is an urgent requirement for large area neutron detectors using a
replacement technology. Further installation of portal monitors cannot
continue unless a replacement technology is available.
Many other areas of science can also benefit from the commercialization
of new neutron detectors in the absence of helium-3. The neutron scattering
(ISIS, ESS) and controlled fusion (ITER) communities are particularly
vulnerable to the shortage. Other industrial applications include oil-well
logging, moisture gauges, soil and concrete compaction gauges and detection
of non-metallic landmines and IEDs. The nuclear new-build programme will require large
numbers of efficient neutron detectors in many areas of activity, while civil and
military nuclear decommissioning are also major users.


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McMillan J (2015) Thermal neutron scintillators using unenriched boron nitride and zinc sulfide in Journal of Physics: Conference Series

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McMillan, J.E. The production of wavelength shifting lightguides from clear acrylic sheet by disperse dyeing in Nuclear Instruments And Methods in Physics Research A

Description Large area neutron detectors based on commodity materials have been developed. By this it is meant that there are no requirements for exotic isotopically enriched or controlled substances used.
Exploitation Route The detectors can be used in security portals, in scrap screening or in other areas where the detection of neutron emitters is important. An obvious application is in the replacement of helium-3 detectors associated with reactors and the nuclear fuel cycle. Environmental measurements on geoneutron fluxes, neutron measurements of moisture content of soil and oilwell borehole logging are other areas of application.
Sectors Electronics,Energy,Environment,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

Description Ongoing product development with ET Enterprises and Ludlum Instruments to develop future portal detectors
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Electronics,Security and Diplomacy,Transport
Impact Types Economic

Description Sheffield Tour de France Small Artistic Commissions
Amount £1,580 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 04/2014
Description Collaboration with ET Enterprises 
Organisation ET Enterprises
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution ET-Enterprises are part of the Ludlum Measurements group. We are working with them on the development of low cost helium-3 free neutron detectors for portal applications. We are designing the detectors and developing materials and components
Collaborator Contribution ET-Enterprises are providing photomultipliers and electronics expertise.
Impact The collaboration is multidisciplinary
Description Visit Mexborough Astronomical Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Around 80 people attended a meeting on "Radiation detection for screening of metal scrap and for international security"

Higher than usual turnout on a wet winter's evening
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013