Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors


Astroparticle physics methodology applied to nuclear facility monitoring

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. However, heretofore the cumulative antineutrino spectrum of uranium 238 fission products was missing. Physicists at Technische Universität München (TUM) have now closed this gap using fast neutrons from the Heinz Maier Leibnitz Neutron Research Facility (FRM II).

Dr. Nils Haag developed an experimental setup that allowed him to determine the missing spectrum of uranium 238. (Bild: Wenzel Schuermann / TU München)

In addition to neutrons, the fission reaction of nuclear fuels like plutonium or uranium releases antineutrinos. These are also electrically neutral, but can pass matter very easily, which is why they can be discerned only in huge detectors. Recently, however, detectors on the scale of only one cubic meter have been developed. They can measure antineutrinos from a reactor core, which has generated great interest at the IAEA.

Prototypes of these detectors already exist and collect data at distances of around 10 meters from a reactor core. Changes in the composition of nuclear fuels in the reactor – for example, when weapons-grade U-239 is removed – can be determined by analyzing the energy and rate of antineutrinos. This would free the IAEA from having to rely on representations of reactor operators.

Antineutrino spectrum of uranium 238 revealed

In the 1980s the antineutrino spectra of three main fuel isotopes, uranium 235, plutonium 239 and plutonium 241, were determined. However, the antineutrino spectrum of the fourth main nuclear fuel, uranium 238, which accounts for approximately 10 percent of the total antineutrino flux, remained unclear. It had only been estimated using inaccurate theoretical calculations and thus limited the accuracy of the antineutrino predictions.

Dr. Nils Haag from the Chair of Experimental Astroparticle Physics at TU München recently developed an experimental setup at the FRM II that allowed him to determine the missing spectrum of uranium 238. "I needed a high flux of fast neutrons to induce the fission of the U-238," says the physicist. This is why he located his experimental setup at the NECTAR radiography and tomography station of the FRM II – a source of fast neutrons.

Second detector for background-free measurement

The neutrons induce nuclear fission in a film of U-238. The radioactive decay products then emit electrons and antineutrinos. The electrons were investigated using a scintillator – a block of plastics that converts the kinetic energy of the electrons into light. A photomultiplier then translates this into electrical signals.

The nuclear decay also generates gamma radiation that produces unwanted events in the scintillator. Therefore, Haag placed a second detector right in front of the scintillator: a so-called multi-wire proportional chamber. Since only charged particles like electrons trigger a signal in the gas detector, the researcher was able to determine and subtract the proportion of gamma radiation. Haag then inferred the antineutrino spectrum using this background-free measurement data.

Method allows better monitoring of reactor cores

The measurement of the antineutrino spectrum can be used to monitor the status, performance and even composition of reactor cores. "Our results open the door to predict with significantly higher accuracy the expected antineutrino spectrum emitted by a reactor running on a fuel composition reported by the operator," explains Dr. Nils Haag. "Deviations of antineutrino detector measurement data from expected reactor signals can thus be exposed."

The development of this methodology is embedded in basic research on the phenomenon of so-called "sterile" antineutrinos. Comparing previously made measurements and predictions of reactor antineutrino spectra gave rise to the assumption that some of the antineutrinos turned "sterile" after being produced. They were then no longer able to react with other matter. A better understanding of this effect would expand our knowledge of elementary physical processes.

This research was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the DFG Excellence Cluster "Origin and Structure of the Universe" at TUM.


Experimental Determination of the Antineutrino Spectrum of the Fission Products of U238, N. Haag, A. Gütlein, M. Hofmann, L. Oberauer, W. Potzel, K. Schreckenbach, and F. M. Wagner, Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 122501 (2014), DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.122501,


Dr. Nils Haag
Technische Universität München
Chair for Experimental Physics and Astroparticle Physics
Tel.: +49 89 289 12524, E-mail - Internet

Nils Haag | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Antineutrino Astroparticle FRM IAEA TUM antineutrinos detector determine energy experimental measurement reactor

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Stellar desk in wave-like motion
08.10.2015 | Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg

nachricht Mysterious ripples found racing through planet-forming disk
08.10.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Unexpected information about Earth's climate history from Yellow River sediment

09.10.2015 | Earth Sciences

Single atom alloy platinum-copper catalysts cut costs, boost green technology

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

Indefatigable Hearing

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>