New neutron facility for UK National Physical Laboratory

19 January 2024

The UK National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is planning a new neutron measurement facility at its site in Teddington, south-west London. NPL said it will play a critical role in the safe and secure operation and continued development of the UK’s nuclear energy, defence and fusion research sectors. The new accelerator will be one of only a few such facilities worldwide that offers precision traceable neutron standards.

The UK government has outlined plans for a new series of nuclear reactors in a bid to boost UK energy security and reduce dependence on fossil fuels as well as a roadmap intended to increase nuclear generation fourfold by 2050. NPL said the new facility “will provide all-important traceability in terms of 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 UK”.

This comes more than 60 years after the installation of NPL’s first neutron measurement facility at Teddington and will enable the UK government to continue to “provide an enduring and resilient measurement infrastructure, ensuring that measurements can always be made in the UK with integrity and consistency”, as set out in the British Government’s 2022 UK Measurement Strategy for the National Measurement System.

The new accelerator system will be six times more powerful than the one it is replacing. The 2.0 MV Coaxial VHC Tandetron is manufactured by Netherlands-based High Voltage Engineering Europa, the same company that manufactured the current KN3000 Van de Graaff accelerator over 60 years ago.

The upgraded neutron facility will address a number of current, future and emerging needs in the nuclear sector, including:

  • Characterisation of new instrumentation and detectors required to ensure the UK’s nuclear infrastructure and future reactors operate safely and efficiently;
  • Expertise and facilities to enable the characterisation of neutron diagnostics, neutronics benchmark and validation experiments and nuclear cross section and decay-data measurement, to support the work at UK-based fusion research organisations and their supply chains;
  • Monoenergetic and thermal neutron fields for UK Defence and Security;
  • Characterisation 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, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) PSRE Infrastructure Fund.

Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie said the upgrades to NPL’s neutron facility “will enable the safe and efficient operation of our new projects, as we ramp up clean and reliable nuclear power”. NPL CEO Dr Peter Thompson said NPL is ensuring the UK is leading the field “by extending the UK’s capability in neutron standards and device calibration, which leads to improved accuracy and direct measurement in place of extrapolated data… helping to accelerate work on advanced nuclear technologies”.

According to Michael Bunce, Senior Scientist and Technical Lead at NPL, said: “With this machine we will be able to continue to provide standards to UK and international customers with greater efficiency and reliability whilst extending our research into new areas such as nuclear data measurements in support of fusion.”

Image: A 3D render of the new 2MV coaxial tandetron particle accelerator to be installed in NPL’s neutron measurement facility (courtesy of NPL)

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