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Cat Eyes Provide Solution For Looking Inside Nuclear Reactors | IFLScience

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Cat Eyes Provide Solution For Looking Inside


Nuclear Reactors
October 11, 2015 | by Alfredo Carpineti
photo credit: Nuclear reactor at Reed College by Don McCullough, via Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

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Researchers from Lancaster University in England have developed a camera that is able to see
the radiation emitted by nuclear reactors. The team, led by Jonathan Beaumont, has drawn
inspiration from the eyes of cats and believes this technology will boost safety and efficiency in
nuclear power plants, as well as provide necessary assistance in case of nuclear disaster
emergencies.
Described in Nature Communications, the monitor can detect both fast neutrons and gammaray emissions simultaneously. The system uses a single detector, containing a liquid
scintillator which fluoresce when exposed to energetic neutrons or gamma rays. The detector
itself is positioned behind a slit-shaped tungsten collimator (analogous to the feline slit pupils)
that stops the detector from becoming saturated (like when an image is over-exposed) by the
high-intensity nuclear emissions. An external cylindrical collimator, made of polyethylene,
surrounds both the detector and the interior. The camera is then moved around and rotated
on its axis so that the rate of detection at different angles allows the researchers to determine
the exact source of radiation.

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The data obtained from the camera can be monitored in near real-time and can provide crucial
information regarding the state of the nuclear core, the efficiency of the fuel burn-up and the
condition of the reactor, all independently of the previously installed instrumentations.
Malcolm Joyce, professor of nuclear engineering at Lancaster University and co-author of the
research, thinks the technology will increase the safety of nuclear power plants. Speaking to
IFLScience, he said: The ability to picture fast neutron emissions on a stand-off basis, as we
have demonstrated, provides additional information about radioactive environments which
cannot be obtained easily otherwise. It's anticipated this will benefit safety and advance our
ability to respond to emergencies.

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Neutron and gamma-ray images at various steady-state reactor powers. Credit: Beaumont et al. / Nature
Communications

The fast neutron/gamma-ray imager, as it's been creatively named, has been in development
for four years, building on the achievements of several preceding projects. It has a longer

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Cat Eyes Provide Solution For Looking Inside Nuclear Reactors | IFLScience

12/10/2015

lifespan than currently employed monitoring technologies and is small enough to fit in a
suitcase, weighing just 20 kilograms (44 pounds). The portability of the camera is a key feature
that makes the instrument ideal in case of nuclear accidents. In-loco instruments could become
damaged in an accident, and current external imaging technologies take a long time to provide
useful data, resulting in emergency procedures being carried out with a significant lack of
information on the radiation source.
With 436 nuclear power plants currently in operation across the globe, and another 555 either
under construction, planned or proposed, the development of monitoring technology such as
this is paramount in guaranteeing the safety of investing in nuclear energy.
Top image credit: Nuclear reactor at Reed College by Don McCullough, via Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

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