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Radiation Detection and

Counting Statistics
Please Read: Chapters 3 (all 3 parts),
8, and 26 in Doyle
Types of Radiation
Charged Particle Radiation
b particles
Can be easily
Heavy Charged Particles stopped/shielded!
a particles
Fission Products
Particle Accelerators
Uncharged Radiation
Electromagnetic Radiation
More difficult to
shield against!
Fission, Fusion reactions
Penetration Distances for Different
Forms of Radiation




Paper Plastic Lead Concrete

(few cm) (few in) (few feet)
Why is Radiation Detection
Cant see it
Cant smell it
Cant hear it
Cant feel it
Cant taste it

We take advantage of the fact that radiation

produces ionized pairs to try to create an electrical
Ideal Properties for Detection of
Radiation Ideal Detector Properties
a Very thin/no window or
ability to put source inside
b Same as above, can be low or
high density, gas, liquid, or
g High density, high atomic
number materials
neutrons Low atomic number materials,
preferably hydrogenous
How a Radiation Detector Works
The radiation we are interested in detecting all
interact with materials by ionizing atoms
While it is difficult (sometime impossible) to
directly detect radiation, it is relatively easy to
detect (measure) the ionization of atoms in the
detector material.
Measure the amount of charge created in a detector
electron-ion pairs, electron-hole pairs
Use ionization products to cause a secondary reaction
use free, energized electrons to produce light photons
We can measure or detect these interactions in many
different ways to get a multitude of information
General Detector Properties
Characteristics of an ideal radiation detector
High probability that radiation will interact with the detector
Large amount of charge created in the interaction process
average energy required for creation of ionization pair (W)
Charge must be separated an collected by electrodes
Opposite charges attract, recombination must be avoided
Initial Generated charge in detector (Q) is very small (e.g.,
Signal in detector must be amplified Q
Internal Amplification (multiplication in detector) V
External Amplification (electronics) C
Want to maximize V
Types of Radiation Detectors
Gas Detectors
Ionization Chambers
Proportional Counters
Geiger-Mueller Tubes (Geiger Counters)
Scintillation Detectors
Inorganic Scintillators
Organic Scintillators
Semiconductor Detectors
High Purity Germanium
Gas Detectors
Most common form of radiation detector
Relatively simple construction
Suspended wire or electrode plates in a container
Can be made in very large volumes (m3)
Mainly used to detect b-particles and neutrons
Ease of use
Mainly used for counting purposes only
High value for W (20-40 eV / ion pair)
Can give you some energy information
Inert fill gases (Ar, Xe, He)
Low efficiency of detection
Can increase pressure to increase efficiency
g-rays are virtually invisible
Ionization Chambers
Two electric plates
surrounded by a metal case
Electric Field (E=V/D) is
applied across electrodes
Electric Field is low
only original ion pairs
created by radiation are
Signal is very small
Can get some energy
Resolution is poor due to
statistics, electronic noise,
Good for detecting heavy charged
and microphonics
particles, betas
Proportional Counters
Wire suspended in a tube
Can obtain much higher
electric field
E a 1/r
Near wire, E is high
Electrons are energized
to the point that they can
ionize other atoms
Detector signal is much
larger than ion chamber
Can still measure energy
Same resolution limits as
ion chamber
Used to detect alphas,
betas, and neutrons
Examples of Proportional Counters
Geiger Counters
Apply a very large voltage
across the detector
Generates a significantly
higher electric field than
proportional counters
Multiplication near the
anode wire occurs
Geiger Discharge
Quench Gas
Generated Signal is
independent of the energy No energy information! Only
deposited in the detector used to count / measure the
Primarily Beta detection amount of radiation. Signal is
independent of type of
Most common form of
radiation as well!
Examples of Geiger Counters

Geiger counters generally come in compact, hand carried

instruments. They can be easily operated with battery
power and are usually calibrated to give you radiation
dose measurements in rad/hr or rem/hr.
Scintillator Detectors
Voltage is not applied to these types of detectors
Radiation interactions result in the creation of
light photons
Goal is to measure the amount of light created
Light created is proportion to radiation energy
To measure energy, need to convert light to
electrical signal
Photomultiplier tube
} light electrons
Two general types
Organic Scintillators
Light is generated by fluorescence of molecules
Organic - low atomic numbers, relatively low
Low detection efficiency for gamma-rays
Low light yield (1000 photons/MeV) - poor signal
Light response different for different types of radiation
Light is created quickly
Can be used in situations where speed (ns) is necessary
Can be used in both solid and liquid form
Liquid form for low energy, low activity beta
monitoring, neutrino detection
Very large volumes (m3)
Organic Scintillators Come in Many Forms
Inorganic Scintillators
Generally, high atomic number and high density
NaI, CsI, BiGeO, Lithium glasses, ZnS
Light generated by electron transitions within the
crystalline structure of the detector
Cannot be used in liquid form!
High light yield (~60,000 photons / MeV)
light yield in inorganics is slow (ms)
Commonly used for gamma-ray spectroscopy
W ~ 20 eV (resolution 5% for 1 MeV g-ray)
Neutron detection possible with some
Can be made in very large volumes (100s of cm3)
Inorganic Scintillators
Solid State (Semiconductor) Detectors
Radiation interactions yield electron-hole pairs
analogous to ion pairs in gas detectors
Very low W-value (1-5 eV)
High resolution gamma-ray spectroscopy
Energy resolution << 1% for 1 MeV gamma-rays
Some types must be cooled using cryogenics
Band structure is such that electrons can be excited at
thermal temperatures
Variety of materials
Si, Ge, CdZnTe, HgI2, TlBr
Sizes < 100 cm3 [some even less than 1 cm3]
Efficiency issues for lower Z materials
NaI Scintillator

Ge Detector
Ideal Detector for Detection of Radiation
Radiation Ideal Detector
a Thin Semiconductor Detectors
Proportional Counters
b Organic Scintillators
Geiger Counters
Proportional Counters
g Inorganic Scintillators
Thick Semiconductor Detectors
neutrons Plastic Scintillators
Proportional Counters (He, BF3)
Lithium Glass Scintillators
Excellent table on Page 61 shows numerous different technologies used in
Counting Statistics
Three Specific Models:
1. Binomial Distribution generally applicable to all
constant-p processes. Cumbersome for large

2. Poisson Distribution simplification to the

Binomial Distribution if the success probability p
is small.

3. Gaussian (Normal) Distribution a further

simplification permitted if the expected mean
number of successes is large
The Binomial Distribution
n = number of trials
p = probability of success for each trial

We can then predict the probability of counting exactly

x successes:

Px p 1 p
n! x nx

n x ! x!

P(x) is the predicted

Probability Distribution Function
Example of the Binomial Distribution

3,4,5, or 6

P = 4/6 or 2/3

10 rolls of the die: n=10

Results of the Binomial Distribution

p = 2/3
n =10

x pn
Some Properties of the
Binomial Distribution

It is normalized: Px 1
x 0

Mean (average) value

x x Px
x 0

x pn
Standard Deviation
Predicted variance

n 2

2 x x Px
x 0

Standard Deviation

var iance

is a typical value for x x
For the Binomial Distribution:

Px px 1 p
n! nx

n x ! x!
where n = number of trials and p = success probability
Predicted Variance: Standard Deviation:

n 2

2 x x Px
x 0 x 1 p
np 1 p x 1 p
For our Previous Example
p = 2/3 n = 10

x np 6 2

x 1 p
20 1
3 3

2 2.22 1.49
The Poisson Distribution
Provided p << 1

pn e pn


pn x

x e
x x

For the Poisson Distribution

Px 1
x 0

Predicted Mean: x x Px
x 0

x pn

Predicted Variance: n
2 x x Px
x 0

pn x

Standard Deviation: x
Example of the Application
of Poisson Statistics
Is your birthday today?

x ex x pn 2.74

Example: what is the probability that 4 people out of 1000

have a birthday today?

2.74 e
4 2.74
4 3 2
Discrete Poisson Distribution
Gaussian (Normal) Distribution
p << 1
Binomial Poisson
x l arg e
Poisson Gaussian

x x

Px 1

e 2x

2x x 0

x pn 2 x x
Example of Gaussian Statistics
What is the predicted distribution in the number of people
with birthdays today out of a group of 10,000?

p n 10000 x 27.4

x 27.4 2
e 54.8
2 27.4

x 5.23
Distribution Gaussian Distribution
The Universal Gaussian Curve
to f(to)
0 0
0.674 0.500
1.00 0.683
1.64 0.900
1.96 0.950
2.58 0.990
Summary of Statistical Models

For the Poisson and Gaussian Distributions:

Predicted Variance: 2 x

Standard Deviation: x
We may apply x only if x
represents a counted number of
radiation events

Does not apply directly to:

1. Counting Rates
2. Sums or Differences of counts
3. Averages of independent counts
4. Any Derived Quantity
The Error Propagation Formula
Given: directly measured counts
(or other independent variables)
x, y, z,
for which the associated standard
deviations are known to be
x, y, z,

Derive: the standard deviation of any

calculated quantity
u(x, y, z, )
u 2 u 2

x y

x y
Sums or Differences of Counts
u=x+y or u = x - y
u u

Recall: 2u 2x 2y
x y
u u
1 1
x x

u u
1 1
y y

2u 2x 2y

u 2x 2y x y
Example of Difference of Counts
total = x = 2612
background = y = 1295
net = u = 1317

u 2612 1295

u 3907 62.5

Therefore, net counts = 1317 62.5

Multiplication or Division by a
Example of Division by a Constant
Calculation of a counting rate
x = 11,367 counts t = 300 s
r 37.89 / s
300 s

x 11367
r 0.36 / s
t 300 s

rate r = 37.89 0.36 s-1

Multiplication or Division of Counts
Example of Division of Counts
Source 1: N1 = 36,102 (no BG)
Source 2: N2 = 21,977 (no BG)

R = N1/N2 = 36102/21977 = 1.643

2 2
R N1 N 2 R

N1 N 2 5

2 7.32 10
R N1 N 2
N1 N 2 R

R 3
8.56 10 R R R 0.014

R = 1.643 0.014
Average Value of Independent Counts
Sum: = x1 + x2 + x3 + + xN

2x1 2x 2 2x N x1 x 2 x N

Average: x

Nx x

Single measurement: x x
1 1
Improvement Factor:
For a single measurement based
on a single count:

Fractional error:

x x 1

x x x

x 100 1000 10,000

10% 3.16% 1%
Limits of Detection
In many cases within non-proliferation, you
are required to measure sources that have a
small signal with respect to background
sources of radiation
Thus, we need to assess the minimum
detectable amount of a source that can be
reliably measured.
Lets look at an example of testing the limits
of detection
Limits of Detection
Two basic cases: No Real Activity Present
Real Activity Present

N s Counts from source
N T Measured Counts
N B Counts from background

2N s 2N T 2N B
Limits of Detection No Source
Goal: Minimize the number of false positives (i.e., dont want to holdup many
containers that do not contain anything interesting)
2Ns 2NT 2N B
2NT 2N B
2Ns 22N B
Ns 2 N B 2 N B if only fluctuatio ns from counting statistics
Want to set critical counting level (LC) high enough such that the probability
that a measurement Ns that exceeds Lc is acceptably small. Assuming
Gaussian distribution, we are only concerned with positive deviations from
the mean. If we were to accept a 5% false positive rate (1.645 or 90% on
distribution), then

LC 1.645 NS 2.326 N B
Limits of Detection Source Present
Goal: Minimize the number of false negatives (i.e., dont want to let many
containers that contain radioactive materials get through). Let ND be the
minimum net value of NS that meets this criterion. We can then determine our
lower critical set point. Lets assume an acceptable 5% false negative rate.

N D LC 1.645 N D
But , N D N B , we can use the approximat ion
N D 2 N B
N D LC 2.326 N B
N D 4.653 N B

Assumes the width of the distribution of the source + background is approximately

the same as that of the background only. In reality, these widths are not the same.
Limits of Detection Source Present
ND 4.653 N B
ND 2 N B 1 2 N B 1

4N B 4N B
N D 2 N B 1.645
N D 4.653 N B 2.706 (Currie Equation )

a min imum det ectable activity
f radiation yield per decay
absolute det ection efficiency
T measuremen t time
Two Interpretations of Limits of
LC = lower limit that is set to ensure a 5%
false-positive rate

ND = minimum number of counts needed from

a source to ensure a false-negative rate no
larger than 5%, when the system is operated
with a critical level (or trigger point) LC that
ensures a false positive rate no greater than 5%
Neutron Detection
Neutron Coincidence Counting
Neutron Energy Classification
Slow Neutron Detection
Need exoenergetic (positive Q) reactions to provide
energetic reaction products
Useful Reactions in Slow Neutron

10B (n, a) 7Li

6Li (n, a) 3H
3He (n, p) 3H
(n, fission)
The 10B(n,a) Reaction
Li a 2.792
B n 7 *
Li a 2.310
[10B (n, a) 7Li*]

Conservation of energy:
Eli + Ea = Q = 2.31 MeV
Conservation of momentum:

m Li v Li m a v a
2m Li E Li 2m a E a

E Li 0.84 MeV E a 1.47 MeV

Other Reactions

Li n He a
He n3 H p 0.765
X n, fission ~ 200
Detectors Based on the Boron Reaction
1. The BF3 proportional tube

2. Boron-lined proportional tube

3. Boron-loaded scintillator
The BF3 Tube

Typical BF3 pressure < 1 atm

Typical HV: 2000-3000 V
Usual 10B enrichment of 96%
BF3 Pulse Height Spectrum
Boron-Lined Proportional Tube

Conventional proportional gas

Detection efficiency limited by boron thickness
Boron-Lined Proportional Tube
Pulse Height Spectrum
Fast Neutron Detection and
Counters based on neutron moderation

Detectors based on fast neutron-based


Detectors utilizing fast neutron scattering

Moderated Neutron Detectors
Moderating Sphere
Moderating Sphere
Neutron Rem Counter
Long Counter
Long Counter Sensitivity
Application of the 3He(n,p) reaction
the 3He Proportional Tube
3He Proportional Counter
Detectors that Utilize Fast Neutron
1. Proton recoil scintillator
High (10 50%) detection efficiency, complex response
function, gamma rejection by pulse shape discrimination
2. Gas recoil proportional tube
Low (.01 - .1%) detection efficiency, can be simpler response
function, gamma rejection by amplitude
3. Proton recoil telescope
Very low (~ .001%) detection efficiency, usable only in beam
geometry, simple peak response function
4. Capture-gated spectrometer
Modest (few %) detection efficiency, simple peak response
Proton Recoil Scintillators
Recoil Proton Spectrum Distortions
Recoil Proton Detector Efficiency
Proton Recoil Telescope
Proton Recoil Telescope Response
Ep = Encos2
Capture-Gated Proton Recoil Neutron
Capture-Gated Spectrometer:
Timing Behavior

Accept first pulse for analysis if followed by

second pulse within gate period
Capture-Gated Spectrometer:
Response Function

Only events ending in capture deposit the full neutron

Energy resolution limited by nonlinearity of light output
with energy (Two 0.5 MeV protons total yield less than
one 1 MeV proton.)
Neutron Coincidence Counting
Technique involving the simultaneous measurement
of neutrons emitted from a fission source (in
coincidence with each neutron)
Used to determine mass of plutonium in unknown
Most widely used non-destructive analysis technique for Pu
assay, and can be applied to a variety of sample types (e.g.,
solids, pellets, powders, etc.)
Requires knowledge of isotopic ratios, which can be
determined by other techniques
Also used in U assay
Neutron Distribution from Pu
Neutron Coincidence Counting
Makes use of the fact that plutonium isotopes
with even mass number (238, 240, 242) have a
high neutron emission rate from spontaneous
Spontaneous fission neutrons are emitted at the
same time (time correlated), unlike other neutrons
(a,n), which are randomly distributed in time
Count rate of time correlated neutrons is then a
complex function of Pu mass
Fission Emission Rates for Pu isotopes
Isotope Spontaneous Neutron
Emission Rate
Pu-238 2.59 x 103
Pu-239 2.18 x 10-2
Pu-240 1.02 x 103
Pu-241 5 x 10-2
Pu-242 1.72 x 103

In reactor fuel, Pu-240 signal dominates over Pu-238 and Pu-242 due to
Neutron Coincidence Counting
In neutron coincidence counting, the primary quantity
determined is the effective amount of Pu-240, which
represents a weighted sum of the three even numbered
m240eff a m238 m240 c m242
Coefficients for contributions from Pu-238 and Pu-242
are determined by other means, such as knowledge of
burnup of reactor fuel. Without additional information,
calculation will have errors but will give a good
estimate of Pu mass due to relative abundance of the
three isotopes. Generally, a 2.52, c 1.68
Neutron Coincidence Counting
In order to determine the total amount of Pu, mPu,
the isotopic mass fractions (R) must be known.
These can be easily determined through mass-
spectroscopy or gamma-ray spectroscopy, and is
then used to calculate the quantity
Pu eff aR 238 R 240 cR 242

m 240eff
m Pu 240
Pu eff
NCC Technique
Utilize He-3 detectors, which can moderate and detect
spontaneous fission neutrons
He-3 detectors usually embedded in neutron moderating
material to further slow down neutrons
Increases detection efficiency
Most common measurement is the simple (2-neutron)
coincidence rate, referred to as doubles
If other materials present in the material contribute to neutron signal, or
impact neutron multiplication, other effects may become significant,
producing errors
Generally carried out on relatively pure or well characterized materials,
such as Pu-oxides, MOX fuel pins and assemblies
NCC Counters
NCC Sources of Uncertainty
Counting statistics (random)
Can be a significant issue since efficiency can be
Calibration parameters and uncertainties
associated with reference materials
Correction for multiplication effects, detector
dead time, other neutron emission (systematic)
Nuclear data
NCC Parameters to Consider
1. Spontaneous fission rate
2. Induced fission
3. (a,n) reaction rate
4. Energy spectrum of (a,n) neutrons
5. Spatial variation of multiplication
6. Spatial variation of detection efficiency
7. Energy spectrum effects on efficiency
8. Neutron capture in the sample
9. Neutron die-away time in the detector

Clearly, there can be more unknowns than can be determined in conventional NCC
NCC Parameters
We want to determine 1,2,3
4 and 5 can be determined with proper use of
modeling and simulation
6 and 7 can be determined through proper
8 and 9 are usually unknown, but in general,
are of minor consequence
Traditional NCC can end up indeterminate
only 2 equations, but three unknowns
Neutron Multiplicity Measurements
In neutron multiplicity counting (NMC), one utilizes
triple coincidence rates (in addition to single and
double counting rates) to provide a third
measurement such that all parameters can be
Thus, we are solving three equations with three
unknowns solution is self contained and complete
One significant advantage of NMC is that there is no
need for careful calibration with Pu standards
Also, can measure samples where there may be significant
uncertainties in composition
Design of NMC
Maximize detection efficiency
Minimize signal processing
Minimize detector die-away
time to decrease accidental
Minimize geometry effects to
Minimize spectral effects on
Advantages of NMC
Greater accuracy in Pu mass determination
Self-multiplication and (a,n) rates are directly
Calibration does not necessarily require
representative standards
Measurement time on the order of a few thousand
seconds, shorter than the 10,000s typical of NCC
Higher efficiency NMC systems can provide even
shorter measurement times with improved accuracy
Disadvantages of NMC
More floor space required
Some other techniques can provide shorter
measurement times
Some biases can remain if there is a high
degree of uncertainty in measured samples
Running out of He-3
In-Plant NMC measurement system
30-gallon drum measurement system
High efficiency neutron counter