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Development of a Compact Neutron Generator to be Used For Associated Particle Imaging Utilizing a RF-Driven Ion Source

  • Author(s): Wu, Ying
  • Advisor(s): Leung, Ka-Ngo
  • et al.

Ion source development plays an important role for improving and advancing the neutron generator technology used for active interrogation techniques employed by the Department of Homeland Security. Active neutron interrogation using compact neutron generators has been around since the late 1950's for use in oil well logging. However, since the September 11th, 2001 terrorists attack, much attention has been paid to the field of active neutron interrogation for detecting hidden explosives and special nuclear materials (SNM) in cargo and luggage containers through the development of effective and efficient radioactive sources and detectors. In particular, the Associated Particle Imaging (API) method for detecting and imaging explosives is of great interest New compact neutron generators will help to enhance the capabilities of existing threat detection systems and promote the development of cutting-edge detection technologies.

The work performed in this thesis includes the testing of various ion source configurations and the development and characterization of an inductively coupled radio frequency (RF) ion source for use in compact neutron generators. These ion source designs have been investigated for the purpose of D-T neutron generation for explosive detection via the Associated Particle Imaging (API) technique. API makes use of the 3.5 MeV alpha particles that are produced simultaneously with the 14 MeV neutrons in the deuterium-tritium (2D(3T,n)4α) fusion reaction to determine the direction of the neutrons and to reduce background noise. The Associated Particle Imaging neutron generator required a beam spot of 1-mm or less in diameter at the target in order to achieve the necessary spatial image resolution. For portable neutron generators used in API, the ion source and target cannot be water-cooled and the power deposited on the target must be low. By increasing the atomic ion fraction, the ion beam can be used more efficiently to generate neutrons, resulting in a lower beam power requirement and an increased lifetime of the alpha detector inside the acceleration column. Various source configurations, antenna design, and permanent magnet placement have been investigated so as to develop an ion source which could provide high monatomic deuterium species and high current density at relatively low RF powers (less than 200 W).

In this work, an RF ion source was developed that uses an external, planar, spiral antenna at 13.56 MHz with a quartz source body and side multi-cusp magnets to generate hydrogen isotope plasmas with high mono-atomic ion species (> 80%) while consuming only 150 watts of power and operating under 10 mTorr of gas pressure. A single acceleration gap with a secondary electron suppression electrode are used in the tube. Experimental measurements of the ion source plasma parameters including ion current density, atomic ion fraction, ignition and operating pressures, electron temperature, and electron density are presented along with a discussion on the ion optics and engineering challenges. It is shown that the measured neutron yield for the developed D-D neutron generator was 2 × 105 n/s, which scales to 8 × 107 n/s for D-T operation. In addition, initial measurements of the neutron generator performance including the beam spot size, associated particle detection, and neutron tube (without pumping) operation will be discussed. Some suggestions for future improvement are also presented in this dissertation.

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