For safety and efficiency, nuclear reactors must be carefully monitored to provide feedback that enables the fission rate to be held at a constant target level via adjustments in the position of neutron- absorbing rods and moderating coolant flow rates. For automated reactor control, the monitoring system should provide calibrated analog or digital output. The sensors must survive and produce reliable output with minimal drift for at least one to two years, for replacement only during refueling. Small sensor size is preferred to enable more sensors to be placed in the core for more detailed characterization of the local fission rate and fuel consumption, since local deviations from the norm tend to amplify themselves. Currently, reactors are monitored by local power range meters (LPRMs) based on the neutron flux or gamma thermometers based on the gamma flux. LPRMs tend to be bulky, while gamma thermometers are subject to unwanted drift. Both electronic reactor sensors are plagued by electrical noise induced by ionizing radiation near the reactor core.

A fiber optic sensor system was developed that is capable of tracking thermal neutron fluence and gamma flux in order to monitor nuclear reactor fission rates. The system provides near-real-time feedback from small-profile probes that are not sensitive to electromagnetic noise.

The key novel feature is the practical design of fiber optic radiation sensors. The use of an actinoid element to monitor neutron flux in fiber optic EFPI (extrinsic Fabry-Perot interferometric) sensors is a new use of material. The materials and structure used in the sensor construction can be adjusted to result in a sensor that is sensitive to just thermal, gamma, or neutron stimulus, or any combination of the three. The tested design showed low sensitivity to thermal and gamma stimuli and high sensitivity to neutrons, with a fast response time.

This work was done by Clark D. Boyd of Luna Innovations, Inc. for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. LEW-18701-1