Using Neutrons to Study Advanced Nuclear Fuel
Nuclear power is a carbon-neutral energy source, and nuclear power plants need to be as safe and economic as possible. An important part of nuclear fuel research ongoing all over the world is the understanding of fuel in the nuclear power plant at high temperatures and in very high radiation fields. In the process of developing more advanced fuels, Los Alamos National Laboratory is working with Idaho National Laboratory and using the Advanced Test Reactor there to irradiate new fuel materials, and then using a unique characterization method at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) to understand the damage mechanisms in the fuels. At Los Alamos, a pulsed neutron source is used to do energy-dispersive neutron imaging so researchers can see voids, cracks, and swelling of the fuel that occurs during irradiation in a reactor. An added benefit is that the neutron source also allows scientists to image isotope distribution.