An international collaboration will put electronics to the test by blasting them with neutrons from a prototype nuclear fusion device.

The joint study by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), Cern, Eurofusion, CEA-IRFM, Aix-Marseille University, CNRS and University of Rennes at the Joint European Torus (Jet) facility in Culham, Oxfordshire, will investigate the impact of neutrons on the performance of electronics exposed to fusion energy conditions.

The experiments will be a “vital step” in the development of shielding to protect critical and safety electronics from neutrons in future fusion facilities, UKAEA said. Their results will be of interest to the nuclear industry as well as the automotive, avionics and space industries, the organisation said.

Jet uses magnetic fields to confine its plasma, a superheated gas of hydrogen isotopes, in a ring-shaped machine called a tokamak. Under intense heat – 150,000,000ºC, 10-times hotter than the core of the Sun – and pressure, the isotopes fuse into helium, releasing energy as neutrons.

These neutrons randomly cause malfunctions or failures in electronic devices, induced by signal corruption or errors in the data or programs.

Electronics are essential for the precise monitoring and control of plasma conditions, and the safety of tokamaks and their auxiliary systems.

Lee Packer, senior fellow in nuclear science and technology at UKAEA, said: “Jet’s final deuterium-tritium experiments will see unique and valuable research conducted by this collaboration in various crucial areas, particularly so in the field of neutronics, essential to understand to ensure the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of the technologies needed for fusion machines.

“Understanding how electronic components react to the characteristic neutron-rich environment presented by fusion is one such example, as it can influence how those components are designed, protected and incorporated within future fusion machines. The resulting data and learnings from these experiments are expected to be applicable across the fusion sector, including Iter, Demo and Step, and adjacent industries that need to use electronics in extreme environments.”

Repurposing and decommissioning of the Jet facility will start at the end of 2023, lasting until 2040.

Extracted from IMechE  website read more here

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