Nuclear fission, the process used to generate electricity at nuclear power plants, produces subatomic particles called antineutrinos which are small and fast enough to pass through the shielding around a nuclear reactor core. Detecting them is seen as an important new tool in monitoring what is going on inside a nuclear reactor, as well as for nuclear security—the ability to tell if a reactor is being used for electricity generation or more nefarious purposes.
Felicia Sutanto, a Ph.D. student in the U-M Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, is advancing our ability to both understand and detect these tiny particles. In a new study published in Physical Review C, Sutanto, also a member of the U-M Applied Nuclear Science Group, measured high-energy neutron interactions in an underground detector. This represents one of the most significant backgrounds for antineutrino experiments.
“Antineutrino measurements are challenged by relatively high background rates, and for some backgrounds, by incomplete knowledge of these rates,” Sutanto says. “Reactor monitoring using antineutrinos would benefit from the improved validation of the existing model used to predict the high-energy neutron fluxes at depths.”