ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source reaches 1.7-MW power level

July 24, 2023, 3:03PMNuclear News
Upgrades to the particle accelerator enabling the record 1.7-MW beam operating power at the ORNL’s SNS included adding 28 high-power radio-frequency klystrons (red tubes) to provide higher power for the accelerator. (Photo: Genevieve Martin/ORNL)

The Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory set a world record when its particle accelerator beam operating power reached 1.7 MW, an improvement on the facility’s original design capability of 1.4 MW, ORNL announced on July 21. That higher power provides more neutrons for researchers who use the Office of Science user facility for materials science investigations.

“This increase in beam power represents another milestone in the Proton Power Upgrade project, an essential component in enabling new science at the SNS, including insights into advanced materials for clean energy applications,” said interim ORNL director Jeff Smith. “I commend our staff for their efforts in accomplishing this new record.”

Proton Power: The 1.7-MW power level was reached after the recent installation of additional accelerating systems, part of the ongoing Proton Power Upgrade project at the accelerator.

ORNL’s Proton Power Upgrade will continue to push the particle accelerator’s beam power up to 2.8 MW, increasing the number of neutrons available for experiments at the existing First Target Station and powering the planned Second Target Station. The Second Target Station would join the First Target Station and the High Flux Isotope Reactor as a third neutron source at ORNL, and give researchers the ability to study smaller or less-concentrated samples or those under more extreme environmental conditions.

How it works: The SNS works by accelerating protons down a 300-meter-long linear accelerator, around an accumulator ring, and into a liquid mercury target. On impact, a “spall” of neutrons is routed to surrounding research instruments, which enable scientists to study the atomic structure and behavior of various materials. Neutrons scatter off atoms within the material and are captured by high-speed detectors, providing data for analysis. Initial construction of the SNS was completed in 2006.


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