Cherenkov radiation seen in SHINE’s fusion-driven neutron source

August 3, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News

SHINE Technologies, a Wisconsin-based medical isotopes and fusion technology company, announced today that it has demonstrated clearly visible Cherenkov radiation produced by fusion for what is believed to be the first time in history. Cherenkov radiation is the characteristic blue glow typically seen in underwater fission reactions.

According to the company, the fusion-driven Cherenkov radiation effect is a result of deuterium-tritium fusion operations on SHINE’s Janesville, Wis., campus supporting the launch of the company’s FLARE (Fusion Linear Accelerator for Radiation Effects) service—and ultimately supporting its isotope production process. The target chamber of SHINE’s fusion system is submerged underwater, allowing for the generation of visible Cherenkov radiation.

“The Cherenkov radiation effect produced here was bright enough to be visible, which means there’s a lot of fusion happening, about 50 trillion fusions per second. At a billion fusions per second, you might have measurable Cherenkov radiation but not visible amounts,” said Gerald Kulcinski, Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering–Emeritus and director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “These results are powerful evidence of nuclear processes at play and further proof that fusion can produce neutrons on par with some reactors.”

Background: Named for Soviet physicist Pavel Cherenkov, Cherenkov radiation is the electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle passes through a dielectric medium at a speed greater than the phase velocity of light in that medium. Light travels in water at about 75 percent of its normal speed, and particles (electrons and protons) moving faster than that form a shock wave as they slow down, releasing energy that creates the blue glow.

While fission reactors are well known for producing this radiation, in the case of fusion, the fast charged particles are believed to be created when hydrogen absorbs a neutron and emits a high-energy gamma ray that then strikes an electron, accelerating it to near the speed of light.

They said it: “Fusion has long captured the imagination of scientists and the public. To be able create visual evidence of fusion is just really cool,” said Greg Piefer, founder and chief executive officer of SHINE. “This visible demonstration of fusion is proof that we are able to produce enough reactivity for some commercial applications historically served by reactors and clearly demonstrates the next step in our multiphased approach to ultimately commercialize fusion energy.”

“Congratulations to SHINE on reaching a milestone moment in their goal to use a fusion-driven device to produce lifesaving medical isotopes,” said Craig Piercy, Executive Director/CEO of the American Nuclear Society. “Seeing the Cherenkov radiation produced by SHINE’s fusion-driven device is exciting progress in the advancement of fusion technology. Getting in-the-field data and reaching these milestones will help prove the long-term potential of fusion energy.”

Fusion phases: Last year, SHINE announced it was taking a four-phased approach to industrializing and scaling fusion technology with the ultimate goal of achieving safe, clean, abundant fusion energy. Its current fusion system supports the first phase of inspecting industrial components and will be critical in the second phase of producing medical isotopes.

SHINE said it plans to deploy eight such fusion systems inside of the Chrysalis, its fusion-driven neutron production facility, as part of a project supported by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

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