Cherenkov radiation is ‘powerful evidence of nuclear processes at play’
US-based nuclear technology company Shine has demonstrated “clearly visible” Cherenkov radiation produced by fusion for what is believed to be the first time in history.
The company said the achievement amounted to “visible proof of fusion”. Historically, fusion has been demonstrated and detected with instruments instead of a visible light.
The fusion-driven Cherenkov radiation effect is a result of deuterium-tritium fusion operations on Shine’s main campus in Wisconsin.
Ultimately, Shine is aiming to use the neutrons produced by nuclear fusion in the production of therapeutic and diagnostic medical radioisotopes.
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,” said Gerald Kulcinski, professor of nuclear engineering and director of fusion technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“At a billion fusions per second, you might have measurable Cherenkov radiation but not visible amounts,” Kulcinski said. “These results are powerful evidence of nuclear processes at play and further proof that fusion can produce neutrons on par with some reactors.”
Cherenkov radiation is a form of energy that emits a blue glow when charged particles move faster than the speed of light in a specific medium like water. Light travels at about 75% of its normal speed when in water, and particles moving faster than this form a shock wave as they slow down, releasing energy that creates the blue glow.
Fission reactors are well known for producing this radiation, which is a normal occurrence within commercial reactors that supply nearly 20% of the electricity in the US.
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.
Fusion energy, the phenomenon which powers the sun, is considered the ultimate energy source with the ability to provide continuous power, complementing other renewable and low-carbon energy sources, but without waste generation.
Last year Shine announced that its European subsidiary, Shine Europe, had secured funding to begin designing an advanced medical isotope production facility at Veendam in the northeast of the Netherlands.