Neutron radiography and tomography are proven techniques to image and detect defects in critical components for the aerospace, energy, and defense sectors. It is presently underutilized because of a lack of accessible, high flux neutron sources. While neutrons react very weakly with high atomic number elements, they react quite strongly with low-density and hydrogenous materials. This characteristic of neutrons makes it possible to image the inside of metallic objects and composite materials to visualize structures that would be completely invisible using conventional X-rays.
Neutrons do not suffer from the same limitations as X-rays. While X-rays cannot penetrate high density material neutrons are able to pass through easily and provide detailed information about internal, low density materials. This property is extremely important for a number of components that require nondestructive evaluation including engine turbine blades, munitions, spacecraft components, and composite materials such as wind turbine blades. For all of these applications, neutron radiography provides definitive information that X-rays cannot. Neutron radiography is a complementary nondestructive evaluation technique that is able to provide the missing information.
The PNL neutron generator is the first commercially viable neutron generator for neutron radiography; it is only a fraction of the size and cost of a nuclear reactor and, is strong enough to power a neutron radiography system. It will allow for onsite, real-time neutron imaging of manufactured components in a factory setting.