Our groundbreaking neutron generator technology utilizes deuterium-deuterium (DD) and deuterium-tritium (DT) nuclear fusion reactions to generate an extremely high and stable neutron flux. Our neutron generator systems are the strongest fusion-based neutron sources in the world, with a high yield neutron output making them suitable for many applications of both thermal and fast neutrons. This technology forms the backbone of our four-phase mission to achieve and commercialize sustainable, cost-effective fusion based-energy and make the world a safer and healthier place for all.

SHINE’s neutron generator technology

SHINE Systems and Manufacturing builds what we believe are the strongest compact neutron generators in the world. By using an electrically driven accelerator to produce fusion reactions, our neutron generators can create enough neutron radiation to drive critical applications in industrial manufacturing and nuclear medicine with the potential to serve as a platform for future applications in nuclear waste recycling and energy.

By using a miniature particle accelerator and an ion beam to cause a fusion reaction with neutron production of tens of trillions of neutrons per second, our high-flux neutron generators provide a compact, accessible, clean alternative to reactor facilities with neutron yields suitable for nondestructive testing and medical isotope production.

What is a neutron generator?

A neutron generator is a device that produces neutron radiation. Neutron generators are one of several sources of neutron radiation. Other sources include nuclear fission reactors, large-scale particle accelerator systems (spallation sources), and intense neutron-emitting elements (such as the synthetic element californium-252, or 252Cf, and other spontaneous fission sources).

Neutron generators come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but the common element between all neutron generators is that they use nuclear fusion for neutron production. Unlike other neutron sources, neutron generators do not rely on breaking atoms apart to produce neutron radiation. Instead of splitting heavy elements apart to create lighter ones, a neutron generator combines light elements to create heavier ones, liberating a few neutrons from the involved nuclei in the process. The emitted neutrons can be harnessed for many practical purposes.

SHINE founder Greg Piefer with one of SHINE's neutron generator systems

SHINE founder Greg Piefer with one of SHINE’s neutron generator systems

A neutron generator tends to be much more compact than reactors; some are even small enough to fit on a desktop. However, smaller neutron tubes produce a low neutron yield. Low-yield neutron generators are very useful for many applications such as oil well logging, but unlike the intermediate- and high-yield generators SHINE develops, they are not strong enough for certain critical applications.

SHINE has developed the first fusion neutron generator that is both high-yield and compact in its design compared to a reactor. With an accelerator-based system capable of producing more neutrons in a sustained reaction than any other man-made fusion reactor, our neutron generators can match nuclear reactor performance in many areas, making them ideal for critical applications such as neutron radiography and medical isotope production.

How do SHINE’s neutron generators work?

Neutron generator technology uses a compact linear particle accelerator to fuse isotopes of hydrogen together. This form of nuclear fusion is called beam-target fusion.

The plasma beam from our neutron generator systems

Here’s how it works:

Aim deuterium ions…

Our beam-target electronic neutron generators primarily use a beam of deuterium ions to drive neutron emission. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen with one extra neutron in its nucleus (a hydrogen atom typically consists of only a proton and an electron).

By stripping away the single electron of a deuterium atom, you end up with a positively-charged ion consisting solely of a neutron and a proton. The positively-charged ions are consolidated into a high current beam and fired at a target at up to 300kV.

…at hydrogen isotopes…

The target of the ion beam inside a neutron generator can be a solid or a gas, and it can contain either more deuterium or another hydrogen isotope called tritium.

Neutron generators with a deuterium target are known as D-D neutron generators (deuterium-deuterium) because the ensuing fusion reaction caused when the ion beam hits the target is between two deuterium atoms.

Neutron generators with a tritium target are likewise called D-T generators (deuterium-tritium).

…and you get neutron emission!

When the ion beam hits the target, deuterium ions fuse with atoms of deuterium or tritium within the target to create heavier isotopes of hydrogen and produce neutrons. These are emitted from the electronic neutron generator to be used for a wide range of applications.

One key benefit a neutron generator offers over nuclear reactors is that by relying on fusion reactions with light elements such as hydrogen isotopes, they produce very little nuclear waste during neutron production. Unlike reactors, which are very tightly regulated to prevent radioactive isotopes from harming people or the surrounding environment, neutron generators are much cleaner and much easier to safely maintain.

D-D and D-T neutron generators, unlike reactor sources and neutron emitters, can be turned off quickly and easily when the need arises. On the other hand, nuclear reactor shutdown procedures are complex and slow, and neutron emitters like 252Cf cannot be shut off at all.

A diagram of the DD (deuterium-deuterium) fusion reaction that occurs in SHINE’s neutron generator systems.
Nuclear fusion joins smaller atoms into larger atoms, producing energy

Sealed tube neutron generators vs open tube generators

The vast majority of neutron generators are “sealed tube” sources, so named because the critical components of the generators, including the ion source and beam target, are contained within a vacuum-tight neutron tube enclosure. The earliest sealed neutron tube was invented in the 1930s not long after the discovery of the neutron, and sealed neutron tubes have largely driven neutron generator technology since then.

Sealed neutron tubes have some drawbacks, especially when paired with gas beam targets. The gas target in a sealed tube neutron generator quickly depletes itself as it is bombarded with accelerated ions and must be replaced at great expense. Our neutron generators utilize an open neutron tube system, allowing the gas target to be continually replenished even while the generators are still in use. These features are immensely beneficial to our medical isotope production systems, as the medical isotope supply chain requires isotopes such as molybdenum-99 to be constantly produced with over 99% uptime.

Other neutron sources

Most neutron sources rely on nuclear fission, or the splitting of heavy elements such as uranium into lighter elements. When an atom of uranium breaks apart into lighter elements such as krypton and barium, the process leaves a small amount of extra neutrons which are not attached to any nucleus. Spallation sources cause neutron emission by shooting a high-energy particle at an atom to break the neutrons off of the nucleus. Neutron emitting elements such as californium-252 are constantly undergoing radioactive decay and produce free neutrons as the material breaks down.

Neutron generator applications

Our fusion systems provide a critical source of neutron radiation for ensuring the safety of critical products in the aerospace industry and for producing the diagnostic and therapeutic radioisotopes that enable potentially lifesaving treatment. As we continue to work on improving and refining our fusion systems, we believe that our technology could also be utilized in many other practical applications in the future that will improve human life, including the potential development and commercialization of safe, clean, cost-effective fusion energy.

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Advanced industrial inspection

Many industrial inspection and materials testing methods, such as neutron radiography, radiation hardening, and nuclear fuel assay depend on neutron radiation sources. Our sister company Phoenix, LLC. utilizes a system based on SHINE’s technology at its Imaging Center to perform materials testing services to clients in aerospace, defense and energy manufacturing and more. Phoenix’s primary service is neutron radiography, a nondestructive testing method used to root out flaws that X-rays cannot detect in high-volume parts with high costs of failure such as aircraft engine turbine blades, munitions, and ejection mechanisms.

Learn more about Phoenix’s neutron radiography services
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Medical isotope production

The radioisotope molybdenum-99 is a vital enabler of medical imaging scans, and isotopes derived from it are crucial for diagnosing patients of maladies such as cancer and heart disease and delivering potentially lifesaving care. Tens of thousands of these procedures are done on a daily basis around the world. There are frequent shortages of Mo-99 because the radioisotopes decay so rapidly and there are so few sites in the world producing it. Therapeutic radioisotopes such as lutetium-177 are also developed using neutron radiation and are likewise crucial for delivering potentially lifesaving care to patients with advanced stage cancer. We are using our high-yield neutron source to produce these critical medical isotopes with a smaller footprint and cleaner environmental impact compared to nuclear reactors. We believe that we will be able to begin full-scale commercial production of these isotopes in the coming years.

Learn more about medical isotope production
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Nuclear waste recycling

While nuclear energy produces little waste compared to other forms of nonrenewable energy, the waste it does produce is a significant problem due to its long rate of decay. Nuclear transmutation, which relies on neutron radiation to transform highly radioactive isotopes into other materials, offers a solution to the problem of long-lived nuclear waste by converting it into shorter-lived waste or materials that can be used for practical and helpful purposes such as medical isotopes. As part of Phase III of our mission, we hope to eventually scale up our small-scale nuclear transmutation facilities developed for medical isotope production to process and recycle nuclear waste and make the world a cleaner place.

Learn more about nuclear waste recycling
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Fusion energy

We believe that in the future as we continue to scale up and refine our neutron generator technology, our systems could play a crucial role in testing materials for fusion reactors, overcoming the various technological and logistic hurdles that stand between us and practical fusion energy, and eventually commercializing fusion energy as an environmentally friendly and cost-effective source of ample electricity to power human civilization.

Learn more about fusion energy

Other applications

At SHINE, we are constantly looking for new areas like explosive detection, neutron activation analysis/elemental analysis, and other applications where our neutron technology can do great good for the world while building our capacity and resources to tackle future phases of our mission.

Everything we do is based on one goal: to find practical applications for nuclear fusion that can improve the quality of life for people around the world while also stewarding our environment and advancing fusion science.

Neutron generators for sale

SHINE designs and manufactures intermediate- and high-yield neutron generators. Our neutron generators are compact, with small footprints and high neutron yields ideal for industrial materials testing methods such as neutron radiography and radiation survivability testing. Our neutron generators can be installed onsite, providing unlimited access to neutron radiation and reducing the need for third-party neutron sources such as reactors.

SHINE’s high neutron yield sources

Our Alectryon system is the world’s strongest compact DT neutron generator, with a deuterium-tritium gas mixture target to maximize neutron yield and system lifetime.

Learn more about our high-yield D-T neutron generators

SHINE’s small neutron generators

Our Thunderbird system offers high neutron yield using a deuterium-deuterium nuclear reaction. A more compact, mobile version of Thunderbird provides intermediate neutron yield.

Learn more about our compact neutron generators