Surface Coatings as Xenon Diffusion Barriers for Improved Detection of Clandestine Nuclear Explosions

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Bläckberg, Lisa (2014)
  • Publisher: Uppsala
  • Subject: Radioxenon | Gas Diffusion Barrier | Plastic Scintillator | Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty | Atomic Layer Deposition | Al2O3 | Molecular Dynamics | Light Transport

This thesis investigates surface coatings as xenon diffusion barriers on plastic scintillators. The motivation for the work is improved radioxenon detection systems, used within the verification regime of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). One type of radioxenon detection systems used in this context is the Swedish SAUNA system. This system uses a cylindrical plastic scintillator cell to measure the beta decay from radioxenon isotopes. The detector cell also acts as a container for the xenon sample during the measurement. One problem with this setup is that part of the xenon sample diffuses into the plastic scintillator material during the measurement, resulting in residual activity left in the detector during subsequent measurements. This residual activity is here referred to as the memory effect. It is here proposed, and demonstrated, that it is possible to coat the plastic scintillator material with a transparent oxide coating, working as a xenon diffusion barrier. It is found that a 425 nm Al2O3 coating, deposited with Atomic Layer Deposition, reduces the memory effect by a factor of 1000, compared an uncoated detector. Furthermore, simulations show that the coating might also improve the light collection in the detector. Finally, the energy resolution of a coated detector is studied, and no degradation is observed. The focus of the thesis is measurements of the diffusion barrier properties of Al2O3 films of different thicknesses deposited on plastic scintillators, as well as an evaluation of the expected effect of a coating on the energy resolution of the detector. The latter is studied through light transport simulations. As a final step, a complete coated plastic scintillator cell is evaluated in terms of memory effect, efficiency and energy resolution. In addition, the xenon diffusion process in the plastic material is studied, and molecular dynamics simulations of the Xe-Al2O3 system are performed in order to investigate the reason for the need for a rather thick coating to significantly reduce the memory effect.
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