Cosmic ray imaging spinout set to share in £700k in new funding for nuclear monitoring

Dr David Mahon (Lynkeos Technology and the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics & Astronomy)

A UNIVERSITY of Glasgow spinout which uses cosmic rays to create detailed 3D images of shielded structures is sharing in £700,000 of new funding.

Lynkeos Technology Ltd, founded in 2016, is one of 10 organisations who have received funding from the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Lynkeos won the support after a successful bid for the NDA’s Remote Monitoring of Sensitive Sites competition, which sought new ways to remotely collect data on assets, infrastructure and the surrounding environment. 

The NDA is charged with cleaning up the UK’s 17 earliest nuclear sites safely, securely and cost-effectively. It is vital that monitoring, inspection and security capabilities remain fit for purpose, and, where appropriate, are continuously improved or enhanced in order to maintain safe, secure and more efficient operations and to inform future decommissioning efforts across the UK.

The competition sought help with three key areas of challenge for the NDA: the built environment and infrastructure, environmental modelling and land use, and security and resilience. 

Lynkeos’ bid was for the built environment and infrastructure challenge, which aims to enhance the detection, identification, and monitoring of complex and high-value physical assets, including equipment and civil structures. They will present their concept solutions to a range of government stakeholders in summer 2023.

The company’s technology harnesses the unique properties of cosmic rays to create non-invasive images of the interiors of structures. It was spun out of fundamental nuclear physics research work carried out at the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics & Astronomy. 

Cosmic rays are charged subatomic particles which reach the earth from space. When the rays collide with the nuclei of the gases found in the planet’s atmosphere, the impact releases particles known as muons. Around 10,000 muons harmlessly shower every square metre of earth per minute.

When muons strike objects on earth, they are deflected very slightly from their course. The amount of deflection depends on the chemical composition of the object they hit, with heavier elements causing greater deflection.

The Lynkeos team is the first in the UK to develop sensitive muon detectors which can measure the deflection of incoming muons as they travel through objects. Collecting deflection data on a computer allows the creation of a sophisticated 3D picture of the object and its structure.

The process has already been used to image the contents of waste storage facilities at the Sellafield nuclear power plant and to image speciments of reinforced concrete similar to that used in structures like bridges and buildings. . 

Dr David Mahon, of Lynkeos and the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics & Astronomy, said: “We’re pleased to have won the backing of DASA and NDA for our muography technology, which has already proven its value for passive imaging in challenging environments with a number of commercial partners. 

“The funding will help us to build a more portable version of our muon imaging equipment which is fully powered by batteries and can be more easily deployed in the field. That will help users to build images of structures in remote locations or in challenging environments.”

Lynkeos’ funding from the competition, which totals around £40,000, is the latest in a series of investments in the company since its formation. They include a £4.8 million R&D programme funded by Sellafield Ltd. on behalf of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and £1.6 million from Innovate UK to commercialise the Lynkeos Muon Imaging System from the First Of A Kind Deployment of Innovation fund. 

The team’s muon imaging technology was also recently showcased in an official report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, ‘Muon Imaging: Present Status and Emerging Applications’. The report highlights how muon imaging has been used to examine modern and ancient built environments, to probe the interiors of volcanoes, and to support nuclear security. 

Lynkeos’ technology is showcased with case studies of how it has been deployed to image reinforced concrete structures like those used in bridges and to characterise the contents of containers of nuclear waste. 

Andrew Gray, Innovation Delivery Manager at NDA, said: “We are excited to be working with DASA on this competition which has generated a huge amount of interest across many different sectors. 

“The competition will support the development of new technologies for remote sensing and application of novel approaches which will enable us to monitor our large and geographically distributed estate. 

“This will help us deliver our decommissioning mission in different ways, reduce risk and provide additional insights for improving how we manage our infrastructure, and inform decision-making processes. We are eager to see how the creative solutions being put forward by the supply chain will evolve.”

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