Sharing light and neutrons

Japanese researchers are coming to Australia for our neutron beams. It’s helping them to continue their research following the shutdown of all Japanese research reactors in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. And it cements a friendship in beamline science that kickstarted Australian access to synchrotron light.


Japan has a rich history in nuclear research and has fourteen research reactors, ranging from very small teaching reactors to the 140MW JOYO prototype fast breeder reactor. But following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima accident all Japanese research reactors were shut down and are awaiting regulatory and government approvals before they can start up again.

A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL. Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO
A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL.
Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO

Neutron beams were among the products of the research reactors. Beams from the reactors are diverted through a beamline where they can perform a wide range of useful tasks: testing turbines, train wheels and tracks, and similar metal objects; investigating the structure of starch and other biological molecules; developing new battery technologies; and many other material science applications.

So the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) offered time on its neutron beamlines at OPAL, Australia’s research reactor, located on the southern edge of Sydney. Now Japanese scientists are the second largest international user community at OPAL.

From 1992 to 2008 thousands of Australian scientists ventured north to Japan’s Photon Factory in Tsukuba, west of Tokyo, where the Australian government established the Australian National Beamline Facility. The facility was used for a vast range of applications, from developing anti-flu drugs to creating new wool fibres and assessing jet engine wear. “It trained a whole generation of Australian scientists and laid the groundwork for the construction of Australia’s own synchrotron,” says ANSTO’s Richard Garrett.

“Australian science owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Japan and the Photon Factory for their generous support over all these years,” he says.

For more information: Science in Public, www.scienceinpublic.com.au/stories/japan

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