Activation analysis study on Li-ion batteries for nuclear forensic applications

Erik B. Johnson, Chad Whitney, Keith Holbert, Taipeng Zhang, Tyler Stannard, Anthony Christie, Peter Harper, Blake Anderson, James F. Christian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The nuclear materials environment has been increasing significantly in complexity over the past couple of decades. The prevention of attacks from nuclear weapons is becoming more difficult, and nuclear forensics is a deterrent by providing detailed information on any type of nuclear event for proper attribution. One component of the nuclear forensic analysis is a measurement of the neutron spectrum. As an example, the neutron component provides information on the composition of the weapons, whether boosting is involved or the mechanisms used in creating a supercritical state. As 6Li has a large cross-section for thermal neutrons, the lithium battery is a primary candidate for assessing the neutron spectrum after detonation. The absorption process for 6Li yields tritium, which can be measured at a later point after the nuclear event, as long as the battery can be processed in a manner to successfully extract the tritium content. In addition, measuring the activated constituents after exposure provides a means to reconstruct the incident neutron spectrum. The battery consists of a spiral or folded layers of material that have unique, energy dependent interactions associated with the incident neutron flux. A detailed analysis on the batteries included a pre-irradiated mass spectrometry analysis to be used as input for neutron spectrum reconstruction. A set of batteries were exposed to a hard neutron spectrum delivered by the University of Massachusetts, Lowell research reactor Fast Neutron Irradiator (FNI). The gamma spectra were measured from the batteries within a few days and within a week after the exposure to obtain sufficient data on the activated materials in the batteries. The activity was calculated for a number of select isotopes, indicating the number of associated neutron interactions. The results from tritium extraction are marginal. A measurable increase in detected particles (gammas and betas) below 50 keV not self-attenuated by the battery was observed, yet as the spectra are coarse, the gamma information is not separable from tritium spectra. The activation analysis was successful, and the incident neutron spectrum was reconstructed using materials found in lithium batteries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-437
Number of pages8
JournalNuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Activation analysis
  • Lithium batteries
  • Nuclear forensics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Instrumentation


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