Neutrons for Europe: looking ahead

- News, General news, European news

Following the recent articles in Le Monde and Le Point, the importance of neutrons for science & innovation has now been highlighted in CNRS news. World-class research needs new neutron sources. Their success, however, depends on the vibrant community supported by the existing sources. It is crucial to understand timescales and manage the transition well.

Recent articles in the French newspapers Le Monde and Le Point highlighted the importance of neutrons as a probe of matter, materials and processes for science and innovation for the research community and for industry in France, and indeed Europe.

The theme is now the focus of an article in CNRS news entitled "La diffusion neutronique francaise à la croisée des chemin"

The article describes the French contribution to the European Spallation Source (ESS), which is under construction in Sweden, and the need for a new national source, ICONE. The availability of neutrons in France is at a critical point since the previous French national source, Orphée at LLB, has been closed, and the current operating agreement for the ILL, signed by its member and Associate countries, is due to expire in 2033.

Since the ILL, the current European source, has the brightest neutron beams and the largest instrument suite (fully modernised from 2016 to 2024) in the world, the message behind the article is that there is a risk of a capacity and capability gap if existing sources end operation before new sources are brought online. Indeed, the success of the new sources will depend critically on the vibrant research community supported by the existing sources, in particular the ILL.

In this context, it is crucial to understand the timescales involved – from the examples of ILL, ISIS in the UK and SNS in the US, a new large scale facility takes a decade, following the start of the user programme, to reach nominal, initial performance. For the ESS, this means that it will reach technical and scientific maturity in the mid-2030s, at which stage it will likely have less than half the capacity of the ILL.

World-class research needs new sources and facilities but the transition towards these must be carefully managed. The time frame for this transition stretches well into the 2040s.