AntiMatter OTech

AntiMatter-OTech (often referred to as “AM-OTech” for short) is a project devoted to the exploration of novel nuclear industry instrumentation using, for the first time, antineutrinos as a direct probe into the functioning of industrial nuclear reactors.

The project, funded by the EU (EIC) and UK (UKRI), started on the 1st of December 2022 and is led by a group of European academic institutions in France (CNRSIJCLabSubatech along with Université Paris-Saclay and Nantes Université), Germany (JGU-Mainz), Spain (CIEMAT) and the UK (University of Sussex), along with our industrial partner, also in France, EDF. The experimental site is located in western Europe, near the border between France and Belgium, using the EDF Chooz-B nuclear reactors, providing the project with two N4-PWR modern generation reactors, among the most powerful in the world. This site is renowned for its significant track record on fundamental neutrino research in Europe, with several decades of history, including previous successful experiments, such as the CHOOZ (1990s) and Double Chooz (2005-2023) and, most recently, the exploration of a new experimental opportunity, such as SuperChooz, using the former Chooz-A reactor underground facilities upon dismantling. Extra details can be found in our experimental setup 3D illustrated (artist: Mark Leger) or, better, in our publications, including some technicalities, despite strict confidentiality for now. An appetiser is also provided for our consortium’s many activities.

The AntiMatter-OTech project’s experimental setup is at the Chooz-B nuclear reactor. Artist: Mark Leger.

Antineutrinos are known to be a direct probe of nuclear fission in nuclear reactors. Their flux is proportional to the fission rate, which, in a reactor, implies a metric proportional to the thermal power generated by the core and, subsequently, the electrical power from the turbines. This knowledge dates from the discovery of the neutrino in the 1950s using a nuclear reactor as the source. Since then, studying antineutrinos emitted from reactors has led to crucial discoveries in fundamental physics research thanks to their highest and controlled flux.

The AntiMatter-OTech project aims to reverse today’s paradigm so that the antineutrinos, resulting from nuclear fission, may be employed as a direct and non-intrusive probe in industrial nuclear reactors. In this way, we explore whether the outcome of state-of-the-art fundamental research today could push the boundaries of knowledge practical for industry, thus serving society. Therefore, AntiMatter-OTech is designed to complement today’s existing information about the instantaneous state of a nuclear reactor when running or even stopped. The technology may be powerful enough to provide critical diagnoses to unique reactor-compromised scenarios, such as at Fukushima Daiichi (Japan), where information cannot be obtained using other means. In general, data from antineutrinos is expected to complement the existing thermo-nuclear information used for reliable nuclear reactor diagnosis today. The goal is to provide an extra layer of information — including correlations to existing knowledge — that may enhance diagnostics and improve reactors’ running and even safety today. Beyond nuclear reactors, the remote and non-intrusive monitoring paradigm of the AntiMatter-OTech technology natively may serve the UN‘s IAEA framework for non-proliferation and, similarly, it may benefit the insight into other nuclear facilities.

Compared to previous efforts, the breakthrough boosting AntiMatter-OTech’s potential lies in its instrumentation, whereby a new paradigm of antineutrino detection so that its “antimatter-ness” can be identified. Hence, our project relies on the novel LiquidO‘s opaque medium detection technology pioneered by leading members of AntiMatter-OTech. LiquidO, renowned for its subatomic imaging capability potential, is expected to unlock a new background control level, thus allowing for unprecedented higher detection sensitivity. The primary strategy is the imaging and subsequent identification of the antimatter (positron; e+) produced upon each antineutrino interaction in the detector. This is possible since antimatter undergoes a unique annihilation process in the presence of matter. LiquidO can identify this signature upon the spontaneous emission of the characteristic annihilation γ-rays. This unique feature — unattainable with today’s neutrino detection technology —  is designed to actively reduce dramatically, for the first time, the effects of the most dangerous cosmic-ray-induced backgrounds. It is this unique capability that gives the project its name. The AntiMatter-OTech implies demonstrating the novel technology performance for antineutrino detection and its ability to monitor nuclear reactors so that their TRL can be assessed for its subsequent prospect application in innovation, including possible industrial transfer(s) scenarios.