In order to judge the measurement reliability, metrology requires to measure quantities with their uncertainties, in relation to a reference through a documented and unbroken chain of calibrations. In neutron radiation field, instrument response has to be known as a function of the neutron energy. Then detector calibrations are required using reference neutron fields. In France, primary reference neutron fields are held by the LNE-IRSN, at the Laboratory for Neutron Metrology and Dosimetry (LMDN).
In order to improve reference neutron field characterization, the LNE-IRSN MIMAC μTPC has been developed. This detector is a Time Projection Chamber (TPC), using a gas at low pressure (30 mbar abs. to 1 bar abs.). Nuclear recoils are generated by neutron elastic scattering onto gas atoms. By measuring the nuclear recoil energy and scattering angle, the μTPC detector is able to measure the energy distribution of the neutron fluence between 8 keV and 5 MeV.
The main challenge was to perform accurate spectrometry of neutron fields in the keV range, following a primary procedure. First of all, a metrological approach was followed in order to master every physical process taking part in the neutron detection. This approach led to develop the direct and inverse models, representing the detector response function and its inverse function respectively. Using this detailed characterization, the energy distribution of the neutron fluence has been measured for a continuous neutron field of 27 keV. The reconstructed energy is 28,2 ± 4,5 keV, the difference between μTPC integral fluence measurement and other measurement methods is less than 6%. The LNE-IRSN MIMAC μTPC system becomes the only one system able to measure simultaneously energy and fluence at energies lower than 100 keV, following a primary procedure. The project goal is then reached. These measurements at energies lower than 100 keV shows also a non-linearity between the ionization charge and the ion kinetic energy. This ionization non-linearity study is linked to current radiobiology topics on absorbed dose mechanism.