The University of Birmingham has unique facilities which include the MC40 cyclotron (particle accelerator). This is capable of accelerating hydrogen (protons and deuterons) and helium (helium-3 and helium-4) with high intensities to energies at which it is possible to perform nuclear reactions. These reactions are typically used to create radioactive isotopes which are used in a variety of applications. In particular, the cyclotron produces radioisotopes using nationally for medical imaging.
The MC40 cyclotron has been used to develop a programme of irradiation of nuclear materials with beams of protons. This process is used to simulate the damage that is done by the neutrons inside a nuclear reactor. The advantage of using protons as opposed to neutrons is that the same damage that is produced inside a reactor by neutrons over many years can be achieved in several weeks. This allows the study of damage mechanisms on an accelerated timescale.