LabH6: Optical fibers for sensors in nuclear environment

Passive optical fibers for nuclear instrumentation


Many high energy physics facilities, the nuclear or dismantling industries require single-mode or multi-mode optical fibers operating in the infrared domain, most often at Telecom wavelengths: 1310 nm and 1550 nm. These optical fibers are used for data transfer or serve as sensitive elements to distributed sensors of temperature, strain, liquid levels… Fig.1 lists the harsh environments of interest for optical fibers and fiber sensors [S. Girard et al., J. Optics, 2018], characterized by very different doses, dose rates and temperatures.

At the macroscopic scale, the irradiation affects the optical fiber properties via three main mechanisms [S. Girard et al., TNS, 2013]. The first is radiation- induced attenuation (RIA), which results in a large increase in the fiber transmission losses. The second is the radiation-induced light emission (RIE) which corresponds to a parasitic signal superimposed on the one of interest. The third is the change in the refractive index of glass, particularly observed at high neutron fluences.

For high gamma irradiation doses (> 100 kGy(SiO2) and dose rates below 1 kGy/h, RIA remains the limiting factor for fiber-based nuclear instrumentation. The level and kinetics of RIA depend on many parameters relating to the optical fibers, their profile of use and considered harsh environments [S. Girard et al., TNS, 2013].

Fig. 1: Various radiation environments of interest for optical fibers and optical fiber sensors.
Ad hoc optical fibers have been developed for different actors of the nuclear field

Radiation-hard single-mode optical fibers with acrylate or polyimide coatings, have been developed for ANDRA for use as temperature and strain sensors in the severe environment associated with radioactive waste disposal: doses up to 10 MGy, T <100 °C, presence of hydrogen.

Other radiation hardened optical fibers have been elaborated for AREVA (now ORANO) to be integrated as water level sensors into nuclear pools (doses up to 10 MGy, T <100 °C) or to their functionalization in the form of resistant fiber Bragg grating sensors.


Fibers with pure silica and fluorine doped cores exhibit the best performance in terms of radiation resistance. Fig.2 compares the measured RIA levels for different optical fiber compositions at 1550 nm versus the deposited dose at 25 °C. Typical losses for this category of optical fibers are around ~40 dB/km at 1550 nm. New optical fibers, developed via the iXblue SPCVD process, show improved performance with an RIA of less than 10 dB/km between 1310 nm and 1625 nm [G. Mélin et al., RADECS 2019]. At these high doses, the mechanical strength of optical fibers must also be studied, particularly for environments combining radiative and thermal stresses.

LabH6 members studied the degradation of different types of optical fiber coatings (acrylate, carbon, polyimide, aluminum) in an environment combining irradiation and temperature [G. Mélin et al., RADECS 2019 / G. Mélin et al., IEEE TNS 2018]. This study has established that some of these coatings allow to withstand doses exceeding MGy (SiO2) up to temperatures of the order of 250 ° C, without detrimental degradation of their post-irradiation mechanical strength/response measured by the bench shown in Fig.3.

  • Optical fibers with RIA <10 dB/km between 1310 and 1625 nm after a dose of 1 MGy are available: Rad Hard Fibers
Fig. 2: RIA at 1550 nm according to the dose for different fiber optic compositions [S. Girard et al., Reviews in Physics, 2019]
Fig. 3: Illustration of the test bench for the mechanical strength of optical fibers before/after irradiation.

Related Publications

  • Recent advances in radiation-hardened fiber-based technologies for space applications

    S. Girard, A. Morana, A. Ladaci, T.Robin, L. Mescia, J.J Bonnefois, M. Boutillier, J. Mekki, A. Paveau, B. Cadier, E. Marin, Y. Ouerdane & A. Boukenter

    Journal of Optics – 1 August 2018

    In this topical review, the recent progress on radiation-hardened fiber-based technologies is detailed, focusing on examples for space applications. In the first part of the review, we introduce the operational principles of the various fiber-based technologies considered for use in radiation environments: …

  • Radiation Effects on Silica-Based Optical Fibers: Recent Advances and Future Challenges

    S. Girard; J. Kuhnhenn; A. Gusarov; B. Brichard; M. Van Uffelen; Y. Ouerdane; A. Boukenter; C. Marcandella

    Illustration of the test bench for the mechanical strength of optical fibers before/after irradiation.
  • Overview of radiation induced point defects in silica-based optical fibers

    Sylvain Girard, Antonino Alessia, Nicolas Richard, Layla Martin-Samos, Vincenzo De Michele, Luigi Giacomazzi, Simonpietro Agnello, Diego Di Francesca, Adriana Morana, Blaž Winkler, Imène Reghioua, Philippe Paillet, Marco Cannas, Thierry Robin, Aziz Boukenter, Youcef Ouerdane

    S. Girard et al., Reviews in Physics (4) 100032, 2019.
  • Combined effect of radiation and temperature: towards optical fibers suited to distributed sensing in extreme radiation environments

    G. Mélin, A. Barnini, A. Morana, S. Girard, P. Guitton & R. Montron

    30th Conference on Radiation and its Effects on Components and Systems (RADECS 2019) – September 2019

    Combined effect of radiation and temperature on the response of polyimide coated radiation hardened single-mode fibers is investigated in the context of distributed monitoring of large nuclear infrastructures. Radiation induced attenuation (RIA) is evaluated for doses ranging from 1 to 10 MGy(SiO2) and temperatures up to ~250 °C.

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  • Radiation resistant single-mode fiber with different coatings for sensing in high dose environments

    G. Mélin, P. Guitton, R. Montron, T. Gotter, T. Robin, B. Overton, A. Morana, S. Rizzolo & S. Girard

    IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science – 10 December 2018

    A radiation single-mode optical fiber has been specifically developed for distributed sensing in harsh environments associated with MGy(SiO2) dose radiation. Different types of coating have been used: acrylate, polyimide, aluminum that allow extending the range of accessible temperatures up to 400°C…

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