Dosimetric and microdosimetric analyses for blood exposed to reactor-derived thermal neutrons
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Thermal neutrons are found in reactor, radiotherapy, aircraft, and space environments. The purpose of this study was to characterise the dosimetry and microdosimetry of thermal neutron exposures, using three simulation codes, as a precursor to quantitative radiobiological studies using blood samples. An irradiation line was designed employing a pyrolytic graphite crystal or-alternatively-a super mirror to expose blood samples to thermal neutrons from the National Research Universal reactor to determine radiobiological parameters. The crystal was used when assessing the relative biological effectiveness for dicentric chromosome aberrations, and other biomarkers, in lymphocytes over a low absorbed dose range of 1.2-14 mGy. Higher exposures using a super mirror will allow the additional quantification of mitochondrial responses. The physical size of the thermal neutron fields and their respective wavelength distribution was determined using the McStas Monte Carlo code. Spinning the blood samples produced a spatially uniform absorbed dose as determined from Monte Carlo N-Particle version 6 simulations. The major part (71%) of the total absorbed dose to blood was determined to be from the 14N(n,p)14C reaction and the remainder from the 1H(n,γ)2H reaction. Previous radiobiological experiments at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories involving thermal neutron irradiation of blood yielded a relative biological effectiveness of 26 ± 7. Using the Particle and Heavy Ion Transport Code System, a similar value of ∼19 for the quality factor of thermal neutrons initiating the 14N(n,p)14C reaction in soft tissue was determined by microdosimetric simulations. This calculated quality factor is of similar high value to the experimentally-derived relative biological effectiveness, and indicates the potential of thermal neutrons to induce deleterious health effects in superficial organs such as cataracts of the eye lens.
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