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Reactor physics

IAEA Education and Training

Reactor physics IAEA Education and Training

RREEAACCTTOORR PPHHYYSSIICCSS

R R E E A A C C T T O O R R P P

NSNI Department

Last update: 09/23/2004

Reactor physics

IAEA Education and Training

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1 Nuclear Physics (2 hrs)

7

1.1

Atomic Nucleus

7

1.1.1 Introduction

7

1.1.2 Equivalence Between Mass and Energy

8

1.1.3 Nuclear Masses

9

1.2 Binding Energy

9

1.3 Nuclear Forces

11

1.3.1 Nuclear Forces

11

1.3.2 Energy levels

12

1.4

Radioactivity

12

1.4.1 Laws of Radioactive Decay

12

1.4.2 Activity

12

1.4.3 Half-Life

13

1.5

Exercises

13

1.5.1 Question 1

13

1.5.2 Question 2

14

1.5.3 Question 3

14

1.5.4 Question 4

15

1.5.5 Question 5

15

1.6

Supplements

16

1.6.1 Example 1: Fusion Reaction

16

1.6.2 Example 2. Fission Reaction

16

2 Nuclear Reactions with Neutrons (2 hrs)

17

2.1 Conservation of Energy

17

2.2 Elastic Collisions

17

2.3 Inelastic Collisions

19

2.3.1 Introduction

19

2.3.2 Fission Reactions

20

2.4

Exercises

20

2.4.1 Question 1

20

2.4.2 Question 2

21

2.4.3 Question 3

21

3 Fission Reactions (2 hrs)

24

3.1

Fission

24

3.1.1 Introduction

24

3.1.2 Spontaneous Fission

24

3.2 Practical Fuels

24

3.3 Formation of Fissionable Material

25

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IAEA Education and Training

3.4

Fission Products

25

3.4.1 Fission Fragments

25

3.4.2 Fission Products

26

3.5 Example on Energy Released per Fission

27

3.6 Example on Reactor Power Consumption

29

3.6.1 Reactor Power and Fuel Consumption

29

3.6.2 Conclusion

29

3.7

Exercises

30

3.7.1 Question 1

30

3.7.2 Question 2

30

3.7.3 Question 3

31

4 Production of Neutrons (2 hrs)

32

4.1 Prompt Neutrons

32

4.2 Delayed Neutrons

33

4.3 Photoneutrons

34

4.4 (n,2n) and (n,3n) Reactions

35

4.5 Exercises

35

4.5.1 Question 1

35

4.5.2 Question 2

36

4.5.3 Question 3

36

5 Cross Section (2 hrs)

38

5.1

Cross Section

38

5.1.1 Neutron Cross Sections

38

5.1.2 Conclusions

41

5.2 Neutron Flux

41

5.3 Exercises

42

5.3.1 Question 1

42

5.3.2 Question 2

42

5.3.3 Question 3

43

6 Chain Reaction (1 hrs)

44

6.1 Chain Reaction

44

6.2 Example of Chain Reaction with Natural Uranium

45

6.3 Types of Reactors

49

6.4 Exercises

50

6.4.1 Question 1

50

6.4.2 Question 2

50

7 Neutron Moderation and Diffusion (3 hrs)

51

7.1 Neutron moderation

51

7.2 Moderating Mechanism

52

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7.3 Moderating Power

53

7.4 Diffusion equation

54

7.5 Boundary Condition

56

7.6 Neutron diffusion in the moderator

57

7.7 Homogeneous bare reactor

59

7.8 Exercises

60

7.8.1 Question 1

60

7.8.2 Question 2

60

7.8.3 Question 3

61

8 Steady State Reactor (3 hrs)

62

8.1 Neutron life cycle

62

8.2 Four Factor Formula

65

8.3 Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Systems

66

8.4 Nuclear Advantages of the Heteregeneous System

69

8.5 Exercises

71

8.5.1 Question 1

71

8.5.2 Question 2

72

9 Critical Size (2 hrs)

73

9.1

Neutron Leakage

73

9.1.1 The case of the sphere

73

9.1.2 2. The case of the cylinder

73

9.1.3 CRITICAL SIZE

74

9.1.4 k eff formula

75

9.2 Reflector: Its Uses and Properties

76

9.3 Exercises

77

9.3.1 Question 1

77

9.3.2 Question 2

77

9.3.3 Question 3

78

10 Neutron and Power Distribution (2 hrs)

79

10.1 Distribution of the Neutron Flux in the Reactor

79

10.2 Implications of the Non-Uniform Distribution of Flux

82

10.3 Power Peaking Factor

85

10.4 Exercises

85

10.4.1 Question 1

85

10.4.2 Question 2

86

11 Reactivity and Its Effects on Reactor Power (1 hrs)

87

11.1 Criticality and Neutron Multiplication

87

11.2 Reactivity

88

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11.3 The Effect of Reactivity on Neutron Multiplication

89

11.4 The Effect of Reactivity on Neutron Flux and Reactor Power

90

11.4.1 Course

90

11.4.2 Example Problem 1

91

11.4.3 Example Problem 2

92

11.5

Exercises

93

11.5.1 Question 1

93

11.5.2 Question 2

93

12 Changes on Reactor Power Relative to Time (2 hrs)

94

12.1

The Effects of Neutron Life Time on Changes in the Reactor Power

94

12.1.1 Changes in reactor power relative to time

94

12.1.2 The effects of neutron life-time on changes in reactor power

94

12.2 Reactor Period

95

12.3 The Effect of Prompt Neutrons

95

12.4 The Effect of Delayed Neutrons on Power Changes

97

12.4.1 Course

97

12.4.2 Discussion

98

12.4.3 Example

99

12.5 Power Change Rate

100

12.6 Prompt Critical Condition

101

12.7 Exercises

105

12.7.1 Question 1

105

12.7.2 Question 2

105

12.7.3 Question 3

105

13 Effect on Neutron Source (1 hrs)

107

13.1 The Neutron Source

107

13.2 Neutron Source Effect on the Overall Neutron Population

108

13.3 The Effect of the Neutron Source with the Reactor Out of Service

110

13.4 Neutronic and Thermal Power

114

13.5 Exercises

114

13.5.1 Question 1

114

13.5.2 Question 2

115

14 Effect in Reactivity Due to Temperature Changes (2 hrs)

116

14.1 Operational Reactivity Effects

116

14.2 Cause of Heat-Induced Reactivity Changes

118

14.3 Effects Produced in the Core as a Result of Increased Temperature 118

14.3.1 The effects of thermal expansion

118

14.3.2 Direct nuclear effect

119

14.3.3 Indirect nuclear effect

120

14.4

Fuel Temperature Coefficient

122

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14.5 Coolant Temperature Coefficient

123

14.6 Moderator Temperature Coefficient

124

14.7 Practical Aspects

124

14.8 Effects due to Void Formation

125

14.9 Exercises

125

14.9.1 Question 1

125

14.9.2 Question 2

125

15 Fission Product Poisoning (2 hrs)

126

15.1 Xe 135 Build-Up

126

15.2 The Xenon Reactivity Worth in Equilibrium

129

15.3 Xenon Accumulation During Reactor Shutdown

130

15.4 Samarium-149

131

15.5 Other Fission Products

133

15.6 Exercises

134

15.6.1 Question 1

134

15.6.2 Question 2

134

16 Fuel Burnup (2 hrs)

135

16.1

Fuel Burn-up

135

Reactor physics

11 NNuucclleeaarr PPhhyyssiiccss ((22 hhrrss))

11 11

11

AAttoommiicc NNuucclleeuuss

11

11

IInnttrroodduuccttiioonn

IAEA Education and Training

Very briefly, an atom is formed by a nucleus made up of nucleons (neutrons and protons) and electrons in external orbits. The number of electrons and protons is equal to assure neutrality of atomic nuclei.

While the size of an atom is of magnitude 10 -10 m, the size of nuclei is in the order of 10 -15 m. There is experimental evidence that the shape of both may be considered approximately as spheres with diffuse boundaries.

The masses of the most important building stones of atomic nuclei are about 10 -27 kg for nucleons and about 10 -31 kg for electrons (see the Table 1-1).

Particle/Atom

Mass (amu)

Electron

5.4858026·10 -4

Neutron

1.008664

Proton

1.007276

α-particle

4.001506

 

1 H 1

1.007825

 

1 H 2

2.014101

 

1 H 3

3.016049

2

He 4

4.002603

 

3

Li 7

7.016004

4

Be 8

8.005305

4

Be 9

9.012182

 

5

B 10

10.012937

38

Sr 95

94.919358

54

Xe 139

138.918787

90

Th 234

234.043595

Table 1–1 Masses of Selected Particles and Atoms Mass Units Source: Environmental Chemistry: Periodic Table of Elements

There are other elementary particles such as neutrinos (ν), photons (γ), α-particles ( 2 He 4 ), etc. released from nuclei under certain conditions which do not play a role in reactor physics.

The number of protons in the nucleus is known as the atomic number Z, and determines the chemical properties of the element.

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The number of neutrons is represented by the letter N.

The total number of nucleons in the nucleus of an atom is known as the mass number A = Z

+ N.

A nuclide X is characterized as follows:

A = Z + N. A nuclide X is characterized as follows: All elements with the

All elements with the same nuclear charge Z but different A are known as isotopes such as uranium (U): 92 U 234 , 92 U 235 , 92 U 238 representing the isotopes of natural uranium. Isobares are elements with the same mass number A but different Z such as 92 U 239 , 93 Np 239 (neptunium), 94 Pu 239 (plutonium), etc. Correspondingly, isotones are elements with the same number of neutrons N which are relatively rare.

The neutron is not stable unless it is bound to a nucleus. A free neutron decays to a proton with the emission of a β - (fast electron) and a ν (antineutrino). This process has a lifetime of about 12 minutes.

The average lifetime of a free neutron in a reactor is a matter of milliseconds (10 -3 s), thus neutron instability is of no consequence in reactor physics (Chapter 12.1).

11 11 22

EEqquuiivvaalleennccee BBeettwweeeenn MMaassss aanndd EEnneerrggyy

According to Einstein's theory of relativity, mass and energy are equivalent and convertible, one into the other according to:

Whereby:

E = mc 2

E = rest energy

m = rest mass

c = 3 · 10 8 m/s, speed of light

(1-1)

The electron volt (eV) is the unit of energy mainly used in nuclear physics. It is defined as follows: The electron volt is the energy gained by an electron when it passes through an electric field, the potential difference of which is 1 volt. Its Joule (J) equivalence is as follows:

1 eV = 1.602•10 -19 J

1 keV = 10 3 eV

1 MeV = 10 6 eV

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11 11 33

NNuucclleeaarr MMaasssseess

IAEA Education and Training

The masses of atoms are expressed in terms of atomic mass units (amu's). An amu is defined as being one twelfth of the mass of one neutral atom of the isotope 6 C 12 (1 amu = 1/12 • m( 6 C 12 )).

The equivalence of 1 amu = 1.66058•10 -27 kg is deduced as follows:

The number of atoms or molecules in a mole (mass in grams equal to the atomic or molecular weight of the substance) is called Avogadro's number L, i.e.

6.022•10 23 atoms = 12 g C 12

The mass of one atom 6 C 12 is

m( 6 C 12 ) = 12 g/6.022•10 23 = 1.99269•10 -23 g

Thus: 1 amu = 1/12•1.99269•10 -23 kg = 1.66058•10 -27 kg and its energy equivalent is 1 amu = 931.5 MeV.

The most important element utilized in the conversion of nuclear energy is uranium (U). The elements used for this purpose are divided into two major groups, namely:

fissionable or fertile materials, which require high-energy neutrons to achieve fission;

fissile materials, which are easily fissionable, even with low-energy neutrons.

 

Nuclides

Percentage of

Isotopic Mass

Weight

(amu)

Fissionable

Thorium-232

100

232.038050

or Fertile

     

Materials

Uranium-238

99.274

238.050782

Fissile

Uranium-235

0.720

235.043923

Materials

Uranium-234

0.0058

234.040945

Table 1–2 Nuclides Employed for the Conversion of Nuclear Energy

11 22

BBiinnddiinngg EEnneerrggyy

The mass of a nucleus is always less than the sum of the masses of its constituent nucleons.

The difference is known as mass defect:

m = Zm p + Nm n - m(Z,A)

where m p and m n are the masses of an individual proton and neutron, respectively, and m(Z,A) is the mass of the nucleus concerned (see also Exercise 1).

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m is the mass that would be transformed into energy, if a nucleus is to be constructed by the necessary number of protons and neutrons. This same amount of energy would be needed to split a nucleus into its components. This quantity is taken as the measure of the energy needed to bind the nuclei. The energy equivalent of the mass defect is called the binding energyE B of the nucleus:

E B = ( Zm p + Nm n - m(Z,A))c 2

(1-1)

Experience shows that the binding energy per nucleon in nuclei grows to about A = 60 (except in the case of some light nuclei) and then gradually decreases; i.e., the middle nuclei are more strongly bound than the light or heavy nuclei (see Figure 1).

bound than the light or heavy nuclei (see Figure 1). Figure 1-1 Source: John R. Lamarsh:

Figure 1-1

Source: John R. Lamarsh: Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 2nd Edition, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1983

Binding energy can be released either from light nuclei by fusion or from heavy nuclei by fission. When light elements fuse into larger groups, they lose mass, and heavy nuclei lose mass when they divide.

Let´s look at examples:

1)

0 n 1

+

1 p 1

1 H 2

+

γ

(a γ-ray of 2.23 MeV is emitted)

(1-2)

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Since this energy escapes when the deuteron 1 H 2 is formed, we say that the mass of the deuteron, expressed in units of energy, is 2.23 MeV less than the sum of the masses of the neutron and the proton. Separation between n and p can again be achieved if the system (deuteron) receives the binding energy via, for example, γ- bombardment of the deuteron.

γ +

1 H 2 0 n 1

+ 1 p 1

(E γ >>2.23 MeV)

(1-3)

Binding energy is the energy required to separate the nuclide into its individual nucleons.

2)

E

B :

:

E B

1 H 2

+

1 H 2

1 H 3

+

1 H 1

2.23 MeV

2.23 MeV

8.23 MeV

(Binding energy for 1 H 1 is 0)

[8.23-2(2.23)]

MeV = 4.02 MeV

(1-4)

This energy appears as kinetic energy of 1 H 3 and 1 H 1 .

See at the end of this chapter:

Example of mass defect in a fusion reaction

Example of mass defect in a fission reaction

11 33

NNuucclleeaarr FFoorrcceess

11 33 11

NNuucclleeaarr FFoorrcceess

Between particles equally charged there are repulsive Coulomb forces, and as the nucleus of the atom contains a large number of protons, each repels the others in accordance with Coulomb's Law. Clearly, there should also be other forces in the nucleus that attract. These are referred to as nuclear forces. They act between nucleons and drop rapidly to zero when separated from each other.

When the number of protons increases, the long-term Coulomb forces grow faster than the attractive short-term nuclear forces. Heavy nuclei to remain stable require more neutrons, so that the attracting forces of all particles are superior to the repulsive Coulomb forces. For this reason, the n/p ratio grows gradually from 1 to 1½.

The nature of these forces, which bind the protons and neutrons in the nucleus is short-term, strong and charge independent. It is generally thought that the nucleons are bound in the nucleus by means of the continuous exchange of particles called mesons. (Exercises 3 and 4 provide more insight into the nature of nuclear forces).

It may be observed that for stable nuclides with a low mass number, the neutron/proton ratio is near one.

For heavy nuclides this n/p ratio rises progressively, maintaining stability up to a limit level, at which point they are no longer stable and may be formed artificially. This occurs in elements with mass number A larger than 238.

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11 33 22

EEnneerrggyy lleevveellss

IAEA Education and Training

It is said that a nucleus is in the ground state when the nucleons in the nucleus are at their lowest potential energy. Otherwise, the nucleus is excited within discrete energy states, as long as all constituents of the nucleus are bound, which are referred to as energy levels.

11 44

RRaaddiiooaaccttiivviittyy

11 44 11

LLaawwss ooff RRaaddiiooaaccttiivvee DDeeccaayy

All nuclides which are heavier than Pb (Z=82), and a few light nuclei as well, are unstable and naturally radioactive. They decay, emitting either γ or β - particles. In most cases, the resulting nucleus, or daughter, is produced in an excited state, which decays to the ground state by emission of one or more photons. Usually, but not always, this will happen instantaneously within 10 -14 s of the formation of the daughter. A radioactive nuclide, or radionuclide, can also decay, by means of capturing an orbital electron (k capture). After abandoning the nucleus, the photons may be absorbed, emitting an electron from the orbit of the same atom. This emission of a secondary particle is known as internal conversion.

In the following section, we will review the laws of radioactive disintegration.

11

44 22

AAccttiivviittyy

Radioactive decay is governed by the laws of probability and is independent of the external environment such as pressure, temperature, chemical treatment, etc

The number of atoms in a radioactive substance that decay N within a certain interval of time, is proportional to the number of present atoms N and the interval of time t considered:

-N = λ N

(1-6)

Whereby:

λ

constant, known as the radioactive decay constant. It is characteristic of each nuclide and its dimension is time -1 (s -1 ; min -1 ).

If in (1-6) we apply a small t and pass it to the first member

- 1 ; min - 1 ). If in (1-6) we apply a small ∆ t

(1-7)

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N(t) = N o e -λt

with N o = N (t=0)

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(1-8)

The value A, which measures the decay speed of an active nuclide the minus sign is due to the fact that there are atoms that disappear), is called activity. Thus, activity is the number of atoms that disintegrate within a unit of time.

11

44 33

HHaallff--LLiiffee

Half-life is defined as the time necessary for a significant number of atoms to reduce to half, and is represented by T ½ .

Mathematically speaking:

(1-9)

(1-9)

Connecting this equation with (1-7):

(1-10)

(1-10)

Half-life indicates the average lifetime of atoms. Following the corresponding mathematical analyses, and once a certain time lapse t has passed, we have the following:

a certain time lapse t has passed, we have the following: (1-11) Whereby: A0 = source

(1-11)

Whereby: A0 = source activity at the initial time (t=0)e = natural logarithmic baseActivity is expressed in disintegrations per unit of time (disintegrations per minute; disintegrations per second). The unit of activity is called a Curie, [A] = Ci and it is equivalent to 3.7•1010

disintegrations per second. The SI unit of activity is Bequerel, [A] = Bq which is equivalent to

1 disintegration per second.

1 Ci = 3.7•1010Bq.

11

55

11

EExxeerrcciisseess

55 11

QQuueessttiioonn 11

Derive an expression for the mass defect m

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Solution

IAEA Education and Training

m = Z(m p + m e ) + Nm n -(m(Z,A) + Zm e ) where m e is the mass of an electron. The mass of the neutral 1 H 1 is equal to m p + m e , therefore m(Z,A) + Zm e represents the mass m( Z X A ) of the neutral atom. The mass defect of the nucleus is therefore

m = Zm( 1 H 1 ) + Nm n - m( Z X A )

which differs slightly from

m = Zm p + Nm n - m(Z,A)

due to the binding energies of the atoms which, however, is not of importance for most applications.

11

55 22

QQuueessttiioonn 22

Give the expressions for the energy necessary to separate a proton, a neutron and an α- particle from a nucleus (separation energies S p , S n and S α ).

Solution

The energy necessary to separate a single nucleon form a specific nucleus (Z,N) is called separation energy S which corresponds to the ionization energy in an atom.

S p = [m(Z-1, N) + m p - m(Z, N)] c 2

with

E B (Z, N) = [Zm p + Nm n - m(Z, N)] c 2

and

we

obtain

E B (Z-1, N) = [(Z-1)m p + Nm n - m(Z-1, N)] c 2

S p = E B (Z, N) - E B (Z-1, N)

ditto for

S n = [m(Z, N-1) + m n - m(Z, N)] c 2

S n = E B (Z, N) - E B (Z, N-1)

S α = [m(Z-2, N-2) + m(2, 2) - m(Z, N)]c 2

S α = E B (Z, N) - E B (Z-2, N-2) - E B (α)

11

55 33

QQuueessttiioonn 33

Explain the nature of nuclear forces by taking into consideration that the binding energy per nucleon is approximately constant for mass numbers larger than 30 according to Figure 1.

Reactor physics

Solution

IAEA Education and Training

E B /A ~ const. results into E B ~ A, i.e. nuclear forces must have saturation characteristics which are well known as molecule binding between the two H-atoms of a H 2 -molecule from the atomic physics . As such forces act only between two particles; in analogy it was suggested a two-body force for the nuclear force caused by the exchange of a particle. This particle, the π-meson (pion) was theoretically requested by Yukawa (1935) and experimentally found by Powell

(1946).

11

55 44

QQuueessttiioonn 44

Give a rough estimate of the range of nuclear forces by using the meson mass and Heisenberg's uncertainty relation.

Solution

The 'mass uncertainty' caused by the mass of the pion (π-meson) results according to

by the mass of the pion ( π -meson) results according to with ∆ E =

with E = m π c 2 ~ 140 MeV and (Planck's constant) into t = 4.7 · 10 -24 s

with E = m π c 2 ~ 140 MeV and

into Dt = 4.7 · 10-24 s As the pion can travel at the most with the velocity of light c, its range is

at the most with the velocity of light c, its range is (Planck's constant) which is

(Planck's constant)

velocity of light c, its range is (Planck's constant) which is in good agreement with the

which is in good agreement with the experiment.

11

55 55

QQuueessttiioonn 55

Estimate the age of archaeological wooden objects whose specific C 14 activity is 3/5 of that of trees (of the same wood) cut down today (T ½ (C 14 ) = 5730 years).

Solution

of that of trees (of the same wood) cut down today (T ½ (C 1 4

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Reactor physics (years) 1 1 6 6 S S u u p p p p l

(years)

11 66

SSuupppplleemmeennttss

11 66 11

EExxaammppllee 11:: FFuussiioonn RReeaaccttiioonn

The currently most important fusion reaction is:

1 H 3 + 1 H 2

2 He 4 + 0 n 1

Balance of masses:

or H 3 (d,n) He 4

Masses before the reaction:

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(1-5)

= 3.016049 amu (H 3 ) + 2.014101 amu (H 2 ) = 5.030150 amu

Masses after the reaction:

= 4.002603 (He 4 ) + 1.008664 ( 0 n 1 ) = 5.011267 amu

The mass defect m= 0.018883 amu is equivalent to 17.6 MeV. If the kinetic energy of the 1 H 2 is 1 MeV and the 1 H 3 nucleus is stationary, then the sum of the energies of the emergent neutron and the α-particle ( 2 He 4 ) will be 18.6 MeV.

11 66 22

EExxaammppllee 22 FFiissssiioonn RReeaaccttiioonn

The binding energy per nucleon of the U 238 is about 7.5 MeV, while it is about 8.4 MeV for a nucleus with A=119 (238/2). Thus, if a uranium nucleus splits into two lighter nuclei each with about half the uranium mass, there is a gain in the binding energy of the system.

Binding energy before reaction 7.5 MeV per nucleon

Binding energy after reaction 8.4 MeV per nucleon

Mass defect = 0.9 MeV per nucleon

Total mass defect = 238 · 0.9 MeV = 214 MeV.

This process is called nuclear fission and it is the source of energy in nuclear reactors.

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22 NNuucclleeaarr RReeaaccttiioonnss wwiitthh NNeeuuttrroonnss ((22 hhrrss))

22 11

CCoonnsseerrvvaattiioonn ooff EEnneerrggyy

Charged particles (protons) require high energy to enter the nucleus due to the repulsive Coulomb forces.

Neutral particles such as neutrons and gamma quants interact very effectively with nuclei at low energies.

The main reactions with neutrons can be divided as follows: elastic and inelastic collisions. This division is based on whether or not the kinetic energy is conserved in the collision.

Nuclear reactions are governed by Conservation Laws, the most important of them being:

Conservation of nucleons, charge, momentum and energy, i.e. the total number of nucleons, the sum of charges of the particles and total momentum of interacting particles before and after a reaction are the same.

Conservation of energy means that the energy covering rest-mass energy (mc 2 ) and kinetic energy (E kin ) of participating particles is conserved in nuclear reactions. For the reaction A(a,b)B follows:

E kin (a)+m a c 2 +E kin (A)+m A c 2 = E kin (b)+ m b c 2 +E kin (B)+m B c 2

Rearrangement in the form

E kin (b)+E kin (B)-E kin (a)-E kin (A) = [(m a +m A )-(m b +m B )]c 2 2 = Q

(2-1)

The range in the kinetic energies of the particles before and after the reaction is equal to the difference of rest-masses of the particles before and after the reaction.

The conservation of energy can be used to predict whether a reaction is energetically possible. A positive Q-value means that the reaction is exothermic and nuclear mass is converted into kinetic energy (Exercise 1). Negative Q-values in so-called endothermic reactions mean that kinetic energy is converted into mass and a threshold energy for the incoming particle is required.

22 22

EEllaassttiicc CCoolllliissiioonnss

A neutron (n) with a certain velocity (ν 1 ) collides with a target nucleus (A). Following the collision, the neutron leaves with a lower velocity (ν 2 ), the nucleus A has a certain velocity ν, and since the kinetic energy is conserved, the kinetic energy received by A is equal to the kinetic energy lost by the neutron.

This condition is the conservation of total kinetic energy. Consequently, the neutron loses velocity following the collision, or, in other words, it is moderated. The loss of energy will depend on the angle from which the collision is produced and the mass of the target nucleus (A).

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The maximum energy loss will occur when the neutron strikes the nucleus head-on and the minimum energy loss will take place when the neutron strikes the nucleus with a glancing blow.

In reactors, generally speaking, the angle of incidence of neutrons in their path toward the target nucleus is random, as is the angle at which they exit. This process is thus known as "scattering". The term elastic, meanwhile, implies the conservation of kinetic energy. Thus, these collisions are referred to as "elastic scattering".

As the target nucleus becomes comparable (in terms of mass) to the neutron, it may lose its entire energy in a single head-on collision. The interaction of the neutron with the nucleus can come in the form of a "billiard ball" type collision.

The lighter the target nucleus, the greater is the proportion of energy lost by the neutrons in the collisions.

We must, then, look for light elements so that the neutrons can be taken to thermal energy levels in the fewest number of collisions possible.

After a certain number of collisions, the speed of the neutron is reduced to such an extent, that its average kinetic energy is approximately equal to that of the atoms or molecules of the medium with which it interacts. This energy depends on the temperature of the medium and is called thermal energy.

Fast neutrons that have energies of about 2 MeV must be thermalized to about 0.025 eV.

Neutrons with energies of less than 0.1 MeV are incapable of losing energy by inelastic collisions.

In a thermal reactor, the majority of moderation processes takes place with neutrons with energies lower than 0.1 MeV, which means that elastic collision processes are predominant.

Table 2-1 shows the number of elastic collisions a fast neutron needs to be thermalized in dependence of different elements.

H

18

D

25

H

2 O

20

D

2 O

36

C

12

115

U

1238

2172

Table 2–1 Number of Elastic Collisions to Moderate Neutrons of 2 MeV to 0.025 eV

To choose an effective moderator, it is important to bear in mind in what state (solid, liquid or gaseous) it is found. Logically, in a gas there will be fewer probabilities of collisions, due to the lower density of material, i.e. a larger separation between the atoms or molecules of the gas.

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22 33

22

IInneellaassttiicc CCoolllliissiioonnss

33 11

IInnttrroodduuccttiioonn

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There is no conservation of kinetic energy. The neutron enters the target nucleus and forms

a compound nucleus. Kinetic and binding energy of the neutron are transformed into the excitation of the compound nucleus.

As a result, the compound nucleus is in a highly excited state, unstable and will not be able

to remain in this state for long (about 10 -14 s). Reactions that may occur are as follows:

1. The neutron enters the U 238 nucleus and the compound nucleus U 239 is formed (compound nucleus whose lifetime is 10 -14 s.).

A neutron with a lower velocity (ν 2 ) exits leaving the target nucleus in a lower excited state which emits a g-ray to reach the ground state.

2. The neutron enters and the compound nucleus O 17 is formed, emitting a proton and forming N 16 .

0 n 1 + 8 O 16 7 N 16 + 1 p 1 or O 16 (n, p) N 16

(2-2)

This mechanism is called the charge exchange reaction of O 16 . These processes require neutron energies of more than 10 MeV.

N 16 is radioactive and emits high-energy photons (6 MeV), and thus represents a radiation risk at any place where O 16 is irradiated with.

N 16 is also a β-emitter with T ½ = 7.3 s.

In general, the compound nucleus emits a charged particle (proton or α) and forms a new element.

Another interesting reaction is that of B 10 , some reactors have it in their primary circuits:

B 10 (n, α) Li 7

3. 0 n 1 + 1 H 2 1 H 3 + γ

(2-3)

The neutron interacts with the H 2 nucleus and the compound nucleus H 3 is formed which is excited to emit a γ ray. Radioactive Tritium (H 3 ) remains. This phenomenon is called radiative capture.

This is a very common nuclear reaction with neutrons and can occur with nearly all nuclei and at nearly all energy levels.

Reactor physics

Radiative capture is important for two reasons:

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a. The capture of neutrons in a reactor is not desirable since it means that they are being spent.

In general, we want to avoid neutron loss. The exception to this rule would be the formation of Pu 239 (which is a useful fuel), via: U 238 (n,γ) U 239 Pu 239 .

b. Products of corrosion are activated when they circulate in the coolant. Once deposited, they represent a radioactive risk.

22 33 22

FFiissssiioonn RReeaaccttiioonnss

In this reaction, the compound nucleus divides into two new nuclei and an average of 2 or 3 neutrons also appear. The fission reaction may conveniently be considered in terms of the liquid drop model of the nucleus. The short-range nature of the nuclear force suggests an analogy between the nucleus and a liquid drop where the molecules are strongly attracted only by those in their immediate neighbourhood. The undisturbed nucleus remains in a stable spherical configuration under both the attractive short-range nuclear forces which act throughout the nuclear volume and along the surface of the nucleus, and the Coulomb forces of repulsion between the protons which tend to push them apart and to disrupt the nucleus. Such a drop of nuclear matter can be disrupted into two fragments caused by a dynamic instability initiated by the energy of an absorbed neutron (Exercises 2 and 3).

22

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EExxeerrcciisseess

44 11

QQuueessttiioonn 11

Calculate the Q-value in the neutron reaction

0 n 1 + 5 B 10 3 Li 7 + 2 α 4

by using the atomic masses given in Table 1-2 of Module 1.:

Solution

The nuclear masses are derived by subtracting the appropriate number of electrons from the atomic masses:

m(Z=5,A=10) = 10.010208 amu m(Z=3,A=7) = 7.014358 amu m(Z=2,A=4) = 4.001506 amu m = m(Z=5,A=10) + m n - m(Z=3,A=7) - m(Z=2,A=4)

= (11.018872 - 11.015864) amu = 3.008 · 10 -3 amu

Q

This is an exothermic reaction (Q > 0), with an energy release of 2.801 MeV

= 3.008 · 10 -3 · 931.5 MeV = 2.801 MeV

Reactor physics

22

44 22

QQuueessttiioonn 22

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Give a semi-empirical interpretation for the binding energy curve per nucleon by using a simplified expression of the binding energy of a nucleus as given by the liquid drop model:

energy of a nucleus as given by the liquid drop model: where the first term a

where the first term a V A (volume energy) indicates the proportionality of the binding energy to the total number of nucleons A. The other terms reduce the volume energy as follows:

-a S A 2/3

(surface energy)

-a C Z 2 A -1/3

(Coulomb energy)

energy) - a C Z 2 A -1/3 (Coulomb energy) (asymmetry energy) Solution reflects the fact

(asymmetry

energy)

Solution

reflects the fact that the nucleons at the surface have less immediate neighbours and they are less tightly bound

reduces the binding energy by the Coulomb repulsion between the protons

reflects a further reduction of the binding energy due to the neutron excess compared with a symmetric nucleus.

The rapid drop of E B for low A is associated with the surface energy term which plays a major role for small nuclei. The more gradual reduction at large A is associated with the Coulomb energy term. Figure 1 of Module 1, Section 2 can qualitatively be reproduced by:

1 of Module 1, Section 2 can qualitatively be reproduced by: The E B /A formula

The E B /A formula reproduces the binding energies for A>40 in the order of percents.

22

44 33

QQuueessttiioonn 33

Determine the number of protons Z 0 for which the mass of nuclei m(Z,A) has a minimum for A=const. The expression for m(Z,A) using the binding energy of the liquid drop model reads Weizsäcker's mass formula

m(Z,A) = Zm p + (A-Z)m n - a V A + a S A 2/3

+ a C Z 2 A -1/3 + a A (Z-A/2) 2 A -1

where the factor 1/c 2 is in the constants included with

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a V = 17011 amu

a S = 19641 amu

a C = 767 amu

a A = 99692 amu

Discuss the result in the N/Z diagram.

Solution

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in the N/Z diagram. Solution IAEA Education and Training The representation of these values in a

The representation of these values in a Z,N-diagram results in the line of β-stable nuclei in Figure 2, the bottom of the 'mass valley' assuming the mass number A is applied upwards on the Z,N plane.

Reactor physics

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Reactor physics IAEA Education and Training Figure 2-1 Z,N Diagram Source: John R. Lamarsh: Introduction to

Figure 2-1 Z,N Diagram

Source: John R. Lamarsh: Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 2nd Edition. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company 1983

Reactor physics

33 FFiissssiioonn RReeaaccttiioonnss ((22 hhrrss))

33

11

FFiissssiioonn

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After this general look at reactions with neutrons, we will now turn to the detailed analysis of fission reactions.

33

11

11

IInnttrroodduuccttiioonn

Within the context of capture, there is a process known as fission, in which a heavy nucleus (uranium, for example), is subjected to neutron bombardment and breaks into two fragments, such as Ba 139 and Kr 97 , releasing an energy of approximately 200 MeV. This process is also accompanied by a release of neutrons.

There are two types of fission: spontaneous and induced. An explanation of the two follows

33 11 22

SSppoonnttaanneeoouuss FFiissssiioonn

Heavy nuclei (232 amu or more), on generally rare occasions, sometimes experience spontaneous fission, with no apparent external stimulus. Examples are uranium-235 and uranium-238, whose respective half-life periods for fission are 1.2•10 17 years and 5.5•10 15 years. Clearly, the fission produced in these cases is insignificant for energy production. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is important, since it represents an uncontrollable source of neutrons in a reactor, and it is, furthermore, possible to make use of it in the reactor startup stage Cf 252 . (see also Exercise 3). An example of the use of this fission are the neutron sources of

INDUCED FISSION

Certain heavy nuclei can be induced to fission, as a result of one neutron capture.

Consequently, several high-energy (fast) neutrons are produced, which permit to maintain the chain reaction process.

33 22

PPrraaccttiiccaall FFuueellss

The following are some fuels utilized in the generation of nuclear energy: uranium-233 (U 233 ), uranium-235 (U 235 ), uranium-238 (U 238 ), plutonium-239 (Pu 239 ), plutonium-241 (Pu 241 ).

U 235 , U 233 , Pu 239 and Pu 241 fission with low-energy thermal neutrons. When fission is produced with this type of neutrons, it is said to be thermal fission.

The afore mentioned materials also fission with fast neutrons.

Thermal Energy

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Thermal energy is the energy of a free neutron which is in thermal equilibrium with the atoms or molecules that surround it. The neutrons of this type of energy are known as thermal neutrons and at 20ºC, the thermal energy is 0.025 eV.

33 33

FFoorrmmaattiioonn ooff FFiissssiioonnaabbllee MMaatteerriiaall

The radiative capture of neutrons by the isotopes U 238 and Th 232 leads to the formation of the fissionable elements Pu 239 and U 233 , depending on the reaction. We shall specifically consider U 238 , demonstrating its transformation into Pu.

Uranium-238: This material possesses the property of non-fission with thermal neutrons, but it does achieve fission with fast neutrons with energies larger than 1.2 MeV.

Given the aforementioned characteristics, it is usually referred to as a "fertile" material.

it is usually referred to as a "fertile" material. (3-1) (3-2) A significant portion of the
it is usually referred to as a "fertile" material. (3-1) (3-2) A significant portion of the

(3-1)

(3-2)

A significant portion of the total power produced by the fuel is due to plutonium. The only

element capable of fissioning with thermal neutrons present in a natural context is U 235 . Hence, the importance of irradiating materials such as U 238 and Th 232 in reactors, in order to convert them into fissionable materials.

Uranium-235 is found in natural uranium in a proportion of 0.72%, while the other 99.28% is Uranium-238. Uranium-233 does not exist in natural uranium and possesses the most desirable properties of all fissile nuclei, as we will see later.

As we said earlier, during the period of operation of the reactor, Pu 239 and Pu 241 are formed.

If the Pu 239 does not fission, it can capture a neutron and form Pu 240 (a fertile material) and

Pu 240 , in turn, captures a neutron to form Pu 241 (a fissile material).

33 44

FFiissssiioonn PPrroodduuccttss

33 44 11

FFiissssiioonn FFrraaggmmeennttss

The study of U 235 fission with thermal neutrons has demonstrated that the compound nucleus fissions in more than 40 different ways, providing for about 80 fission fragments. Due to their high n/p ratio in relation to stability, these fragments are usually radioactive.

The attached figure demonstrates the relative frequency with which the nuclear fragments are produced for nuclides of a specific mass number. The curve is known as the fission yield curve as 2 fragments are produced per fission; the area below the curve should add up to

200%.

Reactor physics

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Reactor physics IAEA Education and Training Figure 3-1 Fission Yield Curve Source: John R. Lamarsh: Introduction

Figure 3-1 Fission Yield Curve Source: John R. Lamarsh: Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 2nd Edition, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1983

It is probable to have mass numbers of 80 and 160, while the most probable values are 95 and 140. Symmetric fission fragments are very rare.

33 44 22

FFiissssiioonn PPrroodduuccttss

As we said before, fission fragments are generally radioactive and will seek to reduce their n/p ratio by means of successive decay (β - ,γ), until they reach stability.

Shown below is a typical decay chain, in which the members of the chain are called fission products.

Reactor physics

0 n 1 +

54

Xe

92 U 235

Reactor physics 0 n 1 + 54 Xe 9 2 U 2 3 5 5 4

54 Xe 139 + 38 Sr 95 + n + n

139

5 5 4 Xe 1 3 9 + 3 8 Sr 9 5 + n +

55 Cs 139

1 3 9 + 3 8 Sr 9 5 + n + n 139 55 Cs

56 Ba 139

+ 3 8 Sr 9 5 + n + n 139 55 Cs 139 56 Ba

57 La 139

38

Sr 95

+ n + n 139 55 Cs 139 56 Ba 139 57 La 139 38 Sr

39 Y 95

55 Cs 139 56 Ba 139 57 La 139 38 Sr 9 5 39 Y 9

40 Zr 95

56 Ba 139 57 La 139 38 Sr 9 5 39 Y 9 5 40 Zr

41 Nb 95

La 139 38 Sr 9 5 39 Y 9 5 40 Zr 9 5 41 Nb

42 Mo 95

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(3-3)

(3-4)

(3-5)

As a result of fission, there are approximately 300 known nuclides.

Periods of semi-disintegration or half-life for fission products can vary from fractions of a second to thousands of years.

The production of fission products in fuel has four important consequences:

1. Fission products must be maintained within the fuel to prevent their entering the heat transport system.

As many of them have prolonged half-life spans, their presence in the primary coolant can create a radiation risk and hinder access to equipment, even during shutdown.

2. Considerable shielding is required around the reactor to prevent exposures by fission products.

3. The fuel element must be changed by means of remote control. Special precautions must be implemented for its handling and storage.

4. Some fission products have a great affinity with the neutrons, and thus poison the reactor. The most typical and significant cases are those of Xe-135 (xenon) and Sm- 149 (samarium).

33 55

EExxaammppllee oonn EEnneerrggyy RReelleeaasseedd ppeerr FFiissssiioonn

Approximately 200 MeV are released when a nucleus fissions. This value depends on the fissile nucleus and the fission fragments.

Let's take, for example, U 235 , in which the fission is produced as follows:

Let's take, for example, U 2 3 5 , in which the fission is produced as

(3-6)

Reactor physics

Total mass prior to the fission (1) is: