M. Ragheb
5/27/2013
1. INTRODUCTION
The steady state neutron diffusion theory is considered and is specialized to the situation
of multiplying media. Specifically, the source term in the Helmholtz equation is expressed as a
function of the fission mediums multiplication factor. This leads to an eigenvalue equation,
characteristic, or criticality equation for multiplying media. With the appropriate boundary
conditions, this derived equation is solved in spherical geometry for a critical reactor, and the
results are compared to the experimental values of critical and subcritical assemblies.
n neutrons produced
=
t unit volume.unit time
neutrons lost by absorption

unit volume.unit time
neutrons lost by leakage

unit volume.unit time
(1)
n
0 ,
t
for a steady state reactor operational condition.
The diffusion equation can be symbolically written as:
n
0 S a D2
t
(2)
n
]
cm .sec
a is the macroscopic absorption coefficient [cm1],
D is the diffusion coefficient [cm].
3. DIFFUSION COEFFICIENT
From diffusion theory, the diffusion coefficient is expressed in terms of the macroscopic
scattering cross section as:
1
3 s
(3)
1
3[a s (1 0 )]
3[a tr ]
(3)
tr s (1 0 )
tr
1
1
tr s (1 0 )
tr
3tr
3
(3)
(1 0 ) reactor
i 1
(1 0 )i si
s , reactor
(4)
where:
n is the total number of elements present in the reactor.
The average cosine of the scattering angle is given by:
_______
0 cos
2
3A
(5)
The infinite medium multiplication factor can be expressed in terms of the fourfactor
formula:
k pf
(6)
aF aM aS ...
(7)
aF
aF aM aS ...
For U235,
f
aF
f
f
N f
(8)
N f N
f
f
(9)
then:
(10)
Since Eqn. 2 applies for neutrons of a single energy that are thermal, we can write for the
thermal neutrons source term S:
S k f a
(11)
n 1 (nv) 1
D 2 a k f a
t v t
v t
Dividing into a :
1
L2 2 k f
v a t
(12)
D
is the thermal diffusion area [cm2],
a
L is the diffusion length [cm].
Rearranging, we get after dividing by L2 :
where: L2
1 1 2 k f 1
vL 2 a t
L2
1 1
2
2
Bg Bm
2
vL a t
k f 1
is denoted as the material buckling, since it a function of the materials
L2
composition,
2
is denoted as the geometrical buckling, since it is a function of the
geometry.
where: B m 2
Bg
The terminology for the geometrical buckling arises in the field of structural mechanics
where it describes the degree of deformational buckling of a column under external forces
applied to its ends.
f
2
Bg 2 Bm 2
In general:
B2 Bg B m ,
2
k f
(1 L2 B 2 )
The last equation represents a just critical system. In general though, we can define an
effective multiplication factor as:
keff k
1
k
1 L2 B 2
th
(13)
where:
we get:
2 B g2
1 d 2 d
d 2 2 d
(
r
)
Bg2
2
2
r dr
dr
dr
r dr
The solution of this equation is:
(r)
A cos( Bg r )
r
C sin( Bg r )
r
cos 0 1
) leading to
0
0
the unphysical situation of an infinite value for the flux, and we are compelled to choose as a
physical solution:
If the flux is finite throughout the reactor, then A = 0 (since:
(r)
C sin( Bg r )
r
As r 0, from lHospitals rule the value of the flux at the center of the reactor is:
0 limit r0
CBg cos( Bg r )
1
CBg
and:
C
0
Bg
from which:
( r ) 0
sin( Bg r )
( Bg r )
R ex R d
where: d is the extrapolated length:
2
tr
3
d 0.71 tr .
Applying this condition, we get:
Bg R ex n , n 1,2, ...
For the main harmonic solution or n = 1 eigenvalue,
Bg
,
R ex
r
sin
R
(r) 0 ex
r
R
ex
(14)
The effect of the reactor power level can be included in the magnitude constant of
integration to the reactor criticality equation. Mathematically, for the eigenvalue equation:
2 B g2
the solution for the flux multiplied by any constant is still a solution to the equation. Physically,
this means that we can operate the nuclear reactor at any power level we wish, provided enough
cooling to extract the heat generated is provided. Otherwise, if the energy release is not
extracted, this would lead to melting and possibly evaporation of the reactor core.
For a hypothetical semi infinite slab reactor of thickness a in the x direction with the
origin taken at the center of the slab, and infinite in extent in the y and z directions, with a power
produced per unit area P, the reactor equation can be written in one dimensional cartesian
coordinates as:
d 2 ( x )
B 2 ( x )
2
dx
Its solution is harmonic as:
( x) Acos( Bx)
Applying the boundary condition of a vanishing flux at the boundaries + a/2 and a/2,
and neglecting the extrapolated length for a large reactor,
n , n 1,3,5, ...
2
2
Ba n
B
Bn
( x ) A cos( x )
a
P f E f dV
V
x
f Ef A
a
2
cos( x ).1.dx
a
a
2
a
2
f E f A sin( x )
a a
2
a
f E f A [sin( ) sin( )]
2
2
a
f E f A .2
where: Ef is the extractable energy release per fission event = 190 [MeV/fission]
The constant of integration A can be expressed as:
P
2aE f f
and the flux distribution will be dependent on the power per unit area P as:
( x)
cos
2aE f f
a
x,
suggesting that the reactor can be operated at any desired power level P, provided enough
cooling is provided; a limiting property of the used materials at high temperatures that it shares
with any other power producing engine, including a fossil power plant boiler or an automobile
engine.
th
1
,
1 L2 B2
1
.
1 B 2
Thus Eqn.13 for the effective multiplication factor can be written for a critical system as:
keff k
1
1
.
k
2 2
(1 L B ) (1 B 2 )
keff k
th
1
1 ( L ) B 2 L2 B 4
2
2
) , so that we can neglect B4 with respect to B2 in the case of a large
R ex
reactor with a large radius R, and write the modified one group theory criticality equation:
Now, B2g (
keff
k
1 M 2 B2
B 2m
k 1
2
(
)
2
M
R ex
(15)
From which:
R ex
and:
Rc Rex d
M2
k 1
M
k 1
(16)
Nuclide
Plutonium239
Uranium235
Uranium238
Fe
Na
Al
Neutrons per
fission event
2.98
2.6
2.6

Fission cross
section
f
[barn]
1.85
1.40
0.095

Capture cross
section
c
[barn]
0.260
0.250
0.16
0.006
0.0008
0.002
Transport cross
section
tr
[barn]
6.8
6.8
6.9
2.7
3.3
3.1
If we consider an unmoderated fissile reactor, the neutron spectrum would be a fast one,
since no moderator is present to moderate the energy of the neutrons to thermal energy. The
cross section data must be considered as weighed by a fast neutron spectrum instead of a thermal
neutron spectrum in the case of moderated systems. Such fast one group constants differ from
one source in the literature to another because of the flux weighting procedure that is adopted.
One such set is shown in Table 1.
235
As an example, we shall calculate the critical radius, volume, and mass of a sphere of
, given the following fast spectrum data from Wirtz [3]:
Rc
)2
k 1
Bm2
L2f
Note that for the modified twogroup theory L2f is to be replaced by the migration area
M2. From the last equation the critical radius is:
Rc
L2f
k 1
aF a
1.
a a
f 5.297
1.86
a
2.844
tr N tr tr
a N a a
L2f
. Av
M
. Av
M
18.75 0.6021x10+24
8.246x1024 0.396[cm 1 ]
235
18.75 0.6021x10+24
2.844x1024 0.137[cm 1 ]
235
D
1
1
6.144[cm 2 ]
a 3 tr a 3 0.396 0.137
6.144
7.144 8.397[cm]
1.86 1
Vc
4 Rc3
2,480.054 [cm3 ]
3
Reflector
7.6 cm U
1.8 cm U
8.9 cm U
U
5.1 cm Fe
4.6 cm Th
30 cm U
Core Radius
[cm]
5.965
8.710
6.285
14.57
20.32
7.725
6.391
6.045
7.3900
7.800
47.4200
keff
1.0115
0.9912
1.0039
0.9855
0.9893
0.9907
0.9939
0.9907
0.9756
0.9905
1.0160
This compares to the radius of 8.71 cm and the critical mass of 48.8 kg for the Godiva
critical experiment, which is a 93.9 percent U235 enriched system Oralloy compostion. The core
radii of different fast critical assemblies are shown in Table 2. The Zero Power Reactor ZPRIII
48 experiment simulated a fast reactor with a core consisting of carbides of uranium235 and
plutonium239. Sodium was used as a coolant, iron as the structural material, and uranium was
used as a reflector.
Critical experiments are conducted to experimentally check the calculated values. Figure
1 shows a critical experiment for a plutonium239 sphere, designated as Jezebel, where the sphere
is divided into three parts remotely brought together along sliding wires.
d 0.71tr
0.71 0.71
1.793 cm
tr 0.396
Rex Rc d 8.397 cm
Vc
4 (6.604)3
1,206.451 cm3
3
NC
104 .
NU
The migration area is M2 = 3,040 cm2. We ask ourselves the following questions:
1. What is the material buckling ?
2. If the reactor is a bare cylinder with a height equal twice the radius, what is the critical radius ?
3. If the reactor is a bare sphere, what is its critical radius ?
4. If the reactor is a cube, what is its critical radius ?
235
U
way.
We shall compare the required critical volumes for the three last cases and estimate the
mass required for criticality in each case. We proceed with the solution in the following
From the modified onegroup theory, the material buckling is given by:
B 2m
k 1
, k
M2
pf
2.08
a 1
aF
1
N
aF aC 1 C aC
N F aF
Substituting:
ac 3.4 106 b
aF 2.844 b
NC NC
104
NU N F
we get:
f = 0.988.
From which:
k 2.08 1 1 0.988 2.06 .
B2m
2.06 1
3.49 104cm 2
3040
For an unreflected bare cylindrical core, neglecting the extrapolation lengths, the
geometrical buckling is:
2.405 2
)
B2g ( ) 2 (
R
H
Since the height of the reactor H = 2R, we get:
B2g (
2.405 2 8.25
2
) 2
) (
R
R
2R
Equating the geometrical buckling to the material buckling the critical radius is:
Rc (
1
8.25
) 2 153.75 cm
4
3.49 10
B2g ( ) 2 ,
R
and:
Rc (
1
2
) 2 168.17cm
4
3.49 10
For a cube:
B2g 3 ( ) 2 ,
a
and:
ac (
1
3 2
2
)
291.8cm
3.49 104
Vc (cylinder) R 2 H R 2 .2R c 2R c3
Vc (sphere)
Vc (cube)
4R 3c
3
3
ac
2.28 107cm3
1.99 107cm3
2.47 107cm3
The mass of uranium needed for criticality in each case can be calculated as follows:
NC
104
NU
C (V VU )A V
12
U VU A V
235
From which:
104
U 12
VU V VU
C 235
and:
g U U VU
U V
12
1 104 U
C 235
gU 3.13 103 V .
From which:
7.73 104 gm
This implies that a sphere is the optimal geometry from the point view of minimum
fissile mass requirements for attaining criticality.
C sin Br
sin Br
0
,
r
Br
where:
B2
k 1
M2
Ae r / Lr Fe r / Lr
r
r
where:
Lr
Dr
.
ar
sin BR Ae r / Lr
BR
R
B cos BR sin BR
1
1
) Dr Ae R / Lr (
Dc 0 (
2)
2
B
R
R
Lr R R
DC ( B cot BR
1
1 1
) Dr ( )
R
Lr R
BR cot BR 1
Dr R
( 1)
Dc Lr
A cosh(r / Lr ) C sinh( r / Lr )
.
r
r
Applying the condition for the vanishing of the flux at r = R+T+d, we get:
R T d
R T d
Lr
C A
A coth
,
R T d
L
r
sinh
Lr
cosh
thus:
A cosh(r / Lr )
R T d sinh( r / Lr )
A cosh
r
Lr
r
R T d
R T d
A
r
r
(sinh
cosh  cosh
sinh )
R T d
Lr
Lr
Lr
Lr
r sinh
Lr
A
R T d r
sinh
R T d
Lr
r sinh
Lr
Dc
0 B cos BR
B
sin BR
A
T d
sinh
R T d
BR
Lr
R sinh
Lr
sin BR
ADr
)
(
2
R T d
R
sinh
Lr
cos
(T d )
(T d )
sinh
Lr
Lr
)
2
Lr R
R
Td
Lr
1
)
Lr
R
coth
D c ( B cot BR 1 / R ) D r (
cot BR
1
D
D 1
T d
(1 r ) r
coth
.
BR
Dc
Dc BLr
Lr
k 1 ,
J neutron f c R .T aF c R .T
source
f
aF
aF c R .T aF c R .T
(neutron 1) aF c R .T
source
where: c R is the value of the flux at the core and reflector interface where the neutron source
is introduced.
We can write diffusion equations for the core and reflector regions as:
Dc2c ac c c aFc c 0
Core:
Reflector: Dr 2r ar r
Now we can suggest that for a fast unmoderated reactor material in the core with unity
resonance escape probability p and fast fission factor :
k c pf
and:
c aF c
c .1.1. f c f
aF
ac c f ac k ac
ac
2c
(k 1)
D
c 0, L2c c
2
Lc
ac
2r
1
r
L2r
0, L2r
Dr
ar
If the material of the core is chosen with an infinite medium multiplication factor of
unity, the material buckling in the core is:
Bc2
k 1 1 1
2 0
L2c
Lc
The zero buckling of the core means that a flat flux distribution exists in the core
implying a uniform power distribution, a desirable feature leading to a uniform fuel burnup. In
spherical geometry:
2c (r ) 0,
1 d 2 dc (r )
(r
) 0,
r 2 dr
dr
d ( r )
d (r 2 c ) C ,
dr
dc (r ) C
2 , r 0,
dr
r
C
dc (r ) 2 dr
r
C
c (r ) F
r
For a finite flux in the core, C = 0, and:
c (r ) F constant.
The flux solution in the infinite reflector is:
r ( r ) A
r
Lr
r
Lr
r ( r ) A
r
Lr
We can now apply the thin interface boundary conditions since the neutron source shell is
considered as thin. The continuity of the flux and current at the interface yields:
c ( R) r ( R)
J cn R J rn ( R) J neutron
source
FA
R
Lr
Dcc ( R) Dr r ( R) J neutron
source
0 A
Lr
Dr e
1
[ 2
e
R
R
Lr R
R
Lr
] (neutron 1) aF A
source
R
Lr
The constant A cancels out yielding the critical condition for the assembly as:
Dr [
1 1
] T (neutron 1) aF
R Lr
source
EXERCISES
1. You are given a bare spherical fast reactor of pure fissile material.
a) By equating the geometrical buckling to the material buckling, derive expressions for:
1) The critical radius
2) The critical volume
3) The critical mass.
b) Calculate these values for a U235 spherical reactor with:
microscopic transport cross section = 8.246 [barns]
microscopic absorption cross section = 2.844 [barns]
density = 18.75 [gm/cm3]
product of average number of neutrons released in fission() and the microscopic fission cross
section = 5.297 [neutrons.barn].
Compare your result to the actual critical mass of the Godiva Experiment composed of 93.9
percent enriched uranium235 where Mcritical= 48.8 kgs.
c) Calculate these values for a Pu239 spherical reactor with:
microscopic transport cross section = 6.8 barns
microscopic radiative capture cross section = 0.26 barns
density = 19.74 [gm/cm3]
average number of neutrons released per fission = 2.98
microscopic fission cross section = 1.85 barns
Compare your result to the actual critical mass of the Jezebel Experiment composed of pure
Pu239 where M(critical)= 20.53 kgs.
d) Discuss the criticality situation for a sphere made out of U238 with the following data:
microscopic transport cross section = 6.9 barns
microscopic radiative capture cross section = 0.16 barns
density = 19.05 [gm/cm3]
REFERENCES
1. M. Ragheb, Lecture Notes on Fission Reactors Design Theory, FSL33, University of
Illinois, 1982.
2. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, AddisonWesley Publishing
Company, 1983.
3. K. Wirtz, Lectures on Fast Reactors, 1979.
4. , Reactor Physics Constants, ANL5800, Argonne National Laboratory, 1979.