Reactor Theory (Neutron Characteristics)
NUCLEAR CROSS SECTIONS AND NEUTRON FLUX
Macroscopic cross sections for neutron reactions with materials determine the probability of one
neutron undergoing a specific reaction per centimeter of travel through that material. If one
wants to determine how many reactions will actually occur, it is necessary to know how many
neutrons are traveling through the material and how many centimeters they travel each second.
It is convenient to consider the number of neutrons existing in one cubic centimeter at any one
instant and the total distance they travel each second while in that cubic centimeter. The number
of neutrons existing in a cm of material at any instant is called neutron density and is
represented by the symbol n with units of neutrons/cm . The total distance these neutrons can
travel each second will be determined by their velocity.
A good way of defining neutron flux (1 ) is to consider it to be the total path length covered by
all neutrons in one cubic centimeter during one second. Mathematically, this is the equation
neutron flux (neutrons/cm -sec)
neutron density (neutrons/cm )3
neutron velocity (cm/sec)
The term neutron flux in some applications (for example, cross section measurement) is used
as parallel beams of neutrons traveling in a single direction. The intensity (I) of a neutron beam
is the product of the neutron density times the average neutron velocity. The directional beam
intensity is equal to the number of neutrons per unit area and time (neutrons/cm -sec) falling on
a surface perpendicular to the direction of the beam.
One can think of the neutron flux in a reactor as being comprised of many neutron beams
traveling in various directions. Then, the neutron flux becomes the scalar sum of these
directional flux intensities (added as numbers and not vectors), that is, 1 = I + I + I +...I .
Since the atoms in a reactor do not interact preferentially with neutrons from any particular
direction, all of these directional beams contribute to the total rate of reaction. In reality, at a
given point within a reactor, neutrons will be traveling in all directions.