NE406
Radiation Protection and Shielding

Lesson 12  Neutron sourcesChapter 4 is concerned with the description of the physical mechanisms that give rise to neutron, gamma ray, or xray sources. The chapter forms a excellent reference for all sorts of useful information, but we are going to be more selective with the material we concentrate on. Source description is the first step of any shielding analysis. In many cases, the particle sources will be known from:
The other cases is the situation where material properties are specified and the analyst has to deduce the source from this known material. This is the situation that we will be concentrating on. Basically, we will be looking at the MAJOR sources of particles that I think you should be aware of, with an eye toward sensitizing you to look for sources that are likely to "sneak up" on you if you are not careful. (Our greatest danger is to underestimate a source because we overlook a complete category.) The book lists 5 neutron source categories:
From the reading, you should be able to describe the physical mechanism for each of these (as I had you do in the Reading Assignment) and work very simple problems that require basic skills you already have (e.g., atom density determinations for nuclides, timedependent buildup and decay, reaction rate determination from fluxes and cross sections). In addition, we will be covering more detail about two of these, which are the mechanisms of spontaneous fission and sources due to reactions. In addition, as the last section of this lesson, we will briefly explore the idea of multigroup energy representation.
Spontaneous Fission SourcesThe first of the neutron that we will concentrate on is spontaneous fission, which is a version of fission that occurs without the benefit of an inducing neutron being absorbed. Several notes:
When considering any of these sources, we are concerned with two factors: the yield (number of particles produced) and the spectrum (energy distribution of the particles produced). For spontaneous fission, the yield depends only on the underlying mass; the most convenient form of data for this is usually something like the last column of Table 4.2. You should be able to determine spontaneous fission yields with data from this table.
For the spectrum, we generally use the Watt spectrum form given by Equations 4.1 and 4.2 (with data from Table 4.3). Note from Figure 4.1 that all nuclides have a similar shape, differing primarily in the highenergy "tail". (Note that the plotted spectra differ by about a factor of 10 at 15 MeV in Figure 4.1.) This difference can be more significant than the logarithmic yaxis of this figure implies, since it is these high energy particles that are most likely to penetrate shielding. Notice, though, the mixed nature of Figure 4.1 . For all isotopes except Cf252, the curve is for induced fission; therefore, to use the figure for spontaneous fission, one has to recognize that the spontaneously fissioning nuclide is the nuclide we have AFTER the inducing neutron has been absorbed. For example, the curve for induced Pu239 fission corresponds to spontaneous Pu240 fission (since, of course, for a neutron causing a fission in Pu239, the nuclide that breaks apart is the compound nucleus Pu240).
SourcesThe second neutron source mechanism that we will concentrate on is the reaction. The physical mechanism of this is that an energetic alpha particle (produced by an emitter nuclide) breaks through the Coulomb barrier of the nucleus of a second nuclide (called the converter nuclide) and is absorbed. Subsequently, the compound nucleus emits a neutron. Several notes:
Let's discuss "optimum yield". As mentioned in the book, the highest yield that can come from a given energy alpha in a given converter material will occur when the alpha slows down in a medium that is "pure" converter. For example, the optimum yield of 0.000110 neutrons/alpha for Cm242/Be corresponds to the characteristic Cm242 alphas being released into a material that is 100% Be. Why does this matter? Well, alpha particles have a limited range. So, if they are going to interact with Be to produce the neutrons, the yield is going to be directly proportional to the number of Be nuclei that the alpha comes into contact with before it slows down below the Be threshold of 2.6 MeV. The part of the book's Equation 4.6 is there to take care of this factor, where the L factors are stopping powers for the emitter and the converter (Be, in this case). Rather than get caught up in complicated determinations of these stopping powers  which was covered in a part of Chapter 3 that we didn't study (note also that the description of Equation 4.6 in the text refers you to "Section 3.9", which doesn't exist), we are going to use the simplified idea that stopping power is approximately proportional to electron density:
Again, once we have the neutron yield (and from a given problem's material composition, we can easily convert this to a neutron source), we have to consider the energy distribution of the neutrons that are produced (i.e., the emitted neutron spectrum). The continuous energy spectra for various emitterconverter combinations are given in Figure 4.3 in the text.
Multigroup energy representationMost industry standard computer codes (MCNP being the primary exception) do not represent energydependent data as continuous functions (or distributions), but instead approximate the continuous data as histograms (i.e., stairstep functions) which are constant over subdivisions of the energy range. These energy subdivisions are refereed to as "energy groups" and are, by historical convention, numbered sequentially from high to low energies. For example, if we divide the neutron energy range logarithmically (which is standard for neutron groups) from 1 keV to 20 MeV with 3 groups per decade, we would get the following structure:
Note that the highest energy limit (i.e., the top of group 1) is called . Also, this is just an example. Usually neutron energy group structures go down to thermal range, bottoming out at about 0.001 eV (=0.000000001 MeV).
Multigroup representations of distributionsFor a distribution, , (which, you will remember would have "per unit energy" units), the corresponding group value is found by a simple integration over the energy range of the group: The best examples of when you would do this are the energy spectra (e.g., the Watt fission spectrum) described in this lesson. The resulting group value corresponds to the fraction of produced particles that would be emitted in the given group.
For example, if we normalize the Watt spectrum representation of the Cf252 fission spectrum (given by Equation 4.2 with Table 4.3 data inserted): we would get the following values (in the above energy group structure):
You can "eyeball" a spectrum from a spectrum plot by estimating the average value over the group range and multiplying by the group width.
Multigroup representations of functionsAlthough in this lesson we are only interested in distributions, for completeness it should be mentioned that for functions of energy (e.g., cross sections) the group value corresponds to the average value of the function over the energy range, so we have to divide by the energy width. For example, for a function , the group value would be given by the equation: 
Return to Course Outline © 1998 by Ronald E. Pevey. All rights reserved. 