Neutron flux

Neutron flux

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The neutron flux is a quantity used in reactor physics corresponding to the total length travelled by all neutrons per unit time and volume . The neutron fluence is defined as the neutron flux integrated
Integration is an important concept in mathematics and, together with its inverse, differentiation, is one of the two main operations in calculus...

 over a certain time period.

Natural neutron flux

Neutron flux in asymptotic giant branch
Asymptotic Giant Branch
The asymptotic giant branch is the region of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram populated by evolving low to medium-mass stars. This is a period of stellar evolution undertaken by all low to intermediate mass stars late in their lives....

A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s and in supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

e is responsible for most of the natural nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis is the process of creating new atomic nuclei from pre-existing nucleons . It is thought that the primordial nucleons themselves were formed from the quark–gluon plasma from the Big Bang as it cooled below two trillion degrees...

 producing element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

s heavier than iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

. In stars there is a relatively low neutron flux on the order of 105 to 1011 neutrons per cm2 per second, resulting in nucleosynthesis by the s-process
The S-process or slow-neutron-capture-process is a nucleosynthesis process that occurs at relatively low neutron density and intermediate temperature conditions in stars. Under these conditions the rate of neutron capture by atomic nuclei is slow relative to the rate of radioactive beta-minus decay...

Neutron temperature
The neutron detection temperature, also called the neutron energy, indicates a free neutron's kinetic energy, usually given in electron volts. The term temperature is used, since hot, thermal and cold neutrons are moderated in a medium with a certain temperature. The neutron energy distribution is...

-capture-process). By contrast, after a core-collapse supernova, there is an extremely high neutron flux, on the order of 1022 neutrons per cm² per second, resulting in nucleosynthesis by the r-process
The r-process is a nucleosynthesis process, likely occurring in core-collapse supernovae responsible for the creation of approximately half of the neutron-rich atomic nuclei that are heavier than iron. The process entails a succession of rapid neutron captures on seed nuclei, typically Ni-56,...

Neutron temperature
The neutron detection temperature, also called the neutron energy, indicates a free neutron's kinetic energy, usually given in electron volts. The term temperature is used, since hot, thermal and cold neutrons are moderated in a medium with a certain temperature. The neutron energy distribution is...


Artificial neutron flux

Artificial neutron flux refers to neutron flux which is man-made, either as byproducts from weapons or nuclear energy production or for specific application such as from a research reactor
Research reactor
Research reactors are nuclear reactors that serve primarily as a neutron source. They are also called non-power reactors, in contrast to power reactors that are used for electricity production, heat generation, or maritime propulsion.-Purpose:...

 or by spallation
In general, spallation is a process in which fragments of material are ejected from a body due to impact or stress. In the context of impact mechanics it describes ejection or vaporization of material from a target during impact by a projectile...

. A flow of neutrons is often used to initiate the fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 of unstable large nuclei. The additional neutron(s) may cause the nucleus to become unstable, causing it to decay (split) to form more stable products. This effect is essential in fission reactors and nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...


Within a nuclear fission reactor the neutron flux is primarily the form of measurement used to control the reaction inside. The flux shape is the term applied to the density or relative strength of the flux as it moves around the reactor. Typically the strongest neutron flux occurs in the middle of the reactor core, becoming lower toward the edges. The higher the neutron flux the greater the chance of a nuclear reaction occurring as there are more neutrons going through an area.

See also

  • Neutron radiation
    Neutron radiation
    Neutron radiation is a kind of ionizing radiation which consists of free neutrons. A result of nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, it consists of the release of free neutrons from atoms, and these free neutrons react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes, which, in turn, may produce...

  • Neutron transport
    Neutron transport
    Neutron transport is the study of the motions and interactions of neutrons with materials. Nuclear scientists and engineers often need to know where neutrons are in an apparatus, what direction they are going, and how quickly they are moving. It is commonly used to determine the behavior of nuclear...