Thermal Neutron – Reactors
Thermal Neutrons are neutrons in thermal equilibrium with a surrounding medium of temperature 290K (17 °C or 62 °F). Most probable energy at 17°C (62°F) for Maxwellian distribution is 0.025 eV (~2 km/s). This part of neutron’s energy spectrum constitutes most important part of spectrum in thermal reactors.
Thermal neutrons have a different and often much larger effective neutron absorption cross-section (fission or radiative capture) for a given nuclide than fast neutrons. Therefore the criticality of a thermal reactor can be achieved with a much lower enrichment of nuclear fuel.
Moreover, thermal neutrons are in the 1/v region and the cross-section behaves according to the 1/v Law. In this region absorption cross-section increases as the velocity (kinetic energy) of the neutron decreases. Therefore the 1/v Law can be used to determine shift in absorbtion cross-section, if the neutron is in equilibrium with a surrounding medium. This phenomenon is due to the fact the nuclear force between the target nucleus and the neutron has a longer time to interact.
See also: Compound Nucleus Reactions
Example of cross- sections in 1/v region:
The absorbtion cross-section for 238U at 20°C = 293K (~0.0253 eV) is:
The absorbtion cross-section for 238U at 1000°C = 1273K is equal to:
This cross-section reduction is caused only due to the shift of temperature of surrounding medium.
Source: serc.carleton.edu For thermal neutrons (in 1/v region), absorption cross sections increases as the velocity (kinetic energy) of the neutron decreases.
Source: JANIS 4.0
Thermal Neutron – Diffraction
An examined sample (crystalline solids, gasses, liquids or amorphous materials) must be placed in a neutron beam of thermal (0.025 eV) or cold (neutrons in thermal equilibrium with very cold surroundings such as liquid deuterium) neutrons to obtain a diffraction pattern that provides information about the structure of the examined material. The neutron diffraction experiments are similar to X-ray diffraction experiments, but neutrons interact with matter differently. Photons (X-rays) interact primarily with the electrons surrounding (atomic electron cloud) a nucleus, but neutrons interact only with nuclei. Neither the electrons surrounding (atomic electron cloud) a nucleus nor the electric field caused by a positively charged nucleus affect a neutron’s flight. Due to their different properties, both methods together (neutron diffraction and X-ray diffraction) can provide complementary information about the structure of the material.