^{2}presented by a single nucleus to an incident neutron beam is denoted the

**microscopic cross section**,

**σ**. The microscopic cross-sections characterize interactions with single isotopes and are a part of data libraries, such as ENDF/B-VII.1.

## Barn – Unit of Cross-section

The cross-section is typically denoted **σ** and measured in units of area [m^{2}]. But a square meter (or centimeter) is tremendously large in comparison to the effective area of a nucleus, and it has been suggested that a physicist once referred to the measure of a square meter as being “as big as a barn” when applied to nuclear processes. The name has persisted and microscopic cross sections are expressed in terms of barns. The standard unit for measuring a nuclear cross section is the **barn**, which is equal to **10 ^{−28} m² or 10^{−24} cm²**. It can be seen the concept of a nuclear cross section can be quantified physically in terms of

**“characteristic target area”**where a larger area means a larger probability of interaction.

### Typical Values of Microscopic Cross-sections

**Uranium 235**is a fissile isotope and its fission cross-section for thermal neutrons is about**585 barns**(for 0.0253 eV neutron). For fast neutrons its fission cross-section is**on the order of barns**.**Xenon-135**is a product of U-235 fission and has a**very large****neutron capture cross-section**(about**2.6 x 10**^{6}**barns**).**Boron**is commonly used as a**neutron absorber**due to the high neutron cross-section of isotope. Its^{10}B**(n,alpha) reaction**cross-section for thermal neutrons is about**3840 barns**(for 0.025 eV neutron).**Gadolinium**is commonly used as a**neutron absorber**due to very high neutron absorbtion cross-section of two isotopesand^{155}Gd.^{157}Gd^{155}Gd has 61 000 barns for thermal neutrons (for 0.025 eV neutron) and^{157}Gd has even 254 000 barns.

See also: JANIS (Java-based Nuclear Data Information Software)

## Theory of Microscopic Cross-section

The extent to which neutrons interact with nuclei is described in terms of quantities known as **cross-sections**. **Cross-sections** are used to express the **likelihood of particular interaction** between an incident neutron and a target nucleus. It must be noted this likelihood does not depend on real target dimensions. In conjunction with the neutron flux, it enables the calculation of the reaction rate, for example to derive the **thermal power of a nuclear power plant**. The standard unit for measuring the **microscopic cross-section** (σ-sigma) is the **barn**, which is equal to **10 ^{-28} m^{2}**. This unit is very small, therefore barns (abbreviated as “b”) are commonly used.

**The cross-section σ** can be interpreted as the **effective ‘target area’** that a nucleus interacts with an incident neutron. The larger the effective area, the greater the probability for reaction. This cross-section is usually known as **the microscopic cross-section**.

The concept of the microscopic cross-section is therefore introduced to represent the probability of a neutron-nucleus reaction. Suppose that a thin ‘film’ of atoms (one atomic layer thick) with N_{a} atoms/cm^{2} is placed in a monodirectional beam of intensity I_{0}. Then the number of interactions C per cm^{2} per second will be proportional to the intensity I_{0} and the atom density N_{a}. We define the proportionality factor as the microscopic cross-section σ:

**σ _{t} = C/N_{a}.I_{0}**

In order to be able to determine the microscopic cross section, **transmission measurements** are performed on plates of materials. Assume that if a neutron collides with a nucleus it will either be scattered into a different direction or be absorbed (without fission absorption). Assume that there are N (nuclei/cm^{3}) of the material and there will then be N.dx per cm^{2} in the layer dx.

Only the neutrons that have not interacted will remain traveling in the x direction. This causes the intensity of the uncollided beam will be attenuated as it penetrates deeper into the material.

Then, according to the definition of the microscopic cross section, the reaction rate per unit area is Nσ Ι(x)dx. This is equal to the decrease of the beam intensity, so that:

**-dI = N.σ.Ι(x).dx**

and

**Ι(x) = Ι _{0}e^{-N.σ.x}**

It can be seen that whether a neutron will interact with a certain volume of material depends not only on **the microscopic cross-section** of the individual nuclei but also on **the density of nuclei** within that volume. It depends on the **N.σ factor**. This factor is therefore widely defined and it is known **as the macroscopic cross section**.

The difference between the microscopic and macroscopic cross sections is extremely important. The **microscopic cross section** represents the effective target area of a **single nucleus**, while the **macroscopic cross section** represents the effective target area of **all of ****the nuclei** contained in certain volume.

**Microscopic cross-sections** constitute a key parameters of nuclear fuel. In general, neutron cross-sections are essential for the reactor core calculations and are a part of data libraries, such as ENDF/B-VII.1.

The neutron cross-section is variable and depends on:

**Target nucleus**(hydrogen, boron, uranium, etc.). Each isotop has its own set of cross-sections.**Type of the reaction**(capture, fission, etc.). Cross-sections are different for each nuclear reaction.**Neutron energy**(thermal neutron, resonance neutron, fast neutron). For a given target and reaction type, the cross-section is strongly dependent on the neutron energy. In the common case, the cross section is usually much larger at low energies than at high energies. This is why most nuclear reactors use a neutron moderator to reduce the energy of the neutron and thus increase the probability of fission, essential to produce energy and sustain the chain reaction.**Target energy**(temperature of target material – Doppler broadening). This dependency is not so significant, but the target energy strongly influences inherent safety of nuclear reactors due to a Doppler broadening of resonances.

**Microscopic cross-section varies with incident neutron energy**. Some nuclear reactions exhibit **very specific dependency** on incident neutron energy. This dependency will be described on the example of the radiative capture reaction. The likelihood of a neutron radiative capture is represented by the radiative capture cross section as **σ _{γ}**. The following dependency is typical for radiative capture, it definitely does not mean, that it is typical for other types of reactions (see elastic scattering cross-section or (n,alpha) reaction cross-section).

The capture cross-section can be divided into three regions according to the incident neutron energy. These regions will be discussed separately.

**1/v Region****Resonance Region****Fast Neutrons Region**

## Doppler Broadening of Resonances

In general, Doppler broadening is the broadening of spectral lines due to the **Doppler effect** caused by a distribution of kinetic energies of molecules or atoms. In reactor physics a particular case of this phenomenon is the **thermal Doppler broadening of the resonance capture cross sections** of the fertile material (e.g. ^{238}U or ^{240}Pu) caused by **thermal motion of target nuclei** in the nuclear fuel.

The Doppler broadening of resonances is **very important phenomenon**, which **improves reactor stability**, because it accounts for the dominant part of the** fuel temperature coefficient** (the change in reactivity per degree change in fuel temperature) in thermal reactors and makes a substantial contribution in fast reactors as well. This coefficient is also called the **prompt temperature coefficient** because it causes an **immediate response** on changes in fuel temperature. The prompt temperature coefficient of most thermal reactors** is negative**.

See also: Doppler Broadening

## Self-Shielding

It was written, in some cases the amount of absorption reactions is dramatically reduced despite the **unchanged microscopic cross-section** of the material. This phenomena is commonly known as **the resonance self-shielding** and also **contributes to to the reactor stability**. There are two types of self-shielding.

**Energy Self-shielding.****Spatial Self-shielding.**

See also: Resonance Self-shieldingAn increase in temperature from T_{1} to T_{2} causes the broadening of spectral lines of resonances. Although the area under the resonance remains the same, the broadening of spectral lines causes an** increase in neutron flux** in the fuel φ_{f}(E), which in turn increases the absorption as the temperature increases.