The delayed neutron fraction, β
, is the fraction of delayed neutrons in the core at creation, that is, at high energies
. But in case of thermal reactors the fission
can be initiated mainly by thermal neutron
. Thermal neutrons are of practical interest in study of thermal reactor behaviour. The effective delayed neutron fraction
, usually referred to as βeff
, is the same fraction at thermal energies.
The effective delayed neutron fraction reflects the ability of the reactor to thermalize and utilize each neutron produced. The β is not the same as the βeff due to the fact delayed neutrons do not have the same properties as prompt neutrons released directly from fission. In general, delayed neutrons have lower energies than prompt neutrons. Prompt neutrons have initial energy between 1 MeV and 10 MeV, with an average energy of 2 MeV. Delayed neutrons have initial energy between 0.3 and 0.9 MeV with an average energy of 0.4 MeV.
Therefore in thermal reactors a delayed neutron traverses a smaller energy range to become thermal and it is also less likely to be lost by leakage or by parasitic absorption than is the 2 MeV prompt neutron. On the other hand, delayed neutrons are also less likely to cause fast fission, because their average energy is less than the minimum required for fast fission to occur.
These two effects (lower fast fission factor and higher fast non-leakage probability for delayed neutrons) tend to counteract each other and forms a term called the importance factor (I). The importance factor relates the average delayed neutron fraction to the effective delayed neutron fraction. As a result, the effective delayed neutron fraction is the product of the average delayed neutron fraction and the importance factor.
βeff = β . I
The delayed and prompt neutrons have a difference in their effectiveness in producing a subsequent fission event. Since the energy distribution of the delayed neutrons differs also from group to group, the different groups of delayed neutrons will also have a different effectiveness. Moreover, a nuclear reactor contains a mixture of fissionable isotopes. Therefore, in some cases, the importance factor is insufficient and an importance function must be defined.
In a small thermal reactor with highly enriched fuel, the increase in fast non-leakage probability will dominate the decrease in the fast fission factor, and the importance factor will be greater than one.
In a large thermal reactor with low enriched fuel, the decrease in the fast fission factor will dominate the increase in the fast non-leakage probability and the importance factor will be less than one (about 0.97 for a commercial PWR).
In large fast reactors, the decrease in the fast fission factor will also dominate the increase in the fast non-leakage probability and the βeff is less than β by about 10%.
Table of main kinetic parameters.