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Neutron temperature

  The neutron 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 then adopted to the Maxwellian distribution known for thermal motion. Qualitatively, the higher the temperature, the higher is the kinetic energy of the free neutron. Kinetic energy, speed and wavelength of the neutron are related through the De Broglie relation. Moderated and other, non-thermal neutron energy distributions or ranges are listed in the table below:

  • Fast neutrons have an energy greater than 1 eV, 0.1 MeV or approximately 1 MeV, depending on the definition.
  • Slow neutrons have an energy less than 1 eV.
  • Epithermal neutrons have an energy from 0.025 to 1 eV.
  • Hot neutrons have an energy of about .2 eV.
  • Thermal neutrons have an energy of about 0.025 eV.
  • Cold neutrons have an energy from 5x10-5 eV to 0.025 eV.
  • Very cold neutrons have an energy from 2x10-7 eV to 5x10-5 eV.
  • Ultra cold neutrons have an energy less than 2x10-7 eV.
  • Continuum region neutrons have an energy from 0.01 MeV to 25 MeV.
  • Resonance region neutrons have an energy from 1 eV to 0.01 MeV.
  • Low energy region neutrons have an energy less than 1 eV.

A fast neutron is a free neutron with a kinetic energy level close to 1 MeV (100 TJ/kg), hence a speed of 14,000 km/s. They are named fast neutrons to distinguish them from lower-energy thermal neutrons, and high-energy neutrons produced in cosmic showers or accelerators. Fast neutrons are produced by nuclear processes such as nuclear fission.

Neutrons from fusion reactions are usually considerably more energetic than 1 MeV; the extreme case is deuterium-tritium fusion which produces 14.1 MeV neutrons (1400 TJ/kg, moving at 52,000 km/s, 17.3% of the speed of light) that can easily fission uranium-238 and other non-fissile actinides.

Fast neutrons can be made into thermal neutrons via a process called moderation. This is done with a neutron moderator. In reactors, typically heavy water, light water, or graphite are used to moderate neutrons.

A thermal neutron is a free neutron with a kinetic energy of about 0.025 eV (approx. 4.0e-21 J; 2.4 MJ/kg, hence a speed of 2.2 km/s) which is the most probable energy at a temperature of 290°K (17 °C or 62°F), the mode (statistics) of the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution for this temperature. The most probable energy is different from the mean (statistics) energy, which as in any Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution is 50% greater than the mode. After a number of collisions with nuclei (scattering) in a medium (neutron moderator) at this temperature, neutrons arrive at about this energy level, provided that they are not absorbed.

Thermal neutrons have a different and often much larger effective neutron absorption cross-section for a given nuclide than fast neutrons, and can therefore often be absorbed more easily by an atomic nucleus, creating a heavier - and often unstable - isotope of the chemical element as a result. (neutron activation)

Most fission reactors are thermal reactors that use a neutron moderator to slow down, or thermalize the neutrons produced by nuclear fission. This is not primarily to increase the fission cross section for fissile nuclei such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239; it is because uranium-238 has a much lower capture cross section for thermal neutrons, allowing more neutrons to cause fission of fissile nuclei and continue the chain reaction, rather than be captured by 238U. Fast reactors use fast neutrons without moderation, but require more highly enriched fuel.

See also


  • Language of the Nucleus
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Neutron_temperature". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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