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Critical Mass Estimates for Homogeneous Metal-Water Mixtures of Key Fissionable Nuclides

Drew E. Kornreich

Nuclear Technology / Volume 181 / Number 2 / February 2013 / Pages 282-302

Technical Paper / Reactor Safety

This work involved estimating the homogeneous metal-water mixture critical mass curves of 34 fissionable nuclides from thorium to einsteinium. Calculations were performed using the discrete ordinates code PARTISN with ENDF/B-VII.0 69-group cross sections. Sample MCNP5 test cases indicate reasonable agreement between the two transport codes. In general, the results confirmed that there are three "forms" of the critical mass curves: (a) the traditional curve most well known as characterizing the "big 3" nuclides (233U, 235U, 239Pu), where the minimum critical mass is found in a dilute solution; (b) a simple monotonic curve characterized by a monotonically increasing critical mass as water is added to the metal, where the minimum critical mass is a metal system; and (c) a hybrid curve where the shape is similar to the traditional curve but the minimum critical mass is the pure metal. In general, the traditional and monotonic curves follow the "odd-even" rule of thumb that a nuclide with an even Z and an odd A or vice versa will have a traditionally shaped curve and that the other nuclides will have a monotonically shaped curve. The violations of this rule of thumb, i.e., the hybrid curves, in the set of nuclides analyzed are comprised of 232U and 252Cf. Plutonium-236 is especially interesting because it is a traditionally shaped curve with the minimum critical mass in a relatively dilute solution, but it violates the "odd-even" rule of thumb.

 
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