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Evaluation of Plutonium Hemisphere Critical Experiments Partially Reflected by Steel and Oil

John D. Bess

Nuclear Technology / Volume 177 / Number 1 / Pages 29-35

January 2012


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A series of 15 critical experiments performed at the Rocky Flats Critical Mass Laboratory in the late 1960s was evaluated and then determined to represent acceptable benchmark experiments for the validation of calculational methods. This series of experiments was part of a larger set of experiments performed to evaluate operational safety margins at the Rocky Flats Plant. The experiments consisted of bare plutonium metal hemishells reflected by steel hemishells of increasing thickness and motor oil. The hemishell assembly was suspended within dual aluminum tanks. Criticality was achieved by pumping oil into the tanks such that effectively infinite reflection was achieved in all directions except directly above the assembly; then the critical oil height was recorded. The results of these experiments had been initially ignored because early computational methods had been inadequate to analyze partially reflected configurations. The dominant uncertainties include the uncertainty in the average plutonium density and the composition of materials in the gaps between the plutonium hemishells. Simple and detailed benchmark models were developed. Eigenvalue calculations using MCNP5 and ENDF/B-VII.0 were within 2 of the benchmark values. This benchmark evaluation has been added to the International Handbook of Evaluated Criticality Safety Benchmark Experiments.

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