Stochastic Analysis of the Neutron Transport Equation and Applications to Nuclear Safety

Project: Research council

Project Details


The technical basis of this proposal pertains to the Neutron Transport Equation (NTE), which is used to describe neutron density in a physical environment where nuclear fission is taking place, such as a reactor core. This equation is of prime importance in the nuclear industry as it is used to construct models of reactor cores, nuclear medical equipment (e.g. for proton therapy) and other industrial scenarios where irradiation occurs. Primarily these models are used to assess safety and inform regulatory procedure when handling radioactive materials. Although the NTE can be derived through physical considerations of mass transport, it can also be derived using entirely probabilistic means. To be more precise, the NTE can be derived from the stochastic analysis of a spatial branching process. The latter models the evolution of neutron particles as they behave in reality, incorporating the features of random scattering and random fission, with increasing numbers of particles as time evolves. The derivation using spatial branching processes has been known since the 1960/70s, however, since then, very little innovation in the literature has emerged through probabilistic analysis. This mirrors a general lull in fundamental mathematical research contributing to modelling of nuclear fission after the 1980s. In recent years, however, the nuclear power and nuclear regulatory industries have a greater need for a deep understanding the spectral properties of the NTE. Such analytical quantities help e.g. engineers model the criticality and density of nuclear fission activity within a reactor core. In turn this informs optimal reactor design from several different view points (safety, energy production, efficiency etc.) as well as address regulatory constraints. With the decommissioning of old and the construction of new, more efficient and environmentally friendly nuclear power stations the demand for mathematical modelling using the NTE was never greater. The inhomogeneous nature of the NTE as it is used in practice has seen industry turn to Monte-Carlo techniques based on the underlying probabilistic treatment from 40-50 years ago. Many of the associated algorithms can only be run on supercomputers as they boil down to costly Monte-Carlo cycles of the entire fission processes, in essence replicating a virtual physical reality in a computer. This has the huge drawback that computational parallelization is not possible. In the decades that new probabilistic developments have been absent from the treatment of the NTE, there has been a significant evolution in the mathematical theory of spatial branching processes and related stochastic processes. The research in this proposal aims to re-align the understanding of the NTE with the modern theory of spatial branching processes. This is principally motivated by the implication that a whole suite of completely new Monte-Carlo techniques can be developed, as desired by industry, which are, fundamentally, of a lower order of complexity than existing algorithms. The overall aim of this project is to develop a `proof of concept' for this completely new approach, providing the theoretical basis and a stochastic numerical analysis that quantifies relative efficiency. In particular, the most important feature of the new algorithms that will emerge is the ability to parallelize computations. The project will be carried out in close scientific collaboration with industrial partner Amec-Foster-Wheeler, a major UK-based energy consultancies and one of the global leaders in servicing the nuclear energy and nuclear medical industries with simulation software for safety and regulatory purposes. All research output will be made open source on a webpage dedicated to the project.
Effective start/end date16/05/1731/12/20


  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

RCUK Research Areas

  • Mathematical sciences
  • Statistics and Applied Probability