Iterative Methods for Criticality Computations in Neutron Transport Theory

  • Fynn Scheben

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis studies the so-called “criticality problem”, an important generalised eigenvalue problem arising in neutron transport theory. The smallest positive real eigenvalue of the problem contains valuable information about the status of the fission chain reaction in the nuclear reactor (i.e. the criticality of the reactor), and thus plays an important role in the design and safety of nuclear power stations. Because of the practical importance, efficient numerical methods to solve the criticality problem are needed, and these are the focus of this thesis.In the theory we consider the time-independent neutron transport equation in the monoenergetic homogeneous case with isotropic scattering and vacuum boundary conditions. This is an unsymmetric integro-differential equation in 5 independent variables, modelling transport, scattering, and fission, where the dependent variable is the neutron angular flux. We show that, before discretisation, the nonsymmetric eigenproblem for the angular flux is equivalent to a related eigenproblem for the scalar flux, involving a symmetric positive definite weakly singular integral operator(in space only). Furthermore, we prove the existence of a simple smallest positive real eigenvalue with a corresponding eigenfunction that is strictly positive in the interior of the reactor. We discuss approaches to discretise the problem and present discretisations that preserve the underlying symmetry in the finite dimensional form. The thesis then describes methods for computing the criticality in nuclear reactors, i.e. the smallest positive real eigenvalue, which are applicable for quite general geometries and physics. In engineering practice the criticality problem is often solved iteratively, using some variant of the inverse power method. Because of the high dimension, matrix representations for the operators are often not available and the inner solves needed for the eigenvalue iteration are implemented by matrix-free inneriterations. This leads to inexact iterative methods for criticality computations, for which there appears to be no rigorous convergence theory. The fact that, under appropriate assumptions, the integro-differential eigenvalue problem possesses an underlying symmetry (in a space of reduced dimension) allows us to perform a systematic convergence analysis for inexact inverse iteration and related methods. In particular, this theory provides rather precise criteria on how accurate the inner solves need to be in order for the whole iterative method to converge. The theory is illustrated with numerical examples on several test problems of physical relevance, using GMRES as the inner solver.We also illustrate the use of Monte Carlo methods for the solution of neutron transport source problems as well as for the criticality problem. Links between the steps in the Monte Carlo process and the underlying mathematics are emphasised and numerical examples are given. Finally, we introduce an iterative scheme (the so-called “method of perturbation”) that is based on computing the difference between the solution of the problem of interest and the known solution of a base problem. This situation is very common in the design stages for nuclear reactors when different materials are tested, or the material properties change due to the burn-up of fissile material. We explore the relation ofthe method of perturbation to some variants of inverse iteration, which allows us to give convergence results for the method of perturbation. The theory shows that the method is guaranteed to converge if the perturbations are not too large and the inner problems are solved with sufficiently small tolerances. This helps to explain the divergence of the method of perturbation in some situations which we give numerical examples of. We also identify situations, and present examples, in which the method of perturbation achieves the same convergence rate as standard shifted inverse iteration. Throughout the thesis further numerical results are provided to support the theory.
Date of Award1 Jan 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIvan Graham (Supervisor)


  • linear Boltzmann equation
  • criticality
  • neutron transport
  • inverse iteration
  • inexact solves
  • iterative methods
  • eigenvalue problem

Cite this