21-29 July 2022
US/Pacific timezone

History of fission nuclear data from 1939-1945 and evolution to today's understanding

25 Jul 2022, 11:45
Folsom ()



Mark Chadwick


Nuclear physics advances in the United States and Britain from 1939 to 1945 are described. The Manhattan Project’s work led to a rapid advance in our knowledge of nuclear science. A conference in April 1943 at Los Alamos provided a simple formula used to compute critical masses and laid out the research program needed to determine the key nuclear constants. In short order, four university accelerators were disassembled and reassembled at Los Alamos, and methods were established to make measurements on extremely small samples owing to the initial lack of availability of enriched 235U and plutonium. I trace the program that measured fission cross sections, fission-emitted neutron multiplicities and their energy spectra, and transport cross sections, comparing the measurements with our best under-standing today as embodied in the Evaluated Nuclear Data File ENDF/B-VIII.0. The large nuclear data uncertainties at the beginning of the project, which often exceeded 25% to 50%, were reduced by 1945 often to less than 5% to 10%. Uranium-235 and plutonium-239 fission cross-section assessments in the fast mega-electron-volt range were reduced following more accurate measurements, and the neutron multiplicity ν increased. By a lucky coincidence of canceling errors, the initial critical mass estimates were close to the final estimated masses. Some images from historical documents from our Los Alamos archives are shown. Many of the original measurements from these early years have not previously been widely available. Through this work, these data have now been archived in the international experimental nuclear reaction data library (EXFOR) in a collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

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