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A random walk approach to stochastic neutron transport

One of the key goals of nuclear reactor physics is to determine the distribution of the neutron population within a reactor core. This population indeed fluctuates due to the stochastic nature of the interactions of the neutrons with the nuclei of the surrounding medium: scattering, emission of neutrons from fission events and capture by nuclear absorption. Due to these physical mechanisms, the stochastic process performed by neutrons is a branching random walk. For most applications, the neutron population considered is very large, and all physical observables related to its behaviour, such as the heat production due to fissions, are well characterised by their average values. Generally, these mean quantities are governed by the classical neutron transport equation, called linear Boltzmann equation.

During my PhD, using tools from branching random walks and anomalous diffusion, I have tackled two aspects of neutron transport that cannot be approached by the linear Boltzmann equation. First, thanks to the Feynman-Kac backward formalism, I have characterised the phenomenon of « neutron clustering » that has been highlighted for low-density configuration of neutrons and results from strong fluctuations in space and time of the neutron population. Then, I focused on several properties of anomalous (non-exponential) transport, that can model neutron transport in strongly heterogeneous and disordered media, such as pebble-bed reactors. One of the novel aspects of this work is that problems are treated in the presence of boundaries. Indeed, even though real systems are finite (confined geometries), most of previously existing results were obtained for infinite systems.