Disputation: Approaching well-founded comprehensive nuclear data uncertainties: Fitting imperfect models to imperfect data

  • Date:
  • Location: Häggsalen, Ångströmslaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsv. 1, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Helgesson, Petter
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Tillämpad kärnfysik
  • Contact person: Helgesson, Petter
  • Disputation


Nuclear physics has a wide range of applications; e.g., low-carbon energy production, medical treatments, and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nuclear data (ND) constitute necessary input to computations needed within all these applications.

This thesis considers uncertainties in ND and their propagation to applications such as ma- terial damage in nuclear reactors. TENDL is today the most comprehensive library of evaluated ND (a combination of experimental ND and physical models), and it contains uncertainty estimates for all nuclides it contains; however, TENDL relies on an automatized process which, so far, includes a few practical remedies which are not statistically well-founded. A longterm goal of the thesis is to provide methods which make these comprehensive uncertainties well-founded. One of the main topics of the thesis is an automatic construction of experimental covariances; at first by attempting to complete the available uncertainty information using a set of simple rules. The thesis also investigates using the distribution of the data; this yields promising results, and the two approaches may be combined in future work.

In one of the papers underlying the thesis, there are also manual analyses of experiments, for the thermal cross sections of Ni-59 (important for material damage). Based on this, uncertainty components in the experiments are sampled, resulting in a distribution of thermal cross sections. After being combined with other types of ND in a novel way, the distribution is propagated both to an application, and to an evaluated ND file, now part of the ND library JEFF 3.3.

The thesis also compares a set of different techniques used to fit models in ND evaluation. For example, it is quantified how sensitive different techniques are to a model defect, i.e., the inability of the model to reproduce the truth underlying the data. All techniques are affected, but techniques fitting model parameters directly (such as the primary method used for TENDL) are more sensitive to model defects. There are also advantages with these methods, such as physical consistency and the possibility to build up a framework such as that of TENDL.

The treatment of these model defects is another main topic of the thesis. To this end, two ways of using Gaussian processes (GPs) are studied, applied to quite different situations. First, the addition of a GP to the model is used to enable the fitting of arbitrarily shaped peaks in a histogram of data. This is shown to give a substantial improvement compared to if the peaks are assumed to be Gaussian (when they are not), both using synthetic and authentic data.

The other approach uses GPs to fit smoothly energy-dependent model parameters in an ND evaluation context. Such an approach would be relatively easy to incorporate into the TENDL framework, and ensures a certain level of physical consistency. It is used on a TALYS-like model with synthetic data, and clearly outperforms fits without the energy-dependent model parameters, showing that the method can provide a viable route to improved ND evaluation. As a proof of concept, it is also used with authentic TALYS, and with authentic data.

To conclude, the thesis takes significant steps towards well-founded comprehensive ND un- certainties.