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Vacuum-energy calculations with ideal reflecting boundaries are plagued by boundary divergences, which presumably correspond to real (but finite) physical effects occurring near the boundary. Our working hypothesis is that the stress tensor for idealized boundary conditions with some finite cutoff should be a reasonable ad hoc model for the true situation. The theory will have a sensible renormalized limit when the cutoff is taken away; this requires making sense of the Einstein equation with a distributional source. Calculations with the standard ultraviolet cutoff reveal an inconsistency between energy and pressure similar to the one that arises in noncovariant regularizations of cosmological vacuum energy. The problem disappears, however, if the cutoff is a spatial point separation in a neutral direction parallel to the boundary. Here we demonstrate these claims in detail, first for a single flat reflecting wall intersected by a test boundary, then more rigorously for a region of finite cross section surrounded by four reflecting walls. We also show how the moment-expansion theorem can be applied to the distributional limits of the source and the solution of the Einstein equation, resulting in a mathematically consistent differential equation where cutoff-dependent coefficients have been identified as renormalizations of properties of the boundary. A number of issues surrounding the interpretation of these results are aired. © 2012 IOP Publishing Ltd.

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Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical