Savannah River leverages its tritium experience to support fusion power

July 22, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
Savannah River National Laboratory (Photo: DOE)

When the Department of Energy announced Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) awards earlier this month, Savannah River National Laboratory was named a recipient of two of the 18 awards. SRNL released a statement on July 19 explaining how a national lab with a long history of supporting environmental management and national security missions can lend a hand in the development of future commercial fusion power.

The nation’s tritium laboratory: The common link between SRNL’s long-term missions and fusion energy is tritium—one of the fuel gases required for many fusion designs. The supply and processing of large quantities of tritium for fusion energy is the subject of active research.

SRNL, self-identified as “the nation’s tritium laboratory,” serves as the steward of U.S. tritium processing technologies for national defense missions and provides tritium and hydrogen isotope technology to many programs, including Fusion Energy Sciences. SRNL has over 65 years of experience with multi-kilogram quantities of tritium.

“These two new INFUSE awards continue SRNL’s efforts to deepen industry engagement through public-private partnerships that help industry develop their technologies into viable commercial solutions,” said SRNL Fusion Energy Research Program manager Brenda Garcia-Diaz. “The projects with General Atomics and General Fusion will leverage SRNL’s expertise in fusion fuel cycle technologies in unique ways to help design and implement improved systems in significantly different fusion concepts.”

General Atomics: General Atomics, in their efforts to develop a modeling workflow for fusion pilot plant design and optimization, is turning to SRNL for two verified and validated tritium fuel cycle models: a reduced model for tritium processing, which will be used by GA’s fusion pilot plant systems code, and comprehensive Aspen fuel cycle simulations to assess the significance of design decisions. GA and SRNL will perform pilot plant optimizations with the tools, and SRNL will provide a relative initial cost analysis for tritium processing facilities. According to GA, the joint research project will last one year.

“One of the most attractive aspects of a fusion power plant is the environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel, which doesn’t require any harmful mining or drilling activities,” explained David Weisberg, the General Atomics principal investigator who will lead the project together with SRNL scientist Holly Flynn. “But we also need to perfect the way we recycle fuel inside the power plant, and SRNL has expertise to advance the technological readiness of that system.”

General Fusion: SRNL will work with the magnetized target fusion company to model the total inventory of tritium in General Fusion's commercial fusion pilot plant design. Understanding tritium inventory is a necessary step to design, license, construct, and operate larger and increasingly integrated fusion machines. SRNL will provide expertise to quantify and streamline tritium processing in a project will be led by General Fusion chief technology officer Ryan Guerrero and SRNL scientist George Larsen.

“General Fusion’s practical magnetized target fusion technology is designed with a low start-up tritium fuel requirement and an advantageous breeding ratio to produce sufficient quantities of tritium fuel to sustain the fusion process,” Guerrero said. “We look forward to partnering with SRNL, one of the foremost tritium research laboratories, to advance our design for commercial use.”

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