General Atomics’ compact fusion design shows net-electric potential

April 6, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
The outside of the DIII-D tokamak, where testing that supports the development of the Compact Advanced Tokamak has been performed. Photo: General Atomics

Scientists at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility have published research on a compact fusion reactor design they say could be used to develop a pilot-scale fusion power plant. According to General Atomics (GA), which operates DIII-D as a national user facility for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) concept uses a self-sustaining configuration that can hold energy more efficiently than in typical pulsed configurations, allowing the plant to be built at a reduced scale and cost.

A bright future ahead for nuclear engineering students

April 5, 2021, 3:00PMANS NewsMary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Happy spring to you, my nuclear comrades. As I write this column (in early March), I’m glancing out the window at the 10 inches of snow still remaining in my backyard. By the time you read this, the snow may be gone, and spring flowers may be poking out of the earth. Every year, I look forward to gardening season, which is short but fun in Idaho.

Over the past year, unfortunately, many of the things we looked forward to didn’t happen. Hardest hit, of course, were the people who fell ill with COVID-­19 and those who lost jobs. But in the “disappointed” category, our students were especially vulnerable. Elementary school students, who most need face-­to-­face contact with their teachers, were isolated at home. Adolescents and teens had no dances, football games, or lunchtimes with their friends. High school and college seniors couldn’t celebrate graduation. University freshmen, who already cope with significant change and stress, added to their agendas the threat of a global pandemic and the complication of distance learning.

Research confirms ingredient in household cleaner could improve fusion reactions

April 5, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe
Photos of physicist Alessandro Bortolon and the element boron; graph and photo showing the interior of a tokamak. Credit: Alexander Nagy and Alessandro Bortolon/Collage courtesy of Elle Starkman, PPPL

Research led by scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) provides new evidence that particles of boron, the main ingredient in Borax household cleaner, can coat internal components of doughnut-shaped plasma devices known as tokamaks and improve the efficiency of the fusion reactions, according to an article published on on April 2.

ITER updates: Components, commitments converge toward first plasma

March 1, 2021, 12:06PMNuclear News

The ITER site in Cadarache, France. Photo: ITER Organization

With first plasma operations at ITER planned for 2025, milestones are being reached in quick succession. While several of the 35 countries contributing to the construction of the super-sized fusion tokamak are pursuing fusion programs of their own, they remain committed to ITER and are eager for the data and operating experience it is expected to yield.

Euratom leads the project being built in Cadarache, France, as the host party for ITER. On February 22, the European Council approved the continuation of European financing of ITER from 2021 to 2027, with a contribution of €5.61 billion (about $6.86 billion) in current prices.

A new goal for fusion: 50 MWe for the U.S. grid by 2035–2040

February 19, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News

Coordinated federal and private industry investments made now could yield an operational fusion pilot plant in the 2035–2040 time frame, according to Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid, a consensus study report released February 17 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

Developed at the request of the Department of Energy, the report builds on the work of the 2019 Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research, and it identifies key goals, innovations, and investments needed to develop a U.S. fusion pilot plant that can serve as a model for producing electricity at the lowest possible capital cost.

“The U.S. fusion community has been a pioneer of fusion research since its inception and now has the opportunity to bring fusion to the marketplace,” said Richard Hawryluk, associate director for fusion at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and chair of the NASEM Committee on the Key Goals and Innovations Needed for a U.S. Fusion Pilot Plant, which produced the report.

Big fusion moment coming soon, Popular Mechanics says

January 29, 2021, 10:19AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Rendering of SPARC, a compact, high-field, DT burning tokamak, currently under design by a team from MIT and CFS. Source: CFS/MIT-PSFC - CAD Rendering by T. Henderson

The fusion community is reaching a "Kitty Hawk moment" as early as 2025, according to the Popular Mechanics story, "Jeff Bezos Is Backing an Ancient Kind of Nuclear Fusion."

That moment will come from magnetized target fusion (MTF), the January 25 story notes, a technology that dates back to the 1970s when the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory first proposed it. Now, however, MTF’s proponents say that the technology is bearing down to reach the commercial power market. The question is, Will it be viable before the competing fusion model of tokamaks, such as ITER, start operations?

U.K., Japan to research remote D&D, fusion systems

January 22, 2021, 6:53AMRadwaste Solutions

The LongOps project will develop innovative robotic technologies. Photo: UKAEA

Britain and Japan have signed a research and technology deployment collaboration to help automate nuclear decommissioning and aspects of fusion energy production. According to the U.K. government, which announced the deal on January 20, the £12 million (about $16.5 million) U.K.–Japanese robotics project, called LongOps, will support the delivery of faster and safer decommissioning at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan and at Sellafield in the United Kingdom, using long-reach robotic arms.

The four-year collaboration on new robotics and automation techniques will also be applied to fusion energy research in the two countries.

Funded equally by U.K. Research and Innovation, the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company, the LongOps project will be led by the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) facility.

Understanding the ITER Project in the context of global Progress on Fusion

January 15, 2021, 2:24PMNuclear NewsBernard Bigot

(photo: ITER Project gangway assembly)

The promise of hydrogen fusion as a safe, environmentally friendly, and virtually unlimited source of energy has motivated scientists and engineers for decades. For the general public, the pace of fusion research and development may at times appear to be slow. But for those on the inside, who understand both the technological challenges involved and the transformative impact that fusion can bring to human society in terms of the security of the long-term world energy supply, the extended investment is well worth it.

Failure is not an option.

General Fusion boasts backing from Shopify, Amazon founders

January 15, 2021, 9:36AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Shopify founder Tobias Lütke is backing General Fusion with an undisclosed capital investment through his Thistledown Capital investment firm, the Canadian fusion technology firm announced January 14.

In an article published the same day by TechCrunch, Jonathan Shieber noted that a separate investments by Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, first made through his venture capital fund nearly a decade ago, means General Fusion “has the founders of the two biggest e-commerce companies in the Western world on its cap table.”

Fusion and the bounty of electricity

January 8, 2021, 3:05PMNuclear NewsRoss Radel

From the time we discovered how the sun produces energy, we have been captivated by the prospect of powering our society using the same principles of nuclear fusion. Fusion energy promises the bounty of electricity we need to live our lives without the pollution inherent in fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal. In addition, fusion energy is free from the stigma that has long plagued nuclear power about the storage and handling of long-lived radioactive waste products, a stigma from which fission power is only just starting to recover in green energy circles.

The year in review 2020: Research and Applications

January 8, 2021, 11:59AMNuclear News

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Research and Applications section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Research and Applications section

Powering the future: Fusion advisory committee sets priorities

December 9, 2020, 3:00PMNuclear News

The Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee (FESAC), which is responsible for advising the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, on December 4 published the first public draft of Powering the Future: Fusion and Plasmas, a 10-year vision for fusion energy and plasma science. FESAC was charged with developing a long-range plan in November 2018.

The scope: The report, which is meant to catch the eye of leaders in the DOE, Congress, and the White House, details the needs of the fusion and plasma program identified by a FESAC subcommittee—the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee for Long Range Planning—with the help of the fusion research community. The yearlong Phase 1 of the Community Planning Process, organized under the auspices of the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics, gathered input and yielded a strategic plan that is reflected in the FESAC’s draft report.

U.K. seeks site for STEP fusion reactor

December 4, 2020, 6:59AMANS Nuclear Cafe

The United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has asked local governments to submit bids to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production project, or STEP, according to an article published by Bloomberg on December 1.

The STEP plant will be developed by the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, which says that construction could begin as soon as 2032, with operations by 2040, and “will prove that fusion is not a far-off dream.”

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Fusion technology start-ups showcased at TOFE 2020

November 19, 2020, 9:30AMNuclear News

The Fusion Enterprise-I and -II sessions, held on November 18 as part of the TOFE 2020 embedded topical meeting at the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, were chaired by Ales Necas, principal scientist at TAE Technologies, and featured presentations by speakers representing companies in the commercial fusion area.

A life in nuclear reactor physics and design

November 3, 2020, 7:00AMANS Nuclear CafeWeston M. Stacey

You may have read the abbreviated version of this article in the November 2020 issue of Nuclear News. Now here's the full article—enjoy!

I have enjoyed a long and stimulating career in applied nuclear physics—specifically nuclear reactor physics, nuclear fusion plasma physics, and nuclear fission and fusion reactor design—which has enabled me to know and interact with many of the scientists and engineers who have brought the field of nuclear energy forward over the past half-century. In this time I have had the fortune to interact with and contribute (directly and indirectly) to the education of many of the people who will carry the field forward over the next half-century.

A closer look at SPARC’s burning plasma ambitions

October 5, 2020, 3:00PMNuclear News

Cutaway of the SPARC engineering design. Image: CFS/MIT-PSFC, CAD rendering by T. Henderson

Seven open-access, peer-reviewed papers on the design of SPARC, Commonwealth Fusion Systems’ (CFS) fusion tokamak, written in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, were published on September 29 in a special edition of the Journal of Plasma Physics.

The papers describe a compact fusion device that will achieve net energy where the plasma generates more fusion power than used to start and sustain the process, which is the requirement for a fusion power plant, according to CFS.

The timeline for this planned device sets it apart from other magnetic confinement fusion tokamaks: Construction is to begin in 2021, with the device coming on line in 2025.

CFS expects the device to achieve a burning plasma—a self-sustaining fusion reaction—and become the world’s first net energy (Q>1) fusion system. The newly released papers reflect more than two years of work by CFS and the Plasma Science and Fusion Center to refine their design. According to CFS, the papers apply the same physics rules and simulations used to design ITER, now under construction in France, and predict, based on results from existing experiments, that SPARC will achieve its goal of Q>2. In fact, the papers describe how, under certain parameters, SPARC could achieve a Q ratio of 10 or more.

JPP lays out SPARC fusion physics basis

September 30, 2020, 9:45AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Cutaway of the SPARC engineering design. Image: CFS/MIT-PSFC, CAD Rendering by T. Henderson

A special issue of the Journal of Plasma Physics gives a glimpse into the physics basis for SPARC, the DT-burning tokamak being designed by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion Systems. The special issue was announced in a September 29 post on the Cambridge University Press blog Cambridge Core.

The special JPP issue includes seven peer-reviewed articles on the SPARC concept, which takes advantage of recent breakthroughs in high-temperature superconductor technology to burn plasma in a compact tokamak design.

ANS designates TFTR and FCF for landmark status

September 14, 2020, 12:09PMANS News

A look inside the TFTR plasma vessel. Photo: DOE

The Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) at Princeton University and the Fuel Cycle Facility (FCF) (now known as the Fuel Conditioning Facility) at Idaho National Laboratory have been designated as ANS Nuclear Historic Landmarks. The official awarding of the honors will occur during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, which begins November 16.

The TFTR received the award for demonstrating significant fusion energy production and tritium technologies for future nuclear fusion power plants and for the first detailed exploration of magnetically confined deuterium-tritium (D-T) fusion plasmas.

INL’s FCF and its Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) were honored for demonstrating on-site recycling of used nuclear fuel back into a nuclear reactor.

DOE awards $17 million for research at Princeton fusion facility

September 10, 2020, 7:00AMNuclear News

The NSTX-U “umbrella.” Photo: Elle Starkman/ PPPL Office of Communications

The Department of Energy on September 8 announced funding for research at the National Spherical Tokamak Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U), an Office of Science user facility at the DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J.

Total planned funding is $17 million for the NSTX-U work over five years in duration. As much as $6 million in fiscal year 2020 dollars and out-year funding could be available this year, contingent on congressional appropriations and satisfactory progress.

The initiative will support experiments, data analysis, and computer modeling and simulation of plasma behavior. A major focus will be on the start of laying the scientific groundwork for a next-generation facility through better understanding of the behavior of plasmas in spherical tokamaks, the DOE said.

DOE grants $29 million for fusion energy R&D

September 4, 2020, 6:59AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy announced on September 2 that it has issued $29 million in funding for 14 projects as part of its Galvanizing Advances in Market-aligned fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW) program, which is jointly sponsored by the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Science–Fusion Energy Sciences (SC-FES).

According to the DOE, GAMOW teams will work to close multiple fusion-specific technological gaps that will be needed to connect a net-energy-gain “fusion core,” once it is ready, to a deployable, commercially attractive fusion system.