DOE awards $17 million for research at Princeton fusion facility

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.

New model stretches the limits of fusion torus control

PPPL physicists Raffi Nazikian (left) and Qiming Hu, with a figure from their research. Photo: PPPL/Elle Starkman

Stars contain their plasma with the force of gravity, but here on earth, plasma in fusion tokamaks must be magnetically confined. That confinement is tenuous, because tokamaks are subject to edge localized modes (ELM)—intense bursts of heat and particles that must be controlled to prevent instabilities and damage to the fusion reactor.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and at General Atomics (GA) recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters explaining this tokamak restriction and a potential path to overcome it. They have developed a new model for ELM suppression in the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, which is operated by GA for the DOE. PPPL physicists Qiming Hu and Raffi Nazikian are the lead authors of the paper, which was announced on August 10 by PPPL.