Worldwide Progress Toward Realizing Nuclear Fusion Energy

Nuclear fusion is the source of energy that powers the stars in the universe. It is a nuclear reaction of light nuclei (isotopes of hydrogen) fusing into heavier ones (helium) once they collide with sufficiently high speeds to overcome the repulsive Coulomb forces of like charged particles. This releases enormous amounts of energy through the conversion of mass (0.7 % of the original mass) into energy. In practice to achieve such a high temperature "plasma furnace" while maintaining its burn for long time durations has been an extremely challenging scientific and technological problem. The most promising approach is the so-called tokamak concept. Such a device consists of a toroidally shaped vacuum chamber, surrounded by magnetic coils and the plasma is initiated by inducing an electric current in the plasma which also creates its own magnetic field that helps to confine the plasma. I will review the enormous scientific and technical progress made in the last few decades in fusion research, its present status, including the building of a multi-billion dollar scale burning plasma experiment (ITER) as an international activity, and finally will discuss some of the technical challenges that remain toward realizing a demonstration fusion power plant.

Sponsored by the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences Department as part of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project Seminar and NERS colloquium.

Topics: Magnetic fusion energy, Miklos Porkolab