Newswise — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced finalization of a cooperative agreement with General Atomics (GA) to operate the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, the country’s largest magnetic fusion research facility with 2019 authorized funding of $121.5 million for GA and collaborating institutions. The cooperative agreement enables GA’s stewardship of DIII-D to continue through 2024, providing opportunities for scientists from around the world to carry out important research in the development of practical fusion energy. The actual funding associated with the agreement will depend on yearly appropriations.
“DIII-D has been the source of many important discoveries in fusion science, and GA is proud to have played a key role in achieving them,” said David Hill, Director of DIII-D. “We look forward to continuing our research toward making fusion energy a practical reality.”
The DIII-D tokamak, which General Atomics operates as a national user facility for DOE’s Office of Science, hosts researchers from more than 100 institutions across the globe, including over 40 universities. The heart of the facility is a tokamak that uses powerful electromagnets to produce a doughnut-shaped magnetic bottle for confining a fusion plasma. In DIII-D, plasma temperatures more than 10 times hotter than the Sun are routinely achieved. At such extremely high temperatures, hydrogen isotopes can fuse together and release energy. (See Fusion Energy 101 below for more detail on how fusion works.)
Funding will support a variety of research efforts in fusion science. A new set of initiatives will enable DIII-D to pursue continued development of the advanced tokamak concept, which experts believe is the next important step toward realizing the vast potential of fusion energy. These initiatives include a first-of-a-kind steerable neutral beam system, a unique technique for increasing the current drive produced by microwaves, and a new lower hybrid current drive system provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
New hardware will also enable DIII-D to better simulate the ITER experiment under construction in France, allowing improved performance when ITER begins experiments in the late 2020s. This hardware includes enhanced coils for 3-D magnetic field shaping and an upgraded power supply. Another major initiative aims to develop the physics basis for a compact U.S. fusion facility that will lay the groundwork for power plants after ITER.
The agreement with the DOE Office of Science will also enable the development and installation of new instrumentation on DIII-D provided by scientists from across the U.S. The comparison of these data with state-of-the-art modeling tools, including those that take advantage of high-performance computing, will provide enhanced confidence that scientists can reliably predict the performance of future fusion systems.
“DOE’s renewal of this cooperative agreement is a clear sign that DIII-D remains in the vanguard of research in the U.S. fusion community,” said Jeff Quintenz, Senior Vice President of GA’s Energy Group. “This agreement provides the resources and support necessary to ensure that DIII-D maintains a vibrant, productive and extremely collaborative environment. We’re proud to continue our partnership with the Office of Science.”
About General Atomics: General Atomics pioneers technologies with the potential to change the world. Since the dawn of the atomic age, GA’s innovations have advanced the state of the art across the full spectrum of science and technology – from nuclear energy and defense to medicine and high-performance computing. Behind a talented global team of scientists, engineers, and professionals, GA delivers safe, sustainable, and economical solutions to meet growing global demands.
About the DIII-D National Fusion Facility. DIII-D is the largest magnetic fusion research facility in the U.S. and has been the site of numerous pioneering contributions to the development of fusion energy science. DIII-D continues the drive toward practical fusion energy with critical research conducted in collaboration with more than 600 scientists representing over 100 institutions worldwide. For more information, visit www.ga.com/diii-d.
Fusion Energy 101
- Nuclear fusion occurs when light elements such as hydrogen are brought together at extremely high temperatures and pressures, causing the nuclei to fuse into heavier elements such as helium. This process powers stars like our sun and releases vast amounts of energy.
- Fusion differs from nuclear fission, where heavy elements split into lighter elements, releasing energy. Fission is the process used in existing commercial nuclear power plants.
- Fusion power plants will be fueled by a mixture of hydrogen isotopes: deuterium (the nucleus comprises a proton and a neutron) and tritium (the nucleus comprises a proton and two neutrons).
- Deuterium can be extracted from seawater and tritium can be created from small amounts of lithium in the reactor, making fusion a nearly limitless, carbon-free source of energy that leaves no long-lived radioactive waste.
- One way to achieve fusion on earth is in a tokamak (a doughnut-shaped metal vacuum chamber) surrounded by extremely powerful magnets that create strong magnetic fields.
- Creating fusion in a tokamak requires that the fuel be converted into a plasma by heating it to over 100 million degrees.
- Plasma is the “fourth state of matter” in which electrons are stripped from the nuclei of their atoms. This creates an electric charge that allows the plasma to be confined by the magnetic fields within the tokamak without touching the inside walls.
- Plasma is the most common state of matter in the universe. It can be seen all around us in places such as the stars, lightning, and fluorescent light bulbs.
- Tokamaks are inherently safe – any loss of control causes the plasma to touch the inside wall, immediately cooling it and stopping the fusion reaction.