Scientists with the Department of Energy’s DIII-D National Fusion Facility have released a brand-new concept for a compact fusion reactor. The scientists say the compact reactor could better define the technology needed to support commercial fusion power. The Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) concept enables better performance in a self-sustaining model that holds energy more efficiently. The result is a cheaper and smaller fusion reactor.
The CAT concept is explained in an article published in the journal Nuclear Fusion on the 19th of March. The idea was developed using first-of-its-kind reactor simulations. The new reactor takes a physics-based approaching combining theory from the DIII-D facility and computing by scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using the Cori supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. The underlying physics concepts of the reactor were developed and tested at the DIII-D facility.
Richard Buttery, the leader of the project, explains that the key to the new reactor is increasing pressure inside the tokamak. Increasing the pressure creates a stronger fusion reaction, enabling scientists to reduce the current. The reduced current makes it easier to sustain the plasma and makes it more stable. Simulations show that carefully sharpening the plasma and directing the current to the edge of the plasma suppresses heat losses and creates greater pressure at lower currents. The reactor soon reaches the point where the plasma becomes self-sustaining. The result is a device that can be turned on to generate electricity at a steady rate.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) together with the DOE Fusion Energy Services Advisory Committee (FESAC) have released reports calling for further development of fusion energy in the United States. The report from the FESAC outlines a decade-long strategy to improve the development of fusion energy and further plasma science. The NASEM report highlights the need for government and private sector investment to make a fusion plant a reality by 2040.
One key recommendation included in both reports is developing the science and engineering foundation for a low-cost fusion pilot plant. The pilot plant will lay the groundwork for commercially available fusion reactors.