Univer­sity of Malta re­searchers con­trib­ute to­ward world’s largest nu­clear fu­sion re­ac­tor

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Malta are con­tribut­ing to­ward the con­struc­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Ther­monu­clear Ex­per­i­men­tal Re­ac­tor (ITER), a €20 bil­lion nu­clear fu­sion re­ac­tor that aims to ‘ig­nite a star on Earth for en­ergy’.

The re­ac­tor, known as a toka­mak, is be­ing con­structed in Cadarache, France and it will be the world’s largest ma­chine of its kind.

The Euro­pean Union, the United States, Rus­sia, China, In­dia, Ja­pan and South Korea have all joined forces to build this in­ter­na­tional ex­per­i­men­tal mag­netic con­fine­ment ma­chine to prove the fea­si­bil­ity of nu­clear fu­sion as a large-scale and car­bon-free source of en­ergy based on the same prin­ci­ple that pow­ers our sun and stars. ITER is de­signed to pro­duce net en­ergy and main­tain fu­sion re­ac­tions for long pe­ri­ods of time. It will be the first fu­sion de­vice to test the in­te­grated tech­nolo­gies, ma­te­ri­als and physics regimes nec­es­sary to build power plants for the com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of fu­sion-based elec­tric­ity.

By fus­ing deu­terium and tri­tium (hy­dro­gen iso­topes) to­gether and con­fin­ing the plasma in the shape of a torus within a cham­ber with very strong su­per­con­duct­ing mag­nets, ITER is de­signed to make the long-awaited tran­si­tion from ex­per­i­men­tal stud­ies of plasma physics to fullscale elec­tric­ity-pro­duc­ing fu­sion power sta­tions.

Through a col­lab­o­ra­tion set up with the Paul Scher­rer In­sti­tute (PSI) in Vil­li­gen Switzer­land, Karl Buha­giar, Dr Ing. Ni­cholas Sam­mut (Deputy Dean Fac­ulty of ICT) & Dr Ing. An­drew Sam­mut (Dean Fac­ulty of En­gi­neer­ing) worked on the mea­sure­ment and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of the ITER Toroidal Field (TF) coils which are core main el­e­ments of the ma­chine.

The 18 su­per­con­duct­ing Dshaped Toroidal Field (TF) coils each mea­sure 13m by 8m and are cooled to -268°C in op­er­at­ing cryo­genic con­di­tions. At their de­sign cur­rent of 68 000A, these su­per­con­duct­ing coils carry about two thou­sand times the cur­rent found in a stan­dard house­hold wire. These cur­rents gen­er­ate a peak mag­netic field of 11.8 T which is re­quired to con­fine the plasma and con­trol its shape and di­rec­tion of move­ment in­side the re­ac­tor cham­ber.

The UoM re­search team’s goal so far was to de­velop a mag­netic mea­sure­ment sys­tem for the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the TF coil cur­rent cen­tre line (CCL). The de­ter­mi­na­tion of the CCL makes it pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine the TF coil’s mag­netic field and hence how well the plasma can be con­fined.

Nu­clear fu­sion re­ac­tions are very chal­leng­ing to con­fine sus­tain­ably due to the ex­tremely high tem­per­a­tures in­volved. How­ever, they re­lease three times as much en­ergy as cur­rent fis­sion re­ac­tors and their fu­els are abun­dant. They also pro­duce 100 times less ra­dioac­tive waste that is not long lived. The de­sign of toka­maks is also such that it would be im­pos­si­ble to un­dergo large-scale run­away chain re­ac­tions. If this tech­nol­ogy is har­nessed, fu­sion re­ac­tors would be able to pro­duce re­li­able elec­tric­ity with vir­tu­ally zero pol­lu­tion. Hence fu­sion power has the po­ten­tial to pro­vide suf­fi­cient en­ergy to sat­isfy mount­ing de­mand and to do so sus­tain­ably with a rel­a­tively small im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

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