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  • Fusion events | Bringing power to the people

    In tandem with the annual Fête de la Science, a French exhibition on the sciences, the European research consortium EUROfusion is premiering a new travelling ex [...]

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  • Divertor cassettes | Europe awards final contract

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  • Image of the week | 2nd central solenoid module on its way

    A second module for the ITER central solenoid, the "most powerful magnet in the world," is on its way to ITER. Procured by US ITER and manufactured b [...]

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  • Disruption mitigation | Perfecting the pellet

    ITER's success will depend in part on subduing potential plasma instabilities. A team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States is tackling the chal [...]

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Of Interest

See archived entries

Turning the tables on turbulence

Image of plasma fluctuations in the MAST divertor, showing where the filaments are brightest and instabilities are strongest. (Click to view larger version...)
Image of plasma fluctuations in the MAST divertor, showing where the filaments are brightest and instabilities are strongest.
Plasma turbulence has been the bane of fusion scientists for decades. But now they're getting their own back—images of plasma inside the MAST tokamak at Culham are showing how turbulence could actually tackle one of the hottest issues in fusion reactor design.

Plasma is a fascinating but frustrating fact of life for researchers developing fusion energy. The fourth state of matter, despite making up most of the universe, still holds many secrets for Earth-bound physicists. Controlling this incredibly hot ionised gas in a magnetic field within a tokamak is a proven way of triggering fusion reactions, but the downside is that the plasma becomes turbulent and unstable, making it difficult to confine—analogous to the creation of blobs in a lava lamp, or the break-up of clouds in the sky.

The MAST videos provide the closest view yet of plasma in the tokamak's exhaust system, the divertor, and may hold the key to dealing with the intense heat ejected from the fusion chamber onto surrounding surfaces. This is a major concern for researchers designing full-scale tokamak power plants.

The divertor, made from extremely tough materials, acts as a target for the waste plasma, and pumps helium ash and impurities out of the tokamak. But in a fusion power plant the divertor will be exposed to power loads of tens of megawatts per square metre (many times greater than a spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere), putting a strain on even the toughest of structures.

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