European research for ITER
Warming the heart of a fusion reactor
Brussels, 15 July 2009
Italian scientists have newly demonstrated an efficient method for isolating the 100 million degree hot plasma within the fusion reactor and marked an important step for ITER, the world's biggest experiment to replicate the sun's fusion power on the earth. The experiments were carried out in the Centro Ricerche Frascati of ENEA, an Associate to the Euratom Fusion Research Programme. Scientists showed how it may be possible to reduce the heat losses from the ITER plasma, making it less difficult to reach the extremely high temperatures needed for fusion. In perspective for the future fusion power plant lower heat losses mean a lower cost for the electricity produced in it.
Over the last fifteen years scientists have been working on methods to extend the duration of the so called Advanced Tokamak regimes. Such regimes offer an improved thermal insulation of the hot plasma core of the tokamak, thereby reducing the power necessary to maintain the reactor's operation and making it, therefore, more cost-effective.
In order to maintain the steady state over time of Advanced Tokamak regimes, "tailoring" of the profile of the electrical current flowing inside the plasma is necessary. The most efficient technique to reach this goal is to launch high power radio waves in the Gigahertz range of frequency into the plasma. Up until now, in experiments carried out by several labs around the world, these techniques showed an unexpected loss of efficiency when the plasma density was pushed to the values needed in ITER.
Experimental research carried out lately on the FTU tokamak at the Centro Ricerche Frascati proved that this reduced current drive efficiency is due to unsuitable plasma edge conditions. When the plasma edge is operated at higher temperature the expected current drive efficiency can be recovered. "With the latest success the Advanced Tokamak regimes are becoming a more realistic perspective for ITER and for the future commercial reactor" said Angelo Tuccillo, responsible for the scientific FTU programme.
The European Commission contributes to fusion research within the Euratom Seventh Research Framework Programme lasting from 2007 to 2011 with in total €1.9 billion over this period. About €1 billion is dedicated to the ITER facility construction and €900 million to fusion research in general. The European fusion research programme is fully integrated at the European Level, with a strong international dimension. The European Commission is in charge of managing the overall policy and budgets for fusion research using different instruments, among these there are 26 “Contracts of Association” between Euratom and EU member states plus Switzerland.
The Euratom-Enea Fusion Association was established in 1960 and is by number of staff (about 500) and yearly budget (about €50 m) the second largest Euratom-Association out of 26 for fusion research. The Association activity is carried out in three research units, one in Frascati, one in Padova and one in Milan and each one also acts as a pole connected to several Italian universities.
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