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New CRP: Pathways to Energy from Inertial Fusion – Materials Research and Technology Development (F13020)

New Coordinated Research Project

A scientist inside the Omega Laser Facility target chamber at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. (Photo: University of Rochester, USA)

Nuclear power plays an essential role in counteracting the threat of global climate change that is increasingly being recognized as a consequence of the use of fossil fuels. Fission power already provides about 10% of the total world electricity partially replacing carbon-based fuels, and on the road to a carbon free future, fusion power could be as attractive.

The goal of the ongoing fusion research and developments is to reach ignition – the point at which fusion reactions become completely self-sustaining. Once ignition is achieved, the net energy released from nuclear fusion reactions would be four times as much as nuclear fission.

However, realizing the potential of fusion energy for peaceful purposes remains one of the most daunting challenges that scientists and engineers are facing. Creating, confining and controlling a plasma, thermally insulated, at temperatures above 100 million degrees involves a complete understanding of plasma physics, and a combination of nuclear engineering, technology and material science.

At the same time, solving the fusion puzzle is becoming increasingly urgent, in fact providing the energy that enables continued growth, while limiting the severity of climate change by constraining the emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels, is needing early resolution for those countries planning major investment in new energy sources.

From the environmental, safety, and economic points of view, nuclear fusion is recognized as an option for providing an adequate, worldwide supply of energy for centuries to come.

In most designs of future fusion power reactors, the choice of fuel falls on two isotopes of hydrogen, Deuterium (D) and Tritium (T), which combine at a temperature of 100 million degree Celsius to form a helium nucleus and release an energetic neutron.

Although the energy of the neutrons produced from D-T reactions is crucial for the ultimate goals of fuelling the reactor and producing electricity, these highly energetic neutrons also carry the potential to cause material defects and transmutation, which raises questions related to radiation damage, biological shielding, remote handling and safety.

For these reasons, developing materials capable of withstanding the extreme conditions in operational fusion reactors is among the major challenges to a practical fusion power reactor design, whether the scheme for confinement of fusion plasma relies on magnetic or inertial technology.

The new CRP on “Pathways to Energy from Inertial Fusion: Materials Research and Technology Development” will be conducted by the IAEA from 2020 to 2023 and is the fourth in a series of CRPs in this field of study.

This new CRP will help address some of the main challenges to make commercially viable fusion energy production a reality, namely developing the fundamental fusion materials and reactor technologies, in close connection with high gain target development, needed to construct and operate a fusion power plant. In this regard, such development of materials and technologies would serve the needs of both Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) and Magnetic Fusion Energy (MFE) communities.

Moreover, this CRP will help establish a network of working groups to facilitate international cooperation and enhance information exchange on IFE research and development; and promote the use of IFE technologies in fundamental science and industrial applications.

CRP Overall Objective

This CRP seeks to advance the fundamental fusion-material research and -technologies, in close connection with high gain target development, and enhance information exchange on IFE research and development, establishing an international network of working groups. This will open the door for more Member States to join the research efforts at different levels and contribute to moving forward in developing the peaceful use of fusion energy, serving the needs of both IFE and MFE communities.

Specific Research Objectives

The CRP will comprise a coordinated set of research activities:

1. To advance the underlying science and develop novel materials for fusion energy.

2. To understand the key processes in the target chamber.

3. To assess tritium inventory and its handling.

4. To develop next generation targets and diagnostics, that will also help enhance knowledge

on high gain target materials.

5. To develop driver (including materials research) and target fabrication technologies with an

emphasis on repetition systems.

How to join this CRP

Please submit your proposals for Research Contract or Agreement by email to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the appropriate template on the CRA website by (latest) 30th April 2020.

For further information related to this CRP, potential applicants should use the contact form under the CRP page.

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