New Way to Stabilize Fusion Reaction discovered

Scientists seeking to bring the fusion reaction that powers the sun and stars to Earth must keep the superhot plasma free from disruptions.

Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have discovered a process that can help to control the disruptions thought to be most dangerous.

Replicating fusion, which releases boundless energy by fusing atomic nuclei in the state of matter known as plasma, could produce clean and virtually limitless power for generating electricity for cities and industries everywhere. Capturing and controlling fusion energy is therefore a key scientific and engineering challenge for researchers across the globe.

Above, Alcator C-Mod tokamak.  Credit PFSC

The PPPL finding, reported in Physical Review Letters, focuses on so-called tearing modes — instabilities in the plasma that create magnetic islands, a key source of plasma disruptions. These islands, bubble-like structures that form in the plasma, can grow and trigger disruptive events that halt fusion reactions and damage doughnut-shaped facilities called “tokamaks” that house the reactions.

New Way to Stabilize Fusion Reaction discovered

The ITER tokamak complex. Image credit ITER

source PPPL