The Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program is the national basic-research effort in advanced plasma science, fusion nuclear science, and fusion technology. It is providing the knowledge base needed for an economically and environmentally attractive fusion energy source. Research at Sandia spans the breadth of FES from basic plasma studies (Discovery Science) to major efforts in plasma-material interactions and fusion nuclear science (Burning Plasma Science), including collaborative efforts on the major U.S. tokamaks (DIII-D and NSTX).

As a major contributor to the Burning Plasma Science effort, Sandia’s Fusion Program studies the interactions of plasmas and materials, the behavior of hydrogen isotopes in materials, and the response of material structures exposed to high heat fluxes. Basic studies of ion-surface interactions and ion behavior in plasma sheaths are accomplished through single-effect laboratory studies, while larger scale linear plasma experiments simulate the edge region of a fusion reactor. In collaboration with Idaho National Laboratory, Sandia co-operates the world’s only high-flux tritium plasma experiment, capable of examining the role of neutron damage in hydrogen isotope retention and permeation through fusion materials. Detailed three-dimensional modeling of thermal transport in plasma facing components is performed for actively cooled structures, such as plasma jets and porous media. Through collaborations with major US and international facilities, Sandia contributes to understanding of material migration on plasma facing components, along with diagnosis of the intense environment at the plasma surface interface.

Sandia’s applied research is helping the U.S. to design a portion of the first wall for ITER, a large-scale scientific experiment intended to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source. Our efforts on understanding hydrogen trapping and transport within materials, edge plasma diagnostics, and CAD-scale thermal and neutron modeling exploit strengths within Sandia’s mission areas of transportation fuels and nuclear weapons, along with Sandia’s research foundations in nano-devices and microsystems and radiation effects / high energy density science.

Because of the increased focus on materials in the U.S. with regard to fusion energy sciences, the issues of plasma-material interactions will be of greater importance in the future. Sandia is acting as a central resource for providing the fundamental data needed for predictive models of plasma material interactions and for using alternative concepts to resolve problems with plasma-facing components.

SNL capabilities and connections to Research Foundations:

  • Behavior of hydrogen & helium in materials and on surfaces
    • Transportation Energy in SSEF & Nuclear Weapons MA
  • Edge plasma characterization & wall erosion / migration
    • Materials Science RF & Global Nuclear Dangers MA
  • Micro-scale atomic hydrogen detection & smart tiles
    • Nanodevices & Microsystems RF
  • CAD-scale detailed 3-D neutronics modeling for first wall blankets
    •  Grand Challenge LDRD (Hostile Environments)
  • EM modeling for disruption loads & disruption mitigation by injected CT radiation
    • Radiation Effects & High Energy Density Science RF (Pulsed Power, EM & Resistive-MHD models)

Sandia will host the second Asia-Pacific symposium on Tritium science (APSOT-2) in September 2017. APSOT-2 will cover the topics of tritium science related to fusion energy research. The objective of the symposium is to provide a forum for an exchange of information on tritium science, technology, engineering, and general experiences with safe tritium handling for fusion energy. With the current planning for DT operation in ITER and its construction in the next decade, the need to develop a science-based understanding of tritium effects has increased in importance towards the demonstration of fusion power. The first announcement for APSOT-2 can be found here.


  • A new vision of plasma facing components,” R.E. Nygren, D.L. Youchison, B.D. Wirth, and L.L. Snead, in the proceedings of the 12th International Symposium on Fusion Nuclear Technology, Jeju Island, Korea, 14-18 September 2015, Fusion Engineering and Design 109-111, Part A (2016) 192.
  • Liquid surfaces for fusion plasma facing components: A critical review – Physics and PSI ,” R.E. Nygren and P. Tabares, Nuclear Materials and Energy 9 (2016) 6.
  • High-flux plasma exposure of ultra-fine grain tungsten,” R.D. Kolasinski, D.A. Buchenauer, R.P. Doerner, Z.Z. Fang, C. Ren, Y. Oya, R.W. Friddle, and B.E. Mills, International Journal of Refactory Metals and Hard Materials 60 (2016) 28.
  • Gas-Driven Permeation of Deuterium Through Tungsten and Tungsten Alloys”, D.A. Buchenauer, R.A. Karnesky, Z.Z. Fang, C. Ren, Y. Oya, T. Otsuka, Y, Yamauchi, and J.A. Whaley, in the proceedings of the 12th International Symposium on Fusion Nuclear Technology, Jeju Island, Korea, 14-18 September 2015, Fusion Engineering and Design 109-111, Part A (2016) 104.
  • “Integration of liquid surface PFCs into DEMO or FNSF,” R.E. Nygren, Physica Scripta T167 (2016) 014063.
  • “Surface morphology changes to tungsten under exposure from an electron cyclotron resonance plasma source,” D. Donovan, D. Buchenauer, J. Whaley, and R. Friddle, proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Plasma-Facing Materials & Components for Fusion Applications meeting, Aix en Provence, France, 18-22 May 2015. Physica Scripta T167 (2016) 014040.
  • Development of a Plasma Driven Permeation Experiment for TPE,” D. Buchenauer, R. Kolasinski, M. Shimada, D. Donovan, D. Youchison, and B. Merrill, proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on Fusion Nuclear Technology, Barcelona, Spain, 16-20 September 2013. Fusion Engineering and Design 89 (2014) 1014.
  • Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak/material and plasma evaluation system material migration experiment,” W.R. Wampler, R.A. Pitts, S. Carpentier-Chouchana, P.C. Stangeby , F. Ding, H. M. Mao, W. Z. Wang, J. P. Qian, X. Gong, and G-N Luo, Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Plasma-Facing Materials and Components  for Fusion Applications, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany 13-17 May 2013. Physica Scripta T159 (2014) 014069.
Measurements of net erosion and redeposition of molybdenum in DIII-D,” W. R. Wampler, P. C. Stangeby, J.G. Watkins, D. Buchenauer, D.L. Rudakov, and C.P.C. Wong. Journal of Nuclear Materials 438 (2013) S822.