A team of Sandia National Laboratories researchers is testing materials to make the next generation of fusion reactors. This container is used to expose the samples to nuclear fusion. It holds seven samples of innovative tungsten alloys, post exposure. (Photo by Jonathan Coburn.)

Sandia work at the heart of next generation nuclear reactor

January 16, 2023 9:33 am Published by

A team of Sandia National Laboratories researchers working on the reactor at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility is testing materials to make the next generation of fusion reactors, in the quest to develop more carbon-free energy sources.

These magnetic confinement fusion reactors, called tokamaks, use magnetic fields to shape plasma into a donut shape that generates power from nuclear fusion. DIII-D is the largest such facility currently operating in the Department of Energy complex. Tokamaks create high heat and particle fluxes that can cause significant erosion of the reactor wall materials. If these materials contaminate the core plasma, it could make it impossible to bring the reactor to a temperature high enough to start stable, safe fusion.

Jonathan Coburn is one such researcher, part of a team of Sandians that collaborates with DIII-D to test and develop much needed specialized fusion materials for the hot fusion plasma environment.

“Plasma-material interactions deal with what effects the ions and electrons from the plasma have on a material and vice versa,” Coburn explained. “Magnetic confinement fusion devices use very strong magnetic fields to generate and then confine the plasma, and so all of these ions and electrons are interacting and producing fusion energy. Inevitably, you have exhaust from the plasma that ends up impacting the walls of your vessel.”

The different plasma-facing components of such a reactor are made of materials like tungsten, carbon and beryllium, which interact differently when irradiated by ions and electrons.

Learn more about the work in the complete press release.

Share this story: