Coriolis effect can stabilise plasma in fusion reactors

Researchers at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) and at FOM Institute for fundamental energy research DIFFER discovered that the Coriolis effect can help stabilise the plasma in nuclear fusion experiments.

Publication date: 20-03-2013

Researchers at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) and at FOM Institute for fundamental energy research DIFFER discovered that the Coriolis effect can help stabilise the plasma in nuclear fusion experiments. The same effect that causes wind vortices on the rotating Earth can help reach a better confinement of the plasma in a fusion reactor. Researcher Willem Haverkort (CWI/DIFFER) defends his PhD thesis on this topic at Eindhoven University of Technology on 21 March 2013.

Stabilising the plasma

In his PhD research, Haverkort analysed the effect that rotation has on the stability of plasmas. In order to tame nuclear fusion and produce net energy from this process, the plasma in a reactor must be heated to over 100 million degrees. No material can withstand those temperatures, so fusion researchers confine the plasma using strong magnetic fields. The plasma often rotates at appreciable speeds. Haverkort used advanced mathematical analyses and numerical simulations to determine the effect of different forms of rotation on the plasma stability.

One of Haverkort's results is that a specific form of rotation has a stabilising effect on the plasma. If the rotation decreases from the centre of the plasma towards the edge, the so-called Coriolis effect can stabilise instabilities in the plasma. This effect bends the trajectory of objects moving in a rotating system. In our atmosphere, it causes streams of air to the north of the equator to veer in a different direction than air currents south of the equator. In a plasma, the stabilising effect helps reach a higher energy output and lowers the chance of disturbances in the fusion plasma.

Fusion as an energy source
Nuclear fusion has the potential to be a limitless, clean and safe form of energy. The road to fusion contains many scientific and technological challenges. In the international ITER project, to which Haverkort's research contributes, the EU, Japan, South Korea, China, India, the US and Russia work together to demonstrate the technical feasibility of fusion as an energy source. The ITER reactor, currently under construction in Cadarache in France, will be operational in 2020.

CWI and DIFFER
Fusion research is part of the research theme Energy at CWI. In this theme, the institute develops advanced software and mathematics to enable large-scale energy production from sustainable sources. CWI in Amsterdam works in close cooperation with the FOM Institute DIFFER, the Dutch institute for fundamental energy research and the national centre for fusion research. During his research, Haverkort was affiliated with both CWI and DIFFER. On 15 January 2013 he spoke about his research in the popular science tv show De Wereld Leert Door.

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Picture: JET fusion reactor in the UK. Credits: EFDA / JET.