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Burning Plasma: Bringing a Star to Earth
To advance plasma science in pursuit of national science and technology goals;
To develop fusion science, technology, and plasma confinement innovations as the central theme of the domestic program; and
To pursue fusion energy and technology as a partner in the international effort.1
Experiments that have been carried out on the suite of U.S. and foreign tokamaks have been successful in significantly advancing the scientific and technical knowledge base for fusion. Research in innovative and alternate magnetic fusion concepts is contributing to an understanding of how to design, implement, and control future fusion devices. Theory and simulation have contributed significantly to progress in understanding the behavior of fusion plasmas—for example, in the area of turbulence and nonlinear physics. The university-scale efforts within the fusion program have enabled the advances in the fusion effort and provided personnel for the program as a whole. The question now is, What is the next major step for the U.S. fusion effort?
It is widely agreed in the plasma physics community that the next large-scale step in the effort to achieve fusion energy is to create a burning plasma—one in which alpha particles from the fusion reactions provide the dominant heating of the plasma necessary to sustain the fusion reaction. The objective of creating a burning plasma is to understand the physics of the confinement, heating, and stability of burning plasmas as well as to explore the technical problems connected with the development of a power-producing fusion reactor. A burning plasma experiment is a key scientific milestone on the road to the development of fusion power.
The Burning Plasma Assessment Committee was charged with analyzing and reporting on the following topics: the importance of a burning plasma experiment, the readiness of the U.S. fusion community to undertake a burning plasma experiment, and the DOE’s plan for a burning plasma experimental program. The committee was also asked to make recommendations on the program strategy that would maximize the output of such a program for the future development of fusion as an energy source. Because the committee’s charge was limited to the consideration of magnetically confined burning plasmas, none of the inertial confinement fusion programs are considered in the report.
The development of fusion as a source of power is a multidecade enterprise. It
U.S. Department of Energy, Strategic Plan for the Restructured U.S. Fusion Energy Sciences Program, DOE/ER-0684, Washington, D.C., August 1996, p. 3.