controlled magnetic fusion. In the following sections, the panel concentrates on the so-called tokamak confinement concept. A tokamak is a toroidal plasma chamber in which confinement is produced by an axial magnetic field and a toroidal plasma current, usually driven inductively by a transformer. The panel also considers important non-tokamak confinement geometries, however.


Introduction and Background

To achieve the densities and temperatures required for a successful thermonuclear reactor, a plasma must be contained by magnetic forces (such a confinement geometry is sometimes called a ''magnetic bottle") for a sufficiently long time to produce net thermonuclear power. In the attempts to achieve this confinement, stability has emerged as one of the most important problems. A plasma confined by a magnetic field is not in thermodynamic equilibrium and therefore is potentially able to break out of the confinement system by a large variety of instabilities.

Past Achievements

During the past 10 years, great progress has been made in understanding the equilibrium and macroscopic stability properties of the tokamak plasma. The majority of tokamaks today routinely produce equilibria that are much more complicated than those of the original circular-cross-section "doughnut" concept. When a tokamak plasma is deformed from its axisymmetric equilibrium state, macroscopic MHD instabilities usually set in. The most virulent of these are the "ideal" instabilities, which tap the free energy associated with the pressure gradient or the plasma current. The unstable modes grow rapidly and can result in sudden loss of the stored plasma energy. Theoretical predictions of the stability boundaries for MHD modes have been corroborated by experiments. A significant achievement is the validation of the dependence of the beta limit (β is the ratio of plasma kinetic pressure to magnetic pressure) on plasma current, minor radius, and magnetic field. Stable operation regimes have been developed based on a good understanding of the dependence of MHD stability on global plasma parameters. In recent years, MHD research has begun to focus on the next level of understanding, namely, the impact of internal profiles on stability. The so-called second stable regime, for example, is a consequence of the localized high pressure creating a favorable "magnetic well" that stabilizes pressure-driven instabilities. Experiments have already shown that the beta limit can be doubled by optimizing plasma profiles. Furthermore, recent tokamak results have indicated a possible correlation between stability and confinement, offering

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