Researchers from the National Research Nuclear University (NRNU MEPhI), working as part of an IAEA project, have developed the most accurate method to date to obtain the data needed to reliably operate a thermonuclear reactor. The results were published in the Journal of Nuclear Materials, the university's press service reports.
Thermonuclear installations attempt to use fusion reactions like those occurring in the Sun to produce electric power. If successful, it will provide a practically inexhaustible source of energy for the world. The biggest installation under construction today is ITER in France.
The construction of fusion installations poses a number of challenges, such as choosing the right material for plasma-facing reactor elements. Tungsten appears to be one of the most promising materials. But experts still don't know for certain how it will behave in an operating fusion reactor in combination with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and a component of thermonuclear fuel. One of the most serious potential problems is tritium getting caught in radiation defects in the metal of the plasma-facing reactor walls.
Tritium accumulation poses several threats and, in large amounts, leads to the "total degradation" of the walls' mechanical properties, according to Yury Gasparyan of the MEPhI Department of Plasma Physics. The uncontrolled tritium leaks from reactor walls leads to so-called plasma disruption and a tremendous outburst of energy directed against the walls, the report quotes him as saying.
One must know the hydrogen interaction energy with metal defects of thermonuclear systems' walls to solve these problems. The MEPhI Department of Plasma Physics has developed a new method to measure this.
According to Gasparyan, the new method yields more accurate data than anything else to date. Moreover, the data are not sensitive or are minimally sensitive to factors that had a considerable impact on measurements earlier.