A fusion reactor happens to be a magnetic bottle with similar processes that take place in sun. Tritium and deuterium fuels fuse to formulate a vapor made from heat, neutrons, and helium ions. As this plasma or the hot ionized gas burns, this heat gets transferred to water turning it into steam that then turns turbines for power generation. The superheated plasma is actually a threat for the reactor as well as the divertor that removes waste from operating reactor and keeps the plasma hot running for work.
Materials scientist from the department of Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Chad Parish, adds, “We’re trying to determine the fundamental behavior of plasma-facing materials with the goal of better understanding degradation mechanisms so we can engineer robust, new materials.” He is also the senior author of the paper that was written on this research. It aims to explore the degradation of tungsten under conditions relevant with reactor.
Why use tungsten? Because, it has the highest melting point as compared to all other metals and is a perfect candidate for plasma-facing materials. However, when you consider its brittleness, you would prefer to use a tungsten alloy or composite. Irrespective of this fact, it is important to learn about how tungsten is affected by energetic atomic bombardments on a microscopic level and help engineers improve nuclear materials. Parish adds, “Inside a fusion power plant is the most brutal environment engineers have ever been asked to design materials for. It’s worse than the interior of a jet engine.”
Researchers have been observing interaction of plasma with machine components to manufacture materials that are much more than a match for harsh working conditions like these. Reliability of materials is of much importance as new nuclear technologies are evolving and increasing their influence on operational and construction cost of power plants. It is also very important to engineer’s materials for hardness as compared with lifecycles. For this specific study, the team bombarded helium plasma against tungsten at a very low energy point. This iterated a fusion reactor over regular conditions.
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