Power from nuclear fusion reactors has the promise to be safe, sustainable and limitless. But science has not been able to bring fusion energy to the commercial energy market. This is partly because the operating limits of the reactor materials are not known.
A team of researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in collaboration with seven other institutions, is trying to change that.
Led by Brian Wirth, UT-ORNL Governor's Chair for Computational Nuclear Engineering, the Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) project will receive $2.3 million from the Department of Energy for the first year with plans for a total of $11.5 million over five years. ORNL and UT will receive $850,000 for the first year with plans for a total of $4.1 million over five years.
Nuclear fusion promises an almost limitless supply of clean and safe energy. Unlike the nuclear fission reactors used today, it doesn't come with the challenge of managing used nuclear fuel containing very long-lived radioactivity. This is because the process to create the energy is different. In nuclear fission, an atom is split into two smaller atoms which remain radioactive for hundreds to many thousands of years. In fusion, two or more smaller atoms are fused into a larger atom that is not radioactive.
"However, the fusion process currently pursued unleashes a very high-energy neutron that is believed to produce more damage to reactor materials than in fission," Wirth said. "Now is the right time to examine this impact of fusion reactions on materials as we determine whether we can really make fusion work as a practical energy source."
The researchers will examine how the surfaces of materials which comprise the reactor respond when being bombarded by energetic neutrons and ions. Using high-performance computers such as ORNL's Jaguar and UT's Kraken, the researchers will try to accurately predict ma
|Contact: Whitney Heins|
University of Tennessee at Knoxville