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Introduction

Nuclear Fusion is the process by which light elements (such as hydrogen) fuse to form heavier ones (such as helium). In this process, mass is transformed into energy according to the Einstein formula E= m.c2.

It is the process that powers the stars: it makes our sun shine.

Very high temperatures are necessary to achieve it, and while the process has been shown to function also on earth, it is in the research stage and work still needs to be done, both in the physics and technology area before a fusion reactor will become commercially available.

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ASDEX upgrade, the Tokamak at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, Garching, Germany. The violet light is emitted by the plasma. © MPI für Plasmaphysik

The research unit Nuclear Fusion is involved in fusion research since over thirty years.

The group has an extensive world-wide network of collaborations and contacts in fusion research, and is since many years recognized as an important player and a respected center of excellence in the fusion community.

The research in the unit is organized along three core areas:

1. Plasma heating and control using the ion cyclotron range of frequency (ICRF) method
Electromagnetic power is used to heat the constituents to the high temperature needed for fusion to occur. The research investigates the physics and technological aspects of this heating method and the processes that accompagny it.

2. Advanced data analysis in massive fusion databases and for real-time plasma control
Large amounts of data are generated in the course of research. The research develops methods to handle these.

3. Plasma-wall interaction and study of first-wall materials
At the high temperature needed for the reaction, the gas turns into a plasma (the constituents of the neutral atoms - the electrons and ions - are no longer bound together). Materials in close neighbourhood of this plasma are subject to extreme conditions. The research develops an understanding on how to optimise the materials.

For these three core areas, intensive contacts exist with respectively:

1. the Laboratory for Plasma Physics (LPP) at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels and the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP, Garching, Germany).

2. the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and European Tokamak JET at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

3. the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK.CEN) in Mol and the Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany)

The research activities are further embedded in the European and worldwide research efforts.

Researchers of the group are also actively involved in work on the European Tokamak JET at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE, Oxfordshire, UK) , ASDEX Upgrade (AUG) and the Trilateral Euregio Cluster (TEC).

They participate on ITER, the international tokamak being build in Cadarache, and on the design of DEMO, the tokamak to be built after ITER

 

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Asdex upgrade.© MPI für Plasmaphysik
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JET, the European Tokamak in Culham near Oxford in the United Kingdom. The picture shows the internal components of the machine.
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ITER, the international Tokamak being built in Cadarache near Aix-en-Provence in France