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Prospects for high gain inertial fusion energy

Discussion meeting

Starts:

March
022020

09:00

Ends:

March
032020

17:00

Location

The Royal Society, London, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG

Overview

Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Peter Norreys, Dr Kate Lancaster, Professor Mark Koepke, Professor George Tynan and Dr Christopher Ridgers.

The National Ignition Facility Target Chamber, courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Inertial fusion is a grand challenge for humanity and promises many disruptive scientific applications, including nucleosynthesis of high-Z elements, future power generation and the brightest possible source for neutron scattering science. This meeting brought together the world’s leading scientists and policy advocates to begin preparations for the next generation facilities that enable movement directly to high energy gain.

Recorded audio of the presentations is available below. An accompanying journal issue for this meeting was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team

Event organisers

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Schedule of talks

02 March

Session 1 09:00-12:30

Potential Benefits

6 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr James Sadler, Los Alamos National Laboratory, USA

09:00-09:05 Welcome by the Royal Society & Dr Kate Lancaster

09:05-09:30 Preparations for a European R&D roadmap for an inertial fusion demo reactor

Professor Peter Norreys, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, UK

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09:30-09:45 Discussion

09:45-10:15 Beyond the physics and demonstration of ignition

Dr Stephen O Dean, Fusion Power Associates, USA

Abstract

Fusion holds the promise of providing growing world energy demand with a carbon-free power source having a universally available fuel source and attractive safety and environmental characteristics. A significant world effort has been underway for over 50 years aimed at the achievement of fusion by inertial confinement. The effort to date has necessarily emphasised understanding the physics of compressing and heating a small amount of fusion fuel to the high densities and temperatures required for ignition and energy gain. Though steady progress has been, and is still being, made to achieve the required physics understanding and energy gain, those goals have not yet quite been met. In preparing a roadmap from present achievements to the ultimate goal of commercial fusion power requires formally identifying and implementing complementary efforts on a number of fronts. These include the choice, development and demonstration of high repetition rate compression drivers (eg lasers) to succeed present day single pulse sources; design, fabrication and testing of high gain targets (gain of order 100); development of mass production, cost-effective, target fabrication and delivery systems capable of inserting targets into the reaction chamber several times per second, and demonstrating ability to accurately hit and efficiently compress those targets to reliably produce the required fusion yields; design and demonstration of reaction chambers capable of handling energy yields and target debris clearing at the levels required for achieving high power plant reliability with low induced radioactivity. A robust ongoing effort on competitive power plant conceptual design is necessary to guide the implementation of the roadmap, including the timing and level of effort on the “beyond ignition” demonstrations.

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10:15-10:30 Discussion

10:30-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-11:30 Political and commercial prospects for inertial fusion energy

Mr Andrew Holland, Fusion Industry Association, USA

Abstract

Fusion energy holds the prospect of an energy source that is clean, safe, affordable, and limitless. It will transform the global energy system. Today, over $1 billion in private capital has been invested in companies that are working on transformative approaches to fusion. Annually, even more than that is spent on fusion research by governments around the world. However, just achieving a scientific demonstration of fusion power will not be enough on its own to transition the global energy system. It will require innovations in the legal, regulatory, commercial, and political spheres to support the massive deployment of fusion power that we know will be necessary to meet the global challenges of climate change and energy scarcity. That means, we need a global partnership combining scientific, political, government, and media expertise to build the fusion energy economy that will support the massive global deployment. The Fusion Industry Association (FIA) is the unified voice of the fusion industry, working to transform the energy system with commercially viable fusion power. Only founded in 2018, the FIA has already succeeded in creating new multi-million-dollar public–private partnership programs with the US Department of Energy. To support that transition, the FIA has three strategic priorities for accelerating fusion energy: 1) partnering with governments: the private sector should have access to the scientific research that governments have pursued for decades. Public–private  partnerships that include government support to private fusion companies can rapidly accelerate fusion development by driving private financial support. 2) Building a fusion movement: the world should know how important clean, safe, affordable, and secure fusion will be to the future energy system. FIA is educating key stakeholders in the private, public, and philanthropic sectors about the importance of tomorrow’s fusion power economy. 3) Ensuring regulatory certainty: fusion research, development, and deployment should be subject to appropriate, risk-informed regulation when experiments are built and sited. In addition to strategic priorities of the FIA, this talk will discuss the specific aspects of inertial fusion energy that present commercial and political advantages. 

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11:30-11:45 Discussion

11:45-12:15 How might controlled fusion fit into the emerging low-carbon energy system of the mid-21st century?

Professor George Tynan, UC San Diego, USA

Abstract

Professor Tynan and his team examine the characteristics that fusion technology will need to have if it is to survive in the emerging low-carbon energy system of the mid-21st century. It is likely that the majority of future electric energy demand will be provided by the lowest marginal cost energy technology, which in many regions will be stochastically varying renewable solar and wind electric generation coupled to systems that provide a few days of energy storage. Firm low-carbon/zero-carbon resources based on gas-fired turbines with carbon capture, advanced fission reactors, hydroelectric and perhaps engineered geothermal systems will then be used to provide the balance of load in a highly dynamic system operating in competitive markets governed by merit-order pricing mechanisms that select the lowest-cost supplies to meet demand. These firm sources will have overnight capital costs in the range of a few $/Watt, be capable of cycling down to a fraction of their nameplate capacity, operate at low utilisation fraction, and have a suitable unit size probably of order 100MW. If controlled fusion using either magnetic confinement or inertial confinement approaches is to have any chance of providing a material contribution to future electrical energy needs, it must demonstrate these key qualities and at the same time prove robust safety characteristics that avoid the perceived dread risk that plagues nuclear fission power, avoid generation of long-lived radioactive waste, and demonstrate highly reliable operations. 

*Acknowledgements: Professor George Tynan wishes to acknowledge important discussions with David Victor, Ryan Hanna, Michael Davidson, Ahmed Abdulla and Jesse Jenkins.

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12:15-12:30 Discussion

12:30-13:30 Lunch

Session 2 13:30-18:00

Progress

6 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Professor Gianluca Gregori, University of Oxford, UK

13:30-14:00 Inertial confinement fusion: a defence context

Professor Andrew Randewich, AWE plc, UK

Abstract

Almost 30 years since the last UK nuclear test it remains necessary to regularly underwrite the safety and effectiveness of the National Nuclear Deterrent. To do so has been possible to date because of the development of continually improving science and engineering tools running on ever more powerful High-Performance Computing platforms and underpinned by cutting edge experimental facilities. While some of these facilities, such as the Orion laser, are based in the UK, others are accessed by international collaboration. This is most notably with the USA via capabilities such as the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility (DARHT) and the Los Alamos Neutron Science Centre (LANSCE) to name but a few, but also with France where a joint hydrodynamics facility is nearing completion following establishment of a Treaty in 2010. Despite the remarkable capability of the science and engineering tools, there is an increasing requirement for experiments as materials age and systems inevitably evolve further from what was specifically trialled at underground nuclear tests (UGTs). While the data from such tests will remain the best possible representation of the extreme conditions generated in a nuclear explosion, it is also essential that new capabilities are realised that will bring us closer to achieving laboratory simulations of these conditions. For High Energy Density Physics the most promising technique for generating temperatures and densities of interest is Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF). We will therefore need ICF for Certification of the deterrent in decades to come and hence work closely with the international community to develop this science.

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14:00-14:15 Discussion

14:10-14:45 Perspectives on high-energy-density science and inertial confinement fusion

Dr Kimberly S Budil, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA

Abstract

At the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the need to ensure the continuing reliability of the US nuclear deterrent has been the driver for a remarkable set of scientific advances in theory, computation, and experiments. In particular, the need to probe the physics of fusion ignition and matter at extremes of temperature, pressure, and density has driven extensive focus on high-energy-density (HED) science and inertial confinement fusion (ICF) research.

Novel experimental platforms and a wide range of diagnostic tools are delivering data to improve our models of hydrodynamic behavior, radiation transport, and material properties and to address the known barriers to fusion ignition. These ever-growing experimental opportunities provide a rich environment for developing the skills of our next-generation workforce and building collaborations with the worldwide HED community.

LLNL-ABS-805614

This work is performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344.

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14:45-15:00 Discussion

14:50-15:10 Title tbc

Dr Njema J Frazier, NNSA Office of Experimental Sciences, USA

Abstract

From Bethe to Betti, fusion research and the exploration of ‘hot’ science has been part of US and UK lexicons since the 1940s. Since that time, the search for ways to understand, contain, and use the energy of fusion has been part of nationwide research efforts in government, industry, and academia. This talk will cover past, present, and future highlights and opportunities in the area of inertial confinement fusion for stockpile stewardship.

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15:10-15:15 Presentation

15:15-15:35 Tea break

15:35-16:05 Direct Drive Laser Fusion, status, plans and future

Dr Mike Campbell, Director Laboratory for Laser Energetics, University of Rochester, USA

Abstract

Laser direct drive (LDD), along with laser indirect (x-ray) drive (LID) and magnetic drive with pulsed power is one of the three viable approaches to achieving fusion ignition and gain in inertial confinement fusion (ICF). In this talk the present status and future plans for LDD will be  presented. The program is being executed on both the OMEGA at Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). LDD research on OMEGA includes cryogenic implosions, fundamental physics including material properties, hydrodynamics, and laser-plasma interaction physics. LDD research on NIF is focused on energy coupling and laser plasma interactions physics at ignition scale plasmas. Limited implosions on NIF in the ‘Polar Drive’ configuration where the irradiation geometry is optimised for LID are also a feature of LDD research. LDD implosions on OMEGA, developed by a statistical data based model that employs machine learning, have achieved record performance and hydrodynamically scaled to NIF energies would be predicted to produce fusion yields approaching a MegaJoule. Systematic experiments enabled by the high shot rate of OMEGA and advanced diagnostics to explore three dimensional implosion performance are routinely fielded to understand degradation mechanisms that limit the fusion performance and to develop mitigation strategies. Laser-plasma interaction (LPI) physics continues to be a major focus of LLD research. Innovative diagnostics for example that measure electron distribution functions on a single shot and increased laser/facility capabilities that enable a quantitative understanding of LPI over a range of plasma conditions created at both OMEGA and NIF have advanced our understanding of LPI. The present state of research and future plans to eventually determine acceptable operating parameters and laser requirements  for LDD ignition will be presented.  All present major ICF facilities are based on laser science and technology developed decades ago. To increase the operating space for target designs, LLE has developed a concept for producing a broadband (bandwidth >10 THz) UV laser with a flexible pulse format. This concept and plans for demonstrating the laser and conducting experiments on both LPI suppression and laser imprint will also be discussed in the presentation.

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16:05-16:15 Discussion

16:15-16:45 Progress and opportunities for inertial fusion energy in France and Europe

Professor Vladimir Tikhonchuk, CELIA, University of Bordeaux, France

Abstract

In this talk, Professor Tikhonchuk will consider the motivation, recent results and perspectives for the ICF studies conducted in Europe in collaboration with other research laboratories worldwide. After recalling the basic principles of the inertial fusion and its major advantages and issues, he will advocate the European approach based on the direct drive scheme with the preference for the central ignition boosted by a strong shock. It was chosen about ten years ago within the framework of the HiPER project, and the collaboration is maintained thanks to the support of the EuroFusion consortium. Compared to other schemes, shock ignition offers a higher gain needed for design of a future commercial reactor and relatively simple and technological targets, but implies a more complicated physics of laser-target interaction, energy transport and ignition. Unfortunately, Europe today does not dispose a laser installation allowing integrated ICF experiments. Consequently, the Europe laboratories are addressing physical issues of shock ignition scheme related to the target design, laser plasma interaction and implosion by the code developments and conducting experiments in collaboration with US and Japanese physicists providing access to their installations Omega and Gekko XII. Some examples of the resent results will be presented. The ICF research in Europe can be further developed only if European scientists will acquire their own academic laser research facility specifically dedicated to the controlled fusion energy. It should not be limited to the ignition issues but aim beyond ignition to the physical, technical, technological and operational problems related to the future fusion power plant. Such a programme may be realised only if the ICF community demonstrate to the political deciders that there is a critical mass of scientists and a significant amount of scientific and technical knowledge guaranteeing the success. Professor Tikhonchuk will show that indeed, there are strong arguments for that. Compared to the magnetic confinement, inertial confinement offers more compact and less expensive reactors, much smaller tritium inventory and a more efficient modular design. Recent results show significant progress in: i) our understanding and simulation capabilities of the laser plasma interaction and implosion physics; ii) our understanding of materials behaviour under strong mechanical, thermal and radiation stresses; and iii) commissioning at ELI Beamlines the first high energy laser facility with a high repetition rate opens opportunity for qualitatively innovative experiments. Professor Tikhonchuk believes that by consolidating these achievements and better organising European scientific community we may build a new international project for the inertial fusion energy in Europe.

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16:45-17:00 Discussion

17:00-18:00 Poster session

03 March

Session 3 09:00-12:30

Current Status

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Ceri Brenner, UKRI – Central Laser Facility, UK

09:00-09:30 Modelling burning thermonuclear plasmas

Professor Steven Rose, Imperial College London, UK

Abstract

Considerable progress towards the achievement of thermonuclear burn using inertial confinement fusion has been achieved at the National Ignition Facility in the USA in the last few years. Other drivers, such as the Z-machine at Sandia, are also making progress towards this goal. A burning thermonuclear plasma would provide a unique and extreme plasma environment and this talk will look at Professor Rose and his team’s modelling of such a plasma. Professor Rose will also look at the connections that a burning thermonuclear plasma has to the study of fundamental physics, including QED studies and the replication and exploration of conditions that last occurred in the first few minutes after the Big Bang.

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09:30-09:45 Discussion

09:45-10:15 Studies on the double-cone ignition scheme

Professor Jie Zhang, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

Abstract

The laboratory demonstration of thermonuclear ignition has been the primary pursuit for decades for the research of inertial confinement fusion (ICF). While major progress has been made, significant challenges remain in the pursuit of ignition. In order to tackle the challenges, great international efforts have been made and various ignition schemes have been intensively investigated. In this talk, Professor Zhang shall review the current status of studies on advanced ignition schemes in the world, especially he shall introduce the double-cone ignition scheme. In this scheme, isentropic compression of fuels in double-cone configuration is reached by specially tailored ns laser pulses. The plasmas in the cones are then accelerated by a series of 100 ps shock pulses and the kinetic energy of the high-density plasmas is converted into internal energy by collisions of plasmas from the tips of the opposite cones. The colliding plasma with a density of over 300 g/cm3 and a temperature of 1 keV is then rapidly heated by magnetic field guided hot electrons to reach a temperature over 5 keV for hot spot ignition. Preliminary experimental results will be presented in this talk, with a detailed plan to upgrade Shenguang II laser facility to conduct demonstration experiments in steps.

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10:15-10:30 Discussion

10:30-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-11:30 Progress on inertial confinement fusion research at the National Ignition Facility and the implications for pursuit of inertial fusion energy

Dr Mark Herrmann, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA

Abstract

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is the world’s most energetic laser. NIF houses 192 beams that can deliver over 1.8 MJ of ultraviolet energy and peak powers of 500 TW to a small target (<< cm3). The deposition of this energy in a small volume creates extreme radiation environments and large pressures in materials. These very large pressures have been used to create unique conditions for studying the behaviour of matter at high energy densities. Understanding the behaviour of matter at high energy densities is important for our national security, fundamental science, and obtaining inertial confinement fusion ignition. In this talk an overview of the National Ignition Facility will be provided, and recent progress in high energy density science on NIF will be discussed. An update on the current status of, and future directions for, indirect drive inertial confinement fusion research on the NIF will be given. The progress in ignition research coupled with exciting advances in technology make it a good time to revisit the path forward for inertial fusion energy research and some potential next steps will be discussed.

This work is performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344.

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11:30-11:45 Discussion

11:45-12:15 Exploring the micro-physics of inertial confinement fusion

Dr Christopher Ridgers, University of York, UK

Abstract

Large-scale inertial confinement fusion (ICF) experiments involve the creation of plasmas far from local thermodynamic equilibrium whose macroscopic behaviour depends on rapid kinetic processes. As these experiments are inherently complex these kinetic processes range from atomic kinetics to kinetic plasma transport and wave-plasma interactions among others. Capturing these effects in realistic models of full-scale ICF experiments necessarily involves much simplification which often limits predictive capability. We will discuss how experiments on small-scale facilities can be used to examine this ‘micro-physics’, improving our models. We will focus on our recent work on plasma transport, describing a simple platform for examining kinetic effects on electron transport (for example the Biermann Battery – an astrophysically relevant process). This model testing is particularly important for novel high-gain schemes, where the micro-physics is less certain. We will argue that such small-scale experiment therefore have an important role to play in routes to high-gain ICF. 

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12:15-12:30 Discussion

12:30-13:30 Lunch

Session 4 13:30-17:00

Commercialisation

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

13:30-14:00 Research and innovation infrastructure for the UK

Professor Mark Thomson, UKRI-STFC, UK

Abstract

The formation of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in 2018 was a significant development, providing the opportunity to strengthen links across different disciplines. One of the first projects undertaken by UKRI was work towards a UK Research and Innovation Infrastructure Roadmap, with the aim of putting in place a coherent, long-term strategic plan for investment in research infrastructure. In this talk, Professor Thomson will review the current status of this work and discuss a number of the issues and challenges.

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14:00-14:15 Discussion

14:15-14:45 The challenges to delivering magnetic fusion energy and the synergies with inertial fusion

Professor Ian Chapman, UK Atomic Energy Authority, UK

Abstract

Fusion power could be one of a very few sustainable options to replace fossil fuels as a primary energy source. However, there are considerable challenges to deliver fusion energy, either through magnetic or inertial confinement systems. A global systems engineering approach will be needed, spanning the plasma to the turbines, via thermodynamically efficient neutron to heat convertors made from materials resilient to neutron damage. All must be buildable, highly reliable, and maintainable, mostly robotically, and then endorsed by nuclear regulators and industrial and other stakeholders. This calls for a broad and comprehensive R&D programme combined with innovation and industrial techniques.This integrated design must simultaneously solve: (1) the creation of a controlled burning plasma with fusion-born alpha particles heating the plasma; (2) the controlled exhaust of heat and helium; (3) the development of, firstly, structural materials for the reactor structures which have to sustain, for many years, large forces and pressures at high temperatures and exceptionally intense neutron fluxes and without generating unmanageable radioactive waste, and secondly, functional materials resilient to neutron and gamma irradiation, eg, for electrical and thermal insulators, tritium permeation barriers, diagnostic windows and breeding (lithium-containing ceramics); (4) the development and design of components which can survive in the exacting conditions within a fusion reactor; (5) the requisite high availability and efficiency of the machine and its systems to produce a viable cost of electricity; and (6) the ability to breed and handle tritium fuel as well as de-tritiate components at end-of-life to minimise tritiated waste. This presentation will outline these challenges and explain the UKAEA programme to address them.

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14:45-15:00 Discussion

15:00-15:30 Tea break

15:30-16:00 Factors influencing the commercialisation of inertial fusion energy

Professor Mark Koepke, West Virginia University, USA

Abstract

Industry’s commercialisation approach toward developing a compact and lower-cost IFE pathway to fusion electricity will include the usual factors of scope, schedule, cost, and risk. The technology pathway to economical fusion power (ignition, reproducible modest gain, reactor-scale gain - reactor-scale gain with a cost-effective target - reactor-scale gain with the required repetition rate) comprises the commercialisation scope. Industry assumes significant commercialisation risk in fielding its own pre-pilot-plant research program for this compact-fusion pathway without a federally coordinated IFE R&D program that incorporates the spectrum of driver approaches, the spectrum of target designs, or any of the unique technologies needed to extract energy from any of the variety of IFE driver and target options. The cost of commercialising the mass-production of inexpensive targets for IFE systems and insisting on high reliability, availability, maintainabililty, and inspectability (RAMI) has a major impact on the economics of commercialising IFE power plants. Schedule vulnerability for IFE arises from the sensitivity of time-based roadmap phases to uncertainties in the pace of scientific understanding and technology development, as well as to unexpected and inexplicable changes of the budgeting process. Rather than rely on a time-based roadmap, a milestone-based roadmap is maximally appropriate, especially for industry and investors who are particularly well-suited to taking the risks associated with reaching the target milestones provided by government. Milestones must be identified, a sequence must be optimised, and the needed resources must be delineated. Progress on the above factors, since the outcomes of recent US, UK, and EUROfusion roadmapping exercises were released, will be presented.

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16:00-16:15 Discussion

16:15-17:00 Panel discussion/Overview (future directions)

Prospects for high gain inertial fusion energy

2 - 3 March 2020

The Royal Society, London 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK
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