Over the summer, I went to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) for a 2-week event, the International School for Fusion Energy. The summer school provides an in-depth overview of nuclear fusion, ranging from tokamak physics to engineering challenges in realising the technology.
Old school physics!
The summer school started with a course overview, followed by some physics basics on tokamak and plasma which provided an in-depth insight to the fundamentals of nuclear fusion to me, despite not being a physics student for a couple of years. This leads to the introduction of controlling the plasma by a magnetic field generated by superconductor coils, and how engineers managed to stabilise the magnetic field by manufacturing better superconducting magnets.
Tritium, tritium, and more tritium…
To realise nuclear fusion energy from the deuterium-tritium reaction, we need a continuous supply of tritium, which has a very limited amount available, for the long-term operation of the reactor. This can be dealt with by integrating a tritium-breeding design within the fusion reactor. However, the storage of tritium was proven to be another challenge due to tritium-permeation. Who would have thought an isotope of hydrogen could have caused so many issues to nuclear fusion!
Putting the Legos together
A series of presentations were given on major components of a reactor, namely the blankets, divertors and neutronics. Other than their functionalities, material developments and requirements of these components were also probed into. This was the most enjoyable part of the summer school for me. It showed me how everything comes together as well as what I can contribute to nuclear fusion in the future from the materials field.
Seeing the future
Other than sitting indoor for the presentations, several outdoor visits to different facilities within the campus were organised. The most impressive one was the visit to the Fusion Materials Laboratory, where radioactive materials were handled with great care while the effect of radiation on materials was investigated. We also got to try operating some pieces of equipment designed specifically for the lab. The summer school wrapped up with the operation of existing and planned fusion facilities, including Joint European Torus (JET), International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) and Demonstration Power Station (DEMO). It was great to see how these projects were coordinated between different countries as well as being able to relate most of the content with what had been mentioned previously throughout the summer school.
During the weekend, KIT organised an excursion to Speyer on Sunday for us. In the morning, I was impressed by the Speyer Cathedral with its architectural complexity, which does not only add a majestic vibe to its beauty but also symbolises the messages from the Bible in every small detail. The Technik Museum Speyer was another highlight of the day. It displayed a large collection of engineering miracles, like aircrafts and submarines, highlighting mankind’s wisdom in the past and the technological advancement since then. The day ended with a wine-tasting session, which was the most highly anticipated of the day for the most of us and turned out to be exceptional, along with a nice dinner in a friendly atmosphere under the warm welcome of the host.
All in all, I would like to thank FuseNet for their financial support and making this trip possible. The summer school was a fruitful experience to me. It built a solid basis for my Master’s research project in fusion-related materials as well as an invaluable network in the fusion-related field with great people from around the world.
- Tat Yiu Spencer Cheung