Fusion powers the stars. By combining nuclei, fusion liberates more than a million times more energy per pound of fuel than by chemical reactions. The abundance of geographically dispersed fuel, combined with safety and environmental advantages, motivates the pursuit of controlled fusion as a possible source of power.
A barrier to fusion reactions is the electrostatic repulsion of the colliding positively-charged nuclei; collision energies greater than ~10keV (characteristic of temperatures of ~100,000,000 degrees Celsius) are needed to maximize the frequency of fusion reactions. A hot plasma of sufficient density and duration is needed to produce net power.
World-wide assessments have determined that we are scientifically and technologically ready to pursue plasmas whose behavior is dominated by the self-heating from fusion reactions — so-called “burning plasmas”. An international partnership of China, Europe, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States is conducting related research and constructing ITER to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power via magnetic confinement, aiming at production of 500MW of fusion power for pulses longer than hundreds of seconds. Components are presently in fabrication around the world and the site is under construction in France.
Achievement of fusion power also requires increased understanding, optimization and application of plasma-material interactions, neutron-resistant materials, and tritium breeding and extraction. Approaches to overcoming the barriers to timely achievement of fusion energy will be discussed.
Ned Sauthoff is a plasma physicist and project manager of the U.S. Contributions to ITER Project, the U.S. portion of ITER.
Dr. Sauthoff received his Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Master’s in Nuclear Engineering at MIT. He received his Ph.D. in Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton.
Prior to the establishment of the U.S. ITER Project Office, Dr. Sauthoff was a physics researcher and research manager at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Early in his PPPL career, he developed x-ray instrumentation and performed research on tokamak plasmas. He then managed the control and data system for the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor until 1985, and headed the PPPL Computer Division until 1988, the Princeton Beta Experiment until 1990, the Experimental Projects Department until 1992, the Physics Department until 1994, the Plasma Science and Technology Department until 1997, and the Off-Site Research Department until 2006.
Since 2006, he is the Director of the US ITER Project Office and Associate Laboratory Director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Dr. Sauthoff is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and IEEE. He was president of IEEE-USA and member of the IEEE Board of Directors in 2001, and is currently a member of the evaluation committee for Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society candidates to become IEEE Fellows and a member of the IEEE Global Public Policy Committee.