U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to launch PPPL’s flagship fusion facility on Friday, May 20

PPPL By John Greenwald | May 19, 2016

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will dedicate the newest U.S. fusion facility of the 21st century on Friday, May 20, at the DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). The $94-million upgrade to the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX-U), four years in the making, is the laboratory’s flagship experiment and the most powerful fusion facility of its kind in the world today.

“NSTX-U allows us to go where no physics has gone before – into new regimes of the science of plasma behavior,” said Stewart Prager, director, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. “This is exciting new territory, and we’re thrilled to embark on the next frontier of fusion research. This device could transform the world by showing us the way to a pilot plant design for the generation of power from fusion energy for use by all.”

Spherical tokamaks are compact fusion facilities shaped like cored apples. The compact shape enables spherical tokamaks to confine highly pressurized plasma within lower magnetic fields than conventional tokamaks, making them cost-effective. Funding for the nearly four-year construction project came from the DOE Office of Science.

Exploring plasmas hotter than the core of the sun

The NSTX-U — completed on time and within budget at PPPL — will explore the production of high-performance plasmas at temperatures hotter than the 15-million degree core of the sun. The facility will enable researchers around the world to explore the production of fusion reactions – essentially creating a star on Earth – with the goal of bringing clean, reliable, safe, and abundant energy to the world. Research will be a collaboration of 350 scientists representing institutions from across the United States, England, Europe, Asia, Russia, and Central America.

Fusion works by squeezing together the atomic nuclei — or ions — in plasma, a superhot, electrically charged gas made up of ions and electrons. The process burns no fossil fuels, creates no greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and eliminates worries about long-term nuclear waste — providing instead clean energy that uses ordinary seawater as a fuel.

NSTX-U draws on a 65-year legacy of fusion energy research at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory, where in the 1950s astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer created a machine he called a stellarator to produce energy the same way as the sun – through fusion reactions in which light elements collide and fuse, releasing enormous amounts of energy. Experimental tokamaks and stellarators, the two most prominent magnetic fusion designs, can now be found in countries around the world.

Also scheduled to attend the Friday dedication are U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-12), and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber.

PPPL, on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov (link is external).