DOE-funded project to address challenges of tritium handling
San Diego, July 20 – General Atomics (GA) and the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) are joining forces to address a critical challenge to economic fusion energy as part of a public-private partnership funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE announced the award on July 6.
The partnership will combine GA's experience in fusion energy research with SRNL's expertise in processing and storing tritium, one of the fuel gases used in fusion. Future fusion power plants will need safe, reliable systems for tritium handling, making the GA-SRNL project a key milestone on the road to fusion-generated electricity.
Safe, clean, and sustainable, fusion energy has the potential to replace current fossil plants and provide always-available power that can support intermittent renewable generation, without producing long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion plants will use two forms of hydrogen gas for fuel: deuterium, which can be extracted from seawater, and tritium, which is created by lithium in the interior walls of the fusion machine.
Tritium is a weakly radioactive form of hydrogen that naturally decays into safer elements after only a couple of decades. The processing of large quantities of tritium is still the subject of active research to determine the best approach in a prototype fusion power plant.
GA and SRNL will address this challenge as part of the DOE's Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) program. SRNL will work to integrate its world-leading expertise in tritium fuel handling into GA's fusion reactor simulation software, with the goal of enabling the design of a fully realized fusion pilot plant. The joint research project will last one year.
"A key benefit of participating in INFUSE is that it's a catalyst for forming meaningful, long lasting and synergistic partnerships to accelerate fusion development," said Brian Grierson, who directs the fusion pilot plant design activities at General Atomics. "This public-private partnership provides GA access to the tritium knowledge and capabilities at SRNL, which will accelerate the design of our fusion pilot plant, and provide an opportunity for SRNL scientists to guide our design with their unique knowledge."
Led by GA principal investigator Dr. David Weisberg and SRNL scientist Dr. Holly Flynn, the two teams are excited to push the cutting edge of tritium fuel cycle research to the next level.
"One of the most attractive aspects of a fusion power plant is the environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel," explains Dr. Weisberg, "which doesn't require any harmful mining or drilling activities. But we also need to perfect the way we recycle fuel inside the power plant, and SRNL has expertise to advance the technological readiness of that system."
"SRNL is very excited for the opportunity to work with General Atomics," Dr. Flynn said. "SRNL believes partnering with fusion industry members through public-private partnerships is essential to fusion commercialization. Combining SRNL's tritium processing expertise with General Atomics' experience in fusion science, technology and manufacturing has the opportunity to significantly advance the fusion fuel cycle."
About General Atomics: Since the dawn of the atomic age, General Atomics innovations have advanced the state of the art across the full spectrum of science and technology – from nuclear energy and defense to medicine and high-performance computing. Behind a talented global team of scientists, engineers, and professionals, GA's unique experience and capabilities continue to deliver safe, sustainable, economical, and innovative solutions to meet growing global demands.
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