Materials research for fusion

Abstract

Fusion materials research started in the early 1970s following the observation of the degradation of irradiated materials used in the first commercial fission reactors. The technological challenges of fusion energy are intimately linked with the availability of suitable materials capable of reliably withstanding the extremely severe operational conditions of fusion reactors. Although fission and fusion materials exhibit common features, fusion materials research is broader. The harder mono-energetic spectrum associated with the deuterium–tritium fusion neutrons (14.1 MeV compared to <2 MeV on average for fission neutrons) releases significant amounts of hydrogen and helium as transmutation products that might lead to a (at present undetermined) degradation of structural materials after a few years of operation. Overcoming the historical lack of a fusion-relevant neutron source for materials testing is an essential pending step in fusion roadmaps. Structural materials development, together with research on functional materials capable of sustaining unprecedented power densities during plasma operation in a fusion reactor, have been the subject of decades of worldwide research efforts underpinning the present maturity of the fusion materials research programme.

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Figure 1: Schematic illustration of irradiation damage.
Figure 2: Evolution of a typical morphology cascade in pure iron triggered by a 20 keV fission and a 200 keV fusion neutron calculated by means of molecular dynamics.
Figure 3: Correlation between irradiation effect evolution and computational materials science methods.
Figure 4: Graph showing the correlation of dpaNRT versus appm of He generated for the different possibilities of testing materials (alternative and IFMIF) compared with fusion reactor conditions.
Figure 5: Schematic of the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility with its two deuteron accelerators of 125 mA in continuous-wave mode at 40 MeV impacting with a beam footprint of 200 mm × 50 mm on a 15 m s−1 lithium flow at 250 °C.
Figure 6: World’s largest lithium test loop.

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Knaster, J., Moeslang, A. & Muroga, T. Materials research for fusion. Nature Phys 12, 424–434 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys3735

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