Section: Application Domains

Thermonuclear fusion

Controlled fusion is one of the major prospects for a long term source of energy. Two main research directions are studied: magnetic fusion where the plasma is confined in tokamaks using a large external magnetic field and inertial fusion where the plasma is confined thanks to intense laser or particle beams. The simulation tools we develop can be applied for both approaches.

Controlled fusion is one of the major challenges of the 21st century that can answer the need for a long term source of energy that does not accumulate wastes and is safe. The nuclear fusion reaction is based on the fusion of atoms like Deuterium and Tritium. These can be obtained from the water of the oceans that is widely available and the reaction does not produce long-term radioactive wastes, unlike today's nuclear power plants which are based on nuclear fission.

Two major research approaches are followed towards the objective of fusion based nuclear plants: magnetic fusion and inertial fusion. In order to achieve a sustained fusion reaction, it is necessary to confine sufficiently the plasma for a long enough time. If the confinement density is higher, the confinement time can be shorter but the product needs to be greater than some threshold value.

The idea behind magnetic fusion is to use large toroidal devices called tokamaks in which the plasma can be confined thanks to large applied magnetic field. The international project ITER(http://www.iter.org ) is based on this idea and aims to build a new tokamak which could demonstrate the feasibility of the concept.

The inertial fusion concept consists in using intense laser beams or particle beams to confine a small target containing the Deuterium and Tritium atoms. The Laser Mégajoule which is being built at CEA in Bordeaux will be used for experiments using this approach.

Nonlinear wave-wave interactions are primary mechanisms by which nonlinear fields evolve in time. Understanding the detailed interactions between nonlinear waves is an area of fundamental physics research in classical field theory, hydrodynamics and statistical physics. A large amplitude coherent wave will tend to couple to the natural modes of the medium it is in and transfer energy to the internal degrees of freedom of that system. This is particularly so in the case of high power lasers which are monochromatic, coherent sources of high intensity radiation. Just as in the other states of matter, a high laser beam in a plasma can give rise to stimulated Raman and Brillouin scattering (respectively SRS and SBS). These are three wave parametric instabilities where two small amplitude daughter waves grow exponentially at the expense of the pump wave, once phase matching conditions between the waves are satisfied and threshold power levels are exceeded. The illumination of the target must be uniform enough to allow symmetric implosion. In addition, parametric instabilities in the underdense coronal plasma must not reflect away or scatter a significant fraction of the incident light (via SRS or SBS), nor should they produce significant levels of hot electrons (via SRS), which can preheat the fuel and make its isentropic compression far less efficient. Understanding how these deleterious parametric processes function, what non uniformities and imperfections can degrade their strength, how they saturate and interdepend, all can benefit the design of new laser and target configuration which would minimize their undesirable features in inertial confinement fusion. Clearly, the physics of parametric instabilities must be well understood in order to rationally avoid their perils in the varied plasma and illumination conditions which will be employed in the National Ignition Facility or LMJ lasers. Despite the thirty-year history of the field, much remains to be investigated.

Our work in modelling and numerical simulation of plasmas and particle beams can be applied to problems like laser-matter interaction, the study of parametric instabilities (Raman, Brillouin), the fast ignitor concept in the laser fusion research as well as for the transport of particle beams in accelerators. Another application is devoted to the development of Vlasov gyrokinetic codes in the framework of the magnetic fusion programme in collaboration with the Department of Research on Controlled Fusion at CEA Cadarache. Finally, we work in collaboration with the American Heavy Ion Fusion Virtual National Laboratory, regrouping teams from laboratories in Berkeley, Livermore and Princeton on the development of simulation tools for the evolution of particle beams in accelerators.