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New materials for fusion reactors

A European consortium joined forces to discover new materials for safer and greener nuclear power. Using the same principles as nature and the Sun, the course for tomorrow's reactors is being set today.

Energy

Nuclear power generation relies on harnessing nuclear energy, the energy within the nuclei of atoms that holds the nuclear particles together. Fission reactors exploit atomic fission, the breaking apart of heavy atomic nuclei such as certain forms of uranium. Fission is behind the conventional nuclear reactors producing electrical power in operation today. Fusion power plants rely on, the combining of light nuclei. The Sun uses fusion of hydrogen atoms to form helium. Fusion has some important potential advantages – among them the absence of long-lived persistent, radioactive materials and no carbon emissions or air pollution. In addition, the fuel for the process is abundant and widespread over Earth. Fusion reactors are seen by many as a promising, pollution-free form of energy that would help to solve the world's energy problem. One of the major challenges for the development of fusion reactors is to create materials capable of withstanding the high loads and stresses involved in nuclear fusion devices. European scientists from 27 institutions initiated the EU-funded 'Fusion energy materials science coordination action' (FEMAS-CA) project to expedite the development of new materials for use in fusion reactors. Their goal was to strengthen materials' characterisation methods along with networking and collaboration in close cooperation with the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA). Materials with improved irradiation resistance and heat-removing capacity were targeted for testing with application of the most advanced structural characterisation methods. During the project, around 120 cooperative activities have been carried out. The scientific communities paired with European large-scale facilities providing synchrotron, ion or neutron beams. Many university research groups are being attracted to the fusion community. This was particularly apparent in the contributions at the International Conference on Fusion Energy Materials Science, jointly organised by FEMAS-CA and the International Workshop on Plasma-Facing Materials and Components, a well-established meeting within the fusion materials community. By integrating FEMAS-CA activities and partners into the European EFDA structures, it is guaranteed that the activities initiated will continue on a long-term scale. Furthermore, by developing promising new materials, the initiatives will pave the way to future fusion reactors.

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