Hungarian Center for Energy Research to develop ITER protection system

Hungarian researchers and companies will develop an experimental protection system for the international fusion project ITER. The Shattered Pellet Injector is designed to quickly stop runaway electrons before they can damage the inner walls. The project was made possible through a 2.4 million euro tender won by the Hungarian EUROfusion member, the Fusion Plasma Physics Department of the Centre for Energy Research, Eötvös Loránd Research Network, together with a significant industrial contribution from Hungarian companies.

The terrestrial realisation of the energy production of stars has been the desire of mankind for half a century. The ITER experiment currently under construction in France is a major step in this direction. In this device, heated to a temperature of 100 million °C – ten times hotter than the temperature in the middle of the sun – charged hydrogen gas (plasma) fuses into helium, producing ten times more energy than is used to heat the reaction. Igniting a star on Earth will take the most complex device mankind has built to date. This international ITER project presents a tremendous challenge and opportunity for companies to develop their know-how.

While starting up ITER will be a milestone, it is also critical to have a control system in case the plasma suddenly disrupts during high performance tests, generating a beam of fast, runaway electrons that can damage the inner wall if not handled properly. To this end, the Shattered Pellet Injector shoots bullet-velocity pellets made of deuterium, neon and argon ice into the plasma at minus 260 °C. Like a shotgun, this scatters small pieces of ice throughout the plasma and functions as a kind of an air bag for the runaway electrons before they can careen into the wall.

As a result of the research in the last decade, a prototype of the Scattered Pellet Injector can now be built in Budapest. Researchers at the Centre for Energy Research will make a significant contribution to the future safe operation of ITER by testing the production, acceleration and fracture of pellets, the engineering design of the launcher and the development of the necessary experimental and monitoring methods.

The gas system of the Shattered Pellet Injector is implemented by H-Ion Ltd., while the cryogenic design is implemented by VTMT Ltd. This project builds on the Hungarian contribution to ITER started by Wigner RCP, C3D Ltd., GEMS Ltd. and Fusion Instruments Ltd., showing the high value of Hungarian researchers and high-tech companies to this exciting international project.