Assuming energy security and stability will always demand some base-load power stations on the grid our children and grandchildren will use, what will provide the heat to boil the water? The most attractive and yet elusive alternative to the chemical burning of carbonaceous fossil fuels and the nuclear fission of the rare heavy nuclei left over from supernovae has long been the nuclear fusion of the light nuclei left over from the big bang, still by far the most common form of ordinary matter.
Spawned by Reagan and Gorbachev as a grand international collaboration to thaw the cold war, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is now under construction, is the final step towards a demonstration power plant. ITER, will explore the hitherto uncharted physics of burning plasmas, in which the energy liberated from the confined products of reaction exceeds the energy invested in heating the plasma. To access these conditions, ITER will rely critically on external heating methods such as neutral beam injection. ITER will also feature fully 3D asymmetric field structure, imposed to mitigate performance limiting edge localised modes.
The physics basis of much of toroidal magnetic confinement is however static, isotropic toroidally-symmetic ideal magnetohydrodnamics (MHD). Motivated by high performance plasma experiments, I will outline ANU-led extensions to ideal MHD. Topics include (1) the inclusion of anisotropy and flow into tokamak equilibria, stability and wave-particle interaction studies, (2) the calculation of energetic geodesic acoustic modes using fluid theory, (3) the development and implementation of continuum damping in 3D, (4) the application of these tools to high performance discharges on KSTAR, MAST and DIIID tokamaks, and (5) the ongoing development of multi-region MHD. I will articulate how these advances contribute to the world fusion activity, including ITER – as enabled by a recent ITER-ANSTO Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration.
Finally, ideal MHD is also the enabling science of astrophysical plasmas and laboratory plasma physics, and there is much complementarity between the tools and models. As an example, I will show how an accretion disc and linear field pinch can be described using a single fluid model.
A/Prof. Matthew J. Hole is a Senior Fellow of the ANU. His principal field of research is magnetohydrodynamics, fluid modelling, and wave analysis of industrial plasmas, fusion plasmas, and space plasmas. Matthew is the founding Chair of the Australian ITER Forum, a research network spanning over 180 scientists and engineers; the Australian member of the IAEA International Fusion Research Council, the Vice Chair of the Asia Pacific Physics Society Division of Plasma Physics, and on the Board of Editors of Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, one of three top journals in this field.