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New ORNL partnership takes a deep look into plasma materials

UKAEA will provide novel fusion materials to be irradiated in ORNL’s HFIR facility over the next four years. From left, Kathy McCarthy, Jeremy Busby, Mickey Wade, Prof Sir Ian Chapman (UKAEA CEO), Cynthia Jenks and Yutai Kato will represent this new partnership. Not pictured: Dr. Amanda Quadling, UKAEA’s Director of Materials Research Facility. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has entered a strategic research partnership with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, or UKAEA, to investigate how different types of materials behave under the influence of high-energy neutron sources. The $4 million project is part of UKAEA's roadmap program, which aims to produce electricity from fusion.

One of the most pressing challenges on the road to developing fusion energy is to find adequate materials that can withstand the extreme conditions of a fusion power system, including simultaneous bombardment by very high-energy neutrons and close proximity to the fusion plasma. Fusion plasma can reach temperatures of up to 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the center of the sun.

Over the next four years, UKAEA will place novel material samples into ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor to test their resilience under radiation. Scientists from ORNL's Fusion Energy Division and Materials Science and Technology Division — along with researchers from the UKAEA’s Materials division — will then analyze the samples to better understand their properties.

The effort is framed within the UK Fusion Materials Roadmap, an initiative that aims to deliver new neutron-resilient materials as well as irradiation and post-irradiation testing to provide design engineers with data to build future fusion power plants.

“This research collaboration will be a critical piece of the economics of a fusion device in the future, establishing which materials can last for long periods in the fusion environment,” said Mickey Wade, ORNL's Fusion Energy Division director. “This is a great opportunity for ORNL and UKAEA to partner on a key area for fusion.”

“We’re pleased to have this opportunity to work with ORNL and build on UKAEA’s existing materials research capabilities to better understand the materials that will be needed for future fusion powerplants,” said Dr. Amanda Quadling, UKAEA’s Director of Materials Research Facility.

The partnership will allow access to ORNL’s scientists and archive of existing irradiated materials. Alongside this, UKAEA will also be placing entirely new materials into the ORNL High Flux Isotope Reactor, including new high-temperature steels developed by UKAEA and wider UK industry.”

“With the combined expertise of UKAEA and ORNL, this partnership has the potential to yield important insights into how materials behave under high-energy neutron sources, and how they can be used to support the development of fusion power plants,” said Yutai Kato, interim director of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

The achievement of sustainable fusion power could eventually lead to a viable, secure and environmentally friendly energy source.

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UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit