PSFC Seminar: M. Zucchetti

Thursday, May 27, 2021 at 10:00am to 11:00am

Virtual Event

The pros and cons of neutrons in fusion technology

Massimo Zucchetti
Politecnico di Torino

Modeling neutron fluxes in fusion reactors is a quite different game than doing it for fission. One-group thermal neutron diffusion equations were enough to design fission experiments and reactors in the good old days: and they worked. In the early eighties, as a young undergraduate student, I proudly learned how to follow the footsteps of Fermi and Wigner to analytically solve the diffusion equation and design a thermal fission reactor. When I started my PhD research, months after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, I thought that studying neutronics for fusion reactors could be a natural step forward for my research. Well, it wasn’t. It was a giant leap for a young nuclear engineer.

Fusion reactors will be the most intense and powerful sources of fast neutrons ever thought to be applied to electrical energy production ever.

Hundreds of trillions of 14 MeV neutrons will escape from each square centimeter of the plasma chamber every second a tokamak fusion power reactor will be working. Neutrons are committed to do many good things: first of all, slow down and release thermal power that, via a two-loop cooling circuit will eventually produce a gigawatt or so of electrical power. Secondly, neutrons will breed tritium, the fusion reactor fuel that does not exist in nature.

There is good and bad in everyone, neutrons included: while doing those two essential jobs, they’re going to heavily damage the tokamak chamber and close-to-plasma structures, up to an unprecedented  level: each and every atom in those materials will be knocked off its natural position in the lattice tens of times. One could expect those materials could not resist for long in such an extreme environment. They don’t, actually, but we are working on it.

Neutrons turn all the structures to be radioactive, by the way, due also to threshold reactions we never had in fission. 

Tritium is a quite short lived nuclide, but before fading away it is a very social one: permeating everywhere through structures, and trying all its best to be released into the environment, as tritiated water. Humans are mostly water. However human life does not stand tritiated water much.

Neutrons are irritating and delightful for fusion technology: this short lecture will review some latest results and future perspectives of my thirty-five yearlong research activity, dealing with the worst and best objects in fusion: neutrons.

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MIT Community

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School of Engineering (SoE), School of Science


Plasma Science and Fusion Center
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