Start-up of nuclear fusion reactors

Start-up of nuclear fusion reactors

Similar to starting your car engine, we have to start our nuclear fusion machine. In a car, ‘start-up’ is achieved by turning the key. A spark ignites fuel in the cylinders and subsequently the engine remains running. In a fusion reactor, we press some random buttons on our computers, then high currents in coils are generated. These coils create a force field – similar to gravity – which cause gassy fuel to transform into the hot nuclear fusion substance known as a plasma.

Today, it is not always easy to start-up the tokamak. Thus, the broader aim of our research is to make this start-up process, just as reliable as starting up your engine. Instead of pressing random buttons, we do this using control engineering techniques: firstly, we reconstruct what has actually happened in a previous start-up attempt. Secondly. Using this information, we systematically enter specific buttons for our the next trial. Voilà.

Funny sidenotes:

  • Although randomly entering buttons sounds simple: it is not
  • Although systematically entering buttons sounds simple: it may even be easier ;)

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