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PX438 Physics of Fusion Power

Lecturer: Ben McMillan
Weighting: 7.5 CATS

This module discusses the physics of thermonuclear fusion, which is a candidate solution for the energy demands of our society. Nuclear fusion is promising due to the unlimited amount of fuel, the fact that it is CO2 neutral, the limited amount of long-lived radioactive waste, and the inherent safety of the approach. As a 'minor' drawback, one could mention that a working concept for this approach still needs to be demonstrated. For reasons we will discuss, the construction of a working fusion reactor is hindered by several, in themselves rather interesting, physics phenomena.

The module discusses the two main approaches: inertial confinement and magnetic confinement, with the emphasis on the latter since it is further developed. The module will deal with both the physics phenomena as well as with the boundary conditions that must be satisfied for a working reactor. At the end of the module you should have an understanding of the main physics effects, the current concepts used and the reasons behind the choices made in the current experimental designs.

To discuss aspects of nuclear fusion and advanced plasma physics relevant to the construction of fusion power stations.

At the end of this module you should:

  • have an appreciation of how plasma physics defines the design parameters of fusion power plants
  • understand the physics of fusion power plasma heating, confinement and stability
  • be prepared for postgraduate research in either fusion or plasma physics


  • The fusion process in stellar interiors.
  • The density/temperature/confinement time triple product for energy breakeven in a fusion reactor.
  • Magnetic confinement fusion: Equilibrium: flux surfaces, toroidal geometry; stability: the energy principle, current limits, beta limits; heating: Ohmic heating limitations, neutral beams and radio waves; collisional and turbulent transport of particles and energy
  • Inertial confinement fusion: the Rayleigh-Taylor instability and implications for implosion symmetry; direct and Indirect drive; parametric instabilities and laser reflectivity
  • Environmental and socio-economic aspects of fusion power

Commitment: 15 lecture slots to include a variety of lectures, directed reading and seminars

Assessment: 1.5 hour examination

The module has a website.

Recommended Texts: K Miyamoto, Controlled Fusion and Plasma Physics, Taylor and Francis 2006
RJ Goldston and PH Rutherford, Introduction to Plasma Physics, IOP 1995.

Leads from: PX392 Plasma Electrodynamics