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Coriolis effect can stabilise plasma in fusion reactors

Coriolis effect can stabilise plasma in fusion reactors thumbnail

Researchers at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) and at FOM Institute for fundamental energy research DIFFER discovered that the Coriolis effect can help stabilise the plasma in nuclear fusion experiments. The same effect that causes wind vortices on the rotating Earth can help reach a better confinement of the plasma in a fusion reactor. Researcher Willem Haverkort (CWI/DIFFER) defends his PhD thesis on this topic at Eindhoven University of Technology on 21 March 2013.

Stabilising the plasma

In his PhD research, Haverkort analysed the effect that rotation has on the stability of plasmas. In order to tame nuclear fusion and produce net energy from this process, the plasma in a reactor must be heated to over 100 million degrees. No material can withstand those temperatures, so fusion researchers confine the plasma using strong magnetic fields. The plasma often rotates at appreciable speeds. Haverkort used advanced mathematical analyses and numerical simulations to determine the effect of different forms of rotation on the plasma stability.

One of Haverkort’s results is that a specific form of rotation has a stabilising effect on the plasma. If the rotation decreases from the centre of the plasma towards the edge, the so-called Coriolis effect can stabilise instabilities in the plasma. This effect bends the trajectory of objects moving in a rotating system. In our atmosphere, it causes streams of air to the north of the equator to veer in a different direction than air currents south of the equator. In a plasma, the stabilising effect helps reach a higher energy output and lowers the chance of disturbances in the fusion plasma.


Fusion as an energy source

Nuclear fusion has the potential to be a limitless, clean and safe form of energy. The road to fusion contains many scientific and technological challenges. In the international ITER project, to which Haverkort’s research contributes, the EU, Japan, South Korea, China, India, the US and Russia work together to demonstrate the technical feasibility of fusion as an energy source. The ITER reactor, currently under construction in Cadarache in France, will be operational in 2020.



Fusion research is part of the research theme Energy at CWI. In this theme, the institute develops advanced software and mathematics to enable large-scale energy production from sustainable sources. CWI in Amsterdam works in close cooperation with the FOM Institute DIFFER, the Dutch institute for fundamental energy research and the national centre for fusion research. During his research, Haverkort was affiliated with both CWI and DIFFER. On 15 January 2013 he spoke about his research in the popular science tv show De Wereld Leert Door.


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5 Comments on "Coriolis effect can stabilise plasma in fusion reactors"

  1. Newfie on Wed, 20th Mar 2013 11:54 am 

    Fusion power is just ten years away. And it always will be…

  2. BillT on Wed, 20th Mar 2013 12:21 pm 

    More pigs at the government trough…

  3. DC on Wed, 20th Mar 2013 2:09 pm 

    Q/Nuclear fusion has the potential to be a limitless, clean and safe form of energy

    This trope persists only because the number of operational fusion power stations to disprove is exactly,let me check…..ZERO.

    Fusion is neither limitless, or clean, or safe. At best it would *slightly* less dirty, and safe? Who knows, no one does. Just because it looks safe in theory and or on paper, means nothing. The nuclear industry today insists it fission reactors are ‘safe’ also, when they are clearly nothing remotely of the sort.

  4. FoxV on Wed, 20th Mar 2013 6:16 pm 

    I’m just waiting for the day they start saying “Too cheap to meter”.

  5. Arthur on Wed, 20th Mar 2013 7:57 pm 

    I know a few of these institutions mentioned from the inside. Here is a guy who sat behind a table for four years and produced a mathematical model.

    “Fusion power is just ten years away.”

    According to Haverkort (end video) the Iter reactor will be ready by 2020 and in **2030** the first plasma experiments are expected to commence. No hurry here. The challenge is and has been for 50-60 years to keep 1 gram of plasma of 150 million degrees Kelvin captured by magnets, in order to prevent it from touching the vessel walls.

    In unrelated news, in the Netherlands there is an outright run going on for solar panels, since the price of a solar kwh has now come down to 7 cent, in contrast to the 23 cent from the grid. Payback time solar installation now is 6 years or 8 years without subsidy. 12 panels cost 4500 euro, leading to sufficiency. And return on investment of 17%/years, far better than saving the money on a bank. There are now 100,000 ‘solar roofs’, with 6.9 million to go.

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