PlasmaLab@CTU brings us closer to operating the world's first fusion power plant

At a time of rising energy prices, the search for new, clean sources of energy is increasingly in vogue. One solution to the looming energy crisis may be thermonuclear fusion. For several years in the south of France, scientists and engineers have been building the world's first fusion reactor. The Czech Republic is also represented here. Among the entities involved is, among others, the Faculty of Nuclear and Physical Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague (FNSPE), which currently operates the only working tokamak (fusion reactor) in the Czech Republic. Now, in addition to the reactor, the faculty has built a modern PlasmaLab@CTU laboratory for students and scientists at a cost of more than CZK 23 million.

FJFI-PlasmaLab-vybojWhen FNSPE took over the GOLEM tokamak from the Institute of Plasma Physics of the CAS 15 years ago, few had any idea how far this scientific activity would develop. In addition to the actual commissioning of the fusion facility and its opening to students, the international center for thermonuclear fusion research was built here, visited by among others Bernard Bigot, director of the international ITER project. Thanks to a unique system of remote control by mobile phone, Prince Albert II of Monaco also tried his hand at tokamak firing. This control system is now being considered by the designers at ITER for further control.

However, the capacity of the GOLEM tokamak is no longer sufficient for the training requirements of students from the Czech Republic and abroad. Therefore, the group working at FNSPE around doc. Jan Mlynář created the PlasmaLab project some time ago, which complements the experimental equipment used for fusion research. Thanks to the support of 23 million crowns from the European Investment and Structural Funds, the Hot Plasma and Fusion Laboratory, abbreviated as PlasmaLab@CTU, could be established.

FJFI-tokamak-Golem-LargeStudents can expect a set of vacuum chambers, the possibility to work with five different gases, a linear magnetic trap, a resonance cavity or microwave interferometry and a number of high-end instruments for optical measurements. "PlasmaLab@CTU will offer students the opportunity to gain experience in the measurement and diagnostics of plasma, one of the key disciplines in the development of a thermonuclear power plant," explains Dr Jana Brotánková from KF and continues: “It is not possible to insert a simple thermometer into an environment with a temperature of several hundred million degrees Celsius; this requires sophisticated measurement methods. Students will work with electrostatic probes and magnetic sensors, for example." Electrostatic probes measure discharge plasma in a vacuum receiver. The apparatus also serves as a "test bed", or cradle, for any innovative designs proposed by the students themselves. There is also a task for them to sharpen their skills in working with magnetic sensors; this is an important step for working with feedback to stabilize the plasma, one of the most basic requirements for a custom thermonuclear power plant, but also one of the most difficult to achieve.

The pearl of PlasmaLab@CTU is the 3D microscope, the highest class of optical microscopy that goes to the very edge of visible light. In particular, the microscope is here for materials research on one of the most important topics in fusion: monitoring the effects of the interaction of the plasma with the surface of the vessel. This facility allows to address one of the main requirements for the functionality of a fusion power plant, namely, to maintain the longest possible lifetime of the reactor vessel.

"The PlasmaLab@CTU will mainly be used by FNSPE students in the new PhD program Physics of High Temperature Plasma and Fusion, which we have established together with the University of Ghent in Belgium, but is also open to our undergraduate students, including students of the joint European Master's program FUSION-EP, or for interdisciplinary research in, for example, optics or materials engineering. In addition, we will be glad if students from other universities in the Czech Republic or abroad will continue to be interested in PlasmaLab@CTU, which includes the GOLEM tokamak led by Dr. Vojtěch Svoboda. “I believe that everyone will appreciate this investment in the same way as they appreciate the GOLEM tokamak," adds doc. Jan Mlynář.

The opening ceremony of PlasmaLab@CTU has taken place on Thursday, 17 February at Břehová 7, Prague 1. On the occasion of this event, leading personalities in the field of fusion gathered at FNSPE. In addition to them, young scientists and students in this field were also invited, as there is a need to develop contacts and build new collaborations across generations. In addition to the tour of the PlasmaLab@CTU premises, short lectures are prepared for all visitors with a look back at the past, as well as the future of fusion in the Czech Republic and the world.


Prague, February 17, 2022

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