The magnetic fusion energy (MFE) program seeks to establish the conditions to sustain a nuclear fusion reaction in a plasma that is contained by magnetic fields.
Progress in the past decade has been remarkable – both in the significant progress toward a burning plasma and in the advance of scientific understanding. Scientists have produced 10 million watts of fusion power in the laboratory and have studied the behavior of fusion products (alpha particles) in weakly burning plasmas. Underlying this progress are strides in fundamental understanding, which have lead to the ability to control aspects of plasma behavior. For example, scientists can now exercise a measure of control over plasma turbulence and resultant energy leakage, long considered an unavoidable and intractable feature of plasmas; the plasma pressure above which the plasma disassembles can now be made sufficiently large as to sustain a fusion reaction rate acceptable for a power plant. Electromagnetic waves can be injected and steered to manipulate the paths of plasma particles and then to produce the large electrical currents necessary to produce the magnetic fields to confine the plasma. These and other control capabilities have flowed from advances in basic understanding of plasma science in such areas as plasma turbulence, plasma macroscopic stability, and plasma wave propagation. Much of this progress has been achieved with a particular emphasis on tokamaks.