- Beyer tours DIII-D National Fusion Facility, GA’s inertial fusion manufacturing laboratories, and ITER Central Solenoid fabrication facility
San Diego, 8th May 2023. Last week, Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA), Chair of the Congressional Fusion Caucus, visited General Atomics (GA) to tour the DIII-D National Fusion Facility and GA’s inertial fusion fabrication facilities. Staff members from the offices of Representatives Beyer, Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) also joined the visit.
“General Atomics is a globally recognized leader in the advancement of fusion science, research, and technology, and we were thrilled to have this opportunity to showcase our capabilities to Rep. Beyer,” said Dr. Anantha Krishnan, Senior Vice President of the Energy Group. “We are very appreciative that he took his valuable time to come see the efforts GA is making to push the boundaries of magnetic and inertial fusion research and development.”
“I was grateful to visit General Atomics’ facilities and see the great work on both magnetic confinement and inertial fusion technologies that their scientists are contributing to the fusion space. DIII-D, the Inertial Fusion Laboratories, and the Magnet Technologies Center each demonstrate the power of collaboration across industry, national labs, university researchers, and even nations,” said Rep. Beyer.
DIII-D National Fusion Facility
The visit began at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, an Office of Science user facility operated by GA on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. DIII-D’s mission is to pioneer the science and innovative technologies that will enable the development of fusion as a clean energy source. As the largest magnetic fusion research facility in the United States and one of the most flexible tokamaks in the world, DIII-D runs innovative experiments and research campaigns that cannot be conducted anywhere else.
“Fusion is our best chance at making affordable, safe, carbon-free electricity, and the people working at this facility are dedicating their lives to advancing fusion science for the world. I am grateful that Rep. Beyer and his staff made the trip to see us in action,” said Dr. Richard Buttery, Director of the DIII-D National Fusion Facility.
The DIII-D machine is a tokamak, which uses powerful electromagnets to shape and confine plasma. To achieve fusion conditions relevant for energy production, DIII-D’s plasma must be heated to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius—approximately 10 times the temperature at the center of the sun. At such extremely high temperatures, and under enormous pressures created by the electromagnets, hydrogen isotopes fuse together to create helium and release energy.
While at DIII-D, the delegation received an overview of the facility and learned how its research team is supporting the goals of the Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy. Announced in March 2022, the Decadal Vision accelerates the timeframe for deploying the first generation of fusion pilot plants by the early 2030s.
Inertial Fusion Technologies Laboratories
Following the visit to DIII-D, the group toured GA’s inertial fusion laboratories, where they learned about GA’s participation in the science-based stockpile stewardship program and its contributions to the ground-breaking fusion ignition achieved at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in December 2022.
“The recent achievement at NIF was the result of decades of hard work, and GA is proud to have played a role,” said Mike Farrell, Vice President of Inertial Fusion Technologies. “The bar has been raised, and we are now working to further December’s ignition success.”
General Atomics is a longstanding partner in the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration’s research in Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF), which is aimed at achieving a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent without underground testing by producing thermonuclear burn conditions in the laboratory.
During the tour of the ICF laboratories, the delegation observed the processes required for supporting the ICF mission, including advanced manufacturing, precision metrology, and cutting-edge characterization methods. Rep. Beyer engaged with GA’s skilled team of scientists and technicians and leaned about the company’s role in developing engineers, technicians, and other critical roles for the fusion workforce.
Looking Ahead: Fusion Pilot Plant and Workforce Development
The visit continued with discussions focused on GA’s Fusion Pilot Plant (FPP) concept and the need to develop a robust fusion workforce.
“GA’s concept utilizes a compact steady-state system, an approach that has been well established and refined over decades of research and development and would maximize efficiency, reduce maintenance costs, and increase the lifetime of the facility,” said Wayne Solomon, Vice-President of Magnetic Fusion Energy.
Dr. Brian Grierson, Director of GA’s FPP Hub, provided an overview of GA’s concept for an FPP, which is applying its decades of combined expertise in tokamak operations, plasma theory, advanced manufacturing, and proprietary technology development to deliver a credible and cost-competitive fusion pilot plant in the 2030s.
“GA has been in the fusion business for over 60 years,” said Grierson. “Our FPP concept applies everything we have discovered, built, and refined as we look ahead to the widespread deployment of commercial fusion energy.”
Zabrina Johal, Senior Director of Strategic Development, continued with an overview of GA’s engagements with students and graduates to help develop the future workforce.
“As we look ahead to the first generation of fusion energy plants, we see not only a unique opportunity to revolutionize the way the world gets its energy, but a chance to develop a new industry. This is the time to begin, whether it is helping to develop new talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or engaging with communities that will benefit most from a new era of clean electricity,” said Johal.
ITER Central Solenoid (CS) Manufacturing
The final stop on the tour was at GA’s Magnet Technologies Center, where it is fabricating multiple components for the international ITER experiment, including the world’s most powerful pulsed superconducting electromagnet. ITER is an unprecedented scientific collaboration of 35 nations that will prove the feasibility of fusion. When completed and assembled, the 5-story, 1,000-ton magnet will drive 15 million amperes of electrical current to shape and control ITER’s fusion reaction.
Each module is 7 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and is composed of 3.5 miles of superconducting cable. It takes approximately two and a half years to produce, test, and ship a single module. ITER has received the first two CS modules, and GA will ship the next module in the coming weeks. GA expects to complete the fabrication and shipment of all seven modules, including one acting as a spare, by early 2025.
“The ITER CS is one of the most complex magnet programs ever undertaken. Pulsed superconducting magnets of this power and scale have never been made before, and when ITER is powered on, this will be its beating heart,” said John Smith, Senior Director of Engineering and Projects. “Congress has been a longstanding champion of the ITER program. We are really pleased that members of the Fusion Caucus were here to see the next module being prepared for shipment and delivery.”
GA is manufacturing the CS modules under the direction of the US ITER project, managed by the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Most of the funds appropriated by Congress for ITER are used to support high-tech jobs and manufacturing in the United States by funding in-kind contributions like the CS.
During the visit, the delegation learned about the process for fabricating each module and observed the delicate process for testing and preparing the next modules for shipment.
About General Atomics: Since the dawn of the atomic age, General Atomics innovations have advanced the state of the art across the full spectrum of science and technology – from nuclear energy and defense to medicine and high-performance computing. Behind a talented global team of scientists, engineers, and professionals, GA’s unique experience and capabilities continue to deliver safe, sustainable, economical, and innovative solutions to meet growing global demands.
About the DIII-D National Fusion Facility. DIII-D is the largest magnetic fusion research facility in the U.S. and has been the site of numerous pioneering contributions to the development of fusion energy science. DIII-D continues the drive toward practical fusion energy with critical research conducted in collaboration with more than 600 scientists representing over 100 institutions worldwide. As a U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science User Facility, participation in DIII-D research is open to all interested parties.