B Y T H E N U M B E R S
Princeton Plasma Physics Lab
In September, staff at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab finished dismantling and removing the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR), one of the world's largest experiments in the effort to harness nuclear fusion as a safe and inexhaustible energy source. Nuclear fusion, the fusing of light atoms into heavier ones, is the process that powers stars. The experiment began operating on Christmas Eve in 1982 and was decommissioned in 1997.
In 1994, TFTR produced, for a fraction of a second, an output of 10.7 megawatts, a power level that would meet the needs of 3,000 homes. The following year, TFTR set a world record temperature of 510 million degrees Celsius -- more that 25 times the temperature at the center of the sun.
The successes achieved and lessons learned through TFTR led to a new series of smaller experiments designed to refine scientific understanding of plasmas, the super-hot mixtures of atomic particles in which fusion occurs. Since it began in 1999, the National Spherical Torus Experiment has created more than 9,000 plasmas at temperatures of up to 40 million degrees Celsius and has demonstrated innovative techniques for confining the hot particles.
The lab employs 426 people, including 90 physicists, 82 engineers and 157 technicians, many of whom collaborate on fusion projects around the world. The lab, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by the University, is training 34 graduate students.
The lab is planning a new project, the National Compact Stellarator Experiment, which could begin operation in 2007. Results from that and ongoing experiments will determine what kind of next-generation device will be built in the 15,000-square-foot space left vacant after TFTR.
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Editor: Ruth Stevens