Design of a Rail Gun System for Mitigating Disruptions in Fusion Reactors
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Magnetic fusion devices, such as the tokamak, that carry a large amount of current to generate the plasma confining magnetic fields have the potential to lose magnetic stability control. This can lead to a major plasma disruption, which can cause most of the stored plasma energy to be lost to localized regions on the walls, causing severe damage. This is the most important issue for the $20B ITER device (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) that is under construction in France. By injecting radiative materials deep into the plasma, the plasma energy could be dispersed more evenly on the vessel surface thus mitigating the harmful consequences of a disruption. Methods currently planned for ITER rely on the slow expansion of gases to propel the radiative payloads, and they also need to be located far away from the reactor vessel, which further slows down the response time of the system. Rail guns are being developed for aerospace applications, such as for mass transfer from the surface of the moon and asteroids to low earth orbit. A miniatured version of this aerospace technology seems to be particularly well suited to meet the fast time response needs of an ITER disruption mitigation system. Mounting this device close to the reactor vessel is also possible, which substantially increases its performance because the stray magnetic fields near the vessel walls could be used to augment the rail gun generated magnetic fields. In this thesis, the potential viability on Rail Gun based DMS is studied to investigate its projected fast time response capability by design, fabrication, and experiment of an NSTX-U sized rail gun system. Material and geometry based tests are used to find the most suitable armature design for this system for which the desirable attributes are high specific stiffness and high electrical conductivity. With the best material in these studies being aluminum 7075, the experimental Electromagnetic Particle Injector (EPI) system has propelled an aluminum armature (weighing ~3g) to a velocity more than 150 m/s within two milliseconds post trigger, consistent with the predicted projection for a system with those parameters. Fixed magnetic field probes and high-speed images capture the velocity profile. To propel the armatures, a 20 mF capacitor bank charged to 2 kV and augmented with external field coils powers the rails. These studies indicate that an EPI based system can indeed operate with a fast response time of less than three milliseconds after an impending disruption is detected, and thus warrants further studies to more fully develop the concept as a back-up option for an ITER DMS.