Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

Harnessing the power of the Sun

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An ever-increasing demand for energy, combined with growing concerns over climate change and declining supplies of fossil fuels means that we must find new, cleaner sources of energy. Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the Sun, is one of the most promising options for generating plentiful, carbon-free energy. Many of the scientific hurdles in fusion have now been overcome, yet a full-scale power plant has yet to be realised. The Software Sustainability Institute is contributing to this goal by helping the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy to visualise inside a fusion reactor.

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Fusion power stations promise many advantages: no carbon emissions, abundant fuel, no long-lived radioactive waste, and increased safety compared to traditional (fission-based) nuclear energy. To start the fusion process a mixture of hydrogen is transformed into a plasma by heating it to 100 million degrees Celsius – the kind of temperature usually found at the centre of a star. This extreme condition is maintained by magnetically confining the plasma inside a doughnut-shaped chamber known as a ‘tokamak’.

The United Kingdom's fusion research programme is based at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) in Oxfordshire. Researchers at the CCFE simulate the confinement within a tokamak to investigate how to generate a stable plasma whilst minimising energy and particle loss. The CCFE uses the GS2 5-dimensional gyrokinetic turbulence simulator code - known simply as GS2 - along with many different visualisation extensions. The Software Sustainability Institute is working with the CCFE to develop an enhanced visualiser, based on the open-source Paraview platform. This make it easy for the CCFE to maintain the visualiser on behalf of the fusion research community. The visualiser will make it easy for researchers to share and compare results between different groups in the European Fusion Development Agreement's Integrated Tokamak Modelling Task Force. This will help drive forward progress towards new sources of abundant clean energy.

The Software Sustainability Institute will be reviewing the CCFE’s code to identify libraries and packages which have been superseded. We will review the CCFE's documentation and create a plan for updating and revising it. To create a larger market for the visualiser. the SSI will assist the CCFE in making the software available to researchers who deal with multi-dimensional turbulence simulation.