Radiation Damage

 

Power derived from nuclear fusion has long represented great promise as an energy source; the required reactants are plentiful and the process is not prone to dangerous chain reactions and meltdown as in nuclear fission reactions. However the materials engineering challenge of containing a small star in a laboratory requires a fundamental understanding of the processes of how the products of the reaction interact with matter.

High energy neutrons emitted from a nuclear fusion reaction cannot be contained by magnetic fields on account of their charge neutrality. Therefore they must be absorbed by a material customised to withstand high rates of irradiation. The exact mechanism of how the energy is transferred from the neutron to the steel wall before being subsequently dispersed lies at the limit of condensed matter simulation techniques

Using a coupled model of heat energy exchange between atoms and an electronic subsystem, it was shown that the electrons play a role far beyond simple atomic bonding. The exact thermodynamic properties of the electrons determine if material defects are quenched in place by withdrawing heat energy very rapidly, or allow defects to anneal through slow cooling.