Tritium & Fuel Cycle Research

Deuterium and tritium are fed into the fusion reactor’s vacuum vessel as fusion fuels to create deuterium-tritium fusion reactions. Although D is naturally abundant in earth’s oceans, tritium must be bred in the fusion systems because it is radioactive with a relatively short half-life of 12.32 years. Tritium can be produced in a lithium-containing breeding blanket surrounding the fusion reactor.

The critical tritium-related challenges for fusion include:
1. Predicting tritium transport in fusion reactor materials under extreme fusion conditions (e.g., high particles/neutrons/heat fluxes at elevated temperature and high magnetic field)
2. Developing a self-sustainable tritium breeding blanket and tritium extraction system
3. Processing an unprecedented amount of tritium in the tritium processing system

Tritium behavior in materials also plays a crucial role in fusion safety and material selection since tritium in-vessel inventory term (i.e., tritium retention) and ex-vessel release term (i.e., tritium permeation) are critical parameters in reactor safety assessments for licensing a fusion pilot plant. 

Idaho National Laboratory’s Safety and Tritium Applied Research (STAR) facility is conveniently located close to the Advanced Test Reactor, the largest fission test reactor in the United States, to advance fusion nuclear sciences (especially, tritium retention and permeation in fusion materials, and tritium extraction from plasma exhaust and liquid breeding materials) for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences program and VLT.