International collaboration established to speed scienceMay 25, 2012
Iranian and US research institutions announce collaboration agreement for scientific publication on aneutronic fusion, a possible route to cheap, safe, clean energy
Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. (LPP), a research firm in Middlesex, NJ, announced today that they had signed a contract on May 20 with thePlasma Physics Research Center (PPRC) of I. Azad University in Tehran, Iran, committing the two institutions to collaboration “in the Creation and Publication of Scientific Papers in the Fields of Aneutronic Fusion and the Dense Plasma Focus”. “This agreement can greatly aid the development of aneutronic fusion, a potential source of cheap, safe, clean and unlimited energy,” said LPP’s President and Chief Scientist, Eric J.Lerner. “While we all publish our results in scientific journals already, this new systematic collaboration in data exchange, analysis, and design of experiments will substantially accelerate the creation and publication of scientific results. The PPRC has large resources of highly trained personnel, and LPP can offer its many years of experience as a leading center in aneutronic fusion.”
The Plasma Physics Research Center (PPRC) has over 150 graduate students, including 50 PhD students. By comparison, there are currently only about 90 plasma physics PhD students in the entire US. Iran is the only country at present, other than the US, which has a substantial research program in aneutronic fusion. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, while a small firm, has been a world leader in research on aneutronic fusion, recently publishing the achievement of temperatures of 1.8 billion degrees, suitable for burning aneutronic fusion fuels.
In the past three years, Iran has become a major player in the small but growing global effort to achieve aneutronic fusion power—controlled nuclear fusion using fuels that produce no neutrons. Controlled fusion harnesses the power that heats the sun–nuclear fusion–as a source of energy for peaceful purposes. Fuels that don’t produce neutrons are important because neutrons can be extremely destructive, damaging the structure of a fusion generator and inducing radioactivity.
Most of the world’s effort toward controlled fusion has been aimed at using deuterium-tritium (DT) fuel, which produces large numbers of high-energy neutrons, unlike aneutronic fuels. DT-based fusion devices must necessarily be very large for a given power, to dilute the damage done by the neutrons to a manageable level. As a result (and also due to their complexity and other factors), such devices are also very expensive to build, costing billions of dollars and taking many years or even decades to build. This has been one factor, among others, that has made the pursuit of such DT fusion energy so slow and hard.
By contrast, aneutronic fusion devices can be quite compact and cheap as they don’t need to withstand intense neutron bombardment. Some, like a device called the dense plasma focus (DPF), can be built for hundreds of thousands of dollars while others, like inertial electrostatic confinement devices (IEC), cost a few million. Iran’s controlled fusion program has focused on these economical aneutronic devices in an attempt to leapfrog over DT-fusion to get a cheap, clean and inexhaustible energy source. Already, Iran has set up more active DPF research groups—six—than any other country in the world. The United States is the only other country with an active aneutronic fusion effort.
The collaboration between PPRC and LPP will involve exchange and analysis of data on DPF experiments, simulations, consultation on instruments, work on design of research DPFs, joint supervision of PhD theses, and an annual meeting among participants. The results of the collaboration will be published in scientific journals and online. The two institutions agreed that the collaboration will be open to expansion to other participants. The signed agreement can be seen at LPP’s web page.
The agreement falls within an exemption to the otherwise broad sanctions of the US against Iran. The US Department of Treasury’s regulationsinclude a general license which “authorizes collaborating with “academics and research institutions” of sanctioned countries on the… creation and enhancement of written publications.” The collaboration was first proposed to LPP on April 17 by Dr. Mahmood Ghoranneviss, Dean Professor of PPRC, and the chief organizer of Iran’s fusion research effort. Dr. Ghoranneviss was responding to the April 10 broadcast of a report on the “Fusion for Peace” proposal by the Persian (Farsi) language TV channel of Voice of America (Persian News Network). On that broadcast, Lerner and Rezwan Razani, Executive Director of the Fusion Energy League and co-director of the Focus Fusion Society, described the initiative. Dr. Ghoranneviss was also informed of the proposal by Hamid Reza Youseffi, a professor at PPRC and one of the signers of the Fusion for Peace proposal. In just one month, LPP and PPRC were able to finalize the one-page agreement.
While the agreement adds no extra money to the aneutronic fusion effort, it will substantially improve the efficacy of the present funding.