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An Overview of Tokamak Alternatives in the US Fusion Program with the Aim of Fostering Concept Innovation


The US fusion program has operated for just over 50 years, during which time the tokamak has emerged as the most promising vehicle for a burning plasma experiment. However, many other concepts have been built and investigated as alternatives (and possible improvements) to the tokamak, perhaps to make energy from fusion an economic reality sooner. This Paper is an overview of the conventional alternatives to the tokamak and a set of those that are not so conventional with the aim of fostering concept innovation. Usually the devices are grouped into magnetic, inertial, electrostatic, or other categories, with sub-categories. Here, the groupings of conventional- and non-conventional-alternatives are used too. The conventional alternatives are those devices that have been adopted as serious alternatives, and for which many references are immediately available (e.g. rfp, mirror, stellarator, spheromak, laser ICF, etc). The non-conventional alternatives comprise approaches that are not being currently investigated or are worth consideration. In this grouping lie ideas like impact fusion, muon catalyzed fusion, and many historical ones (like the Elmo Bumpy Torus). Several examples of the physics of non-conventional alternatives are presented in summary form as examples of skunkworks in the hope that others will take up the challenge of concept innovation.

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Woodruff, S. An Overview of Tokamak Alternatives in the US Fusion Program with the Aim of Fostering Concept Innovation. J Fusion Energ 23, 27–40 (2004).

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  • Fusion
  • history
  • alternates
  • tokamak
  • skunkwork
  • innovation
  • innovative confinement concepts