Neutral beam injection
Neutral beam injection (NBI) is one method used to heat plasma inside a fusion device. Other ways to heat plasma for nuclear fusion include RF heating, electron cyclotron resonance heating (ECRH), and ion cyclotron resonance heating (ICRH).
This is typically done by:
- Making a plasma. This can be done by microwaving a low pressure gas.
- Electrostatic heating. This is done dropping the positively charged ions towards negative plates. As the ions fall, the electric field does work on them, heating them to fusion temperatures.
- Reneutralizing the hot plasma by adding in the opposite charge. This gives the fast moving beam no charge.
- Injecting the fast moving hot neutral beam in the machine.
It is critical to inject neutral material into plasma, because if it is charged, it can start harmful plasma instabilities. Most fusion devices inject isotopes of hydrogen, such as pure deuterium or a mix of deuterium and tritium. This material becomes part of the fusion plasma. It also transfers its energy into the existing plasma within the machine. This hot stream of material should raise the overall temperature. Although the beam has no electrostatic charge when it enters, as it passes through the plasma, the atoms are ionized. This happens because the beam bounces off ions already in the plasma.
Use In Tokamaks
Because the magnetic field inside the torus is circular, these fast ions are confined to the background plasma. The confined fast ions mentioned above are slowed down by the background plasma, in a similar way to how air resistance slows down a baseball. The energy transfer from the fast ions to the plasma increases the overall plasma temperature.
It is very important that the fast ions are confined within the plasma long enough for them to deposit their energy. Magnetic fluctuations are a big problem for plasma confinement in this type of device (see plasma stability) by scrambling what were initially well-ordered magnetic fields. If the fast ions are susceptible to this type of behavior they can escape very quickly, however some evidence suggests they are not susceptible.