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Press release | Scientific result | Nuclear fusion | Fusion through magnetic containment | Nuclear physics
On 14 December 2016, the WEST tokamak produced its first plasma, reflecting the success of the operations carried out since 2013 on the CEA nuclear fusion reactor. Now that this major milestone has been passed, preparation of the machine is continuing for a first experimental campaign in spring 2017. WEST will enable the CEA and its national and international partners to qualify technological "bricks" for the ITER project.
Since its construction in the 1980s, the Tore Supra tokamak has continued to evolve in order to improve plasma performances, even setting a world record with a stationary plasma lasting over six minutes for an extracted energy of 1 gigajoule (GJ). The WEST project - Tungsten (W) Environment in Steady-state Tokamak - aims to transform Tore Supra into a test bed for ITER or, more precisely, to test a "divertor" using ITER technology. The divertor, which is situated on the floor of the vacuum chamber, is a fundamental component as it receives most of the heat and particle fluxes coming from the central plasma. Its function is to extract the "ash" (helium) and part of the heat produced by the fusion reaction, whilst minimising the contamination of the plasma by the other impurities.
Plasma is a fourth state of matter after gas form, obtained by heating a gas to several million degrees. Plasma can be compared to a "soup" where nuclei and electrons are no longer linked and move around freely. When two "light" nuclei collide at high speed they can fuse, forming a heavier nucleus: that is nuclear fusion. The quantities of energy released are very significant, leading scientists to seek a way to exploit this reaction as a new source of sustainable energy; however, for this they need to be capable of creating, maintaining and controlling this plasma.
· An infographic on tokamak technology: https://www.cea.fr/multimedia/Documents/infographies/tokamak-defisCEA.pdf
· An animation about fusion: https://www.cea.fr/multimedia/Pages/animations/radioactivite/reaction-de-fusion.aspx
· A film explaining nuclear fusion: https://www.cea.fr/multimedia/Pages/videos/culture-scientifique/physique-chimie/fusions.aspx
· Film about the WEST project: http://west.cea.fr/en/Phocea/Video/index.php?id=8
· Website: http://west.cea.fr
 Tokamak: At the end of the 1960s the scientific community - starting with the Russian scientists, who were pioneers - succeeded in developing a machine capable of containing the plasma within a closed chamber, in the shape of a ring (or "torus"), and heating it for a fraction of a second: the tokamak. The particles injected are subjected to magnetic fields that are so intense they remain within the central part of the ring, without contact with the walls. They are heated via different means: the injection of energetic particles and wave heating.
 International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.