The Federal Government has given Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) the green light to get an early start on a $94 million major upgrade of the facility’s fusion reactor.

The project, estimated to take some 30 months, calls for the upgrade of the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) facility at PPPL.

The work will enhance the position of the NSTX as the world’s most powerful spherical torus — or tokamak — a device that controls the superheated and electrically charged gases called plasmas that create fusion power.

The upgrade “will provide a huge boost to all NSTX science missions and enhance U.S. fusion research capability,” said Stewart Prager, director of PPPL, which is managed by Princeton University for the U.S. Department of Energy and has been a leader in fusion research for 60 years. Experiments done on NSTX, he said, “will establish the physics basis to determine next steps in fusion research and development.”

The DOE’s funding approval comes six months ahead of schedule, according to officials. The funds are contingent on congressional appropriations.

Fusion takes place when the atomic nuclei in plasmas combine at extremely high temperatures and release a burst of energy. But sustaining fusion in the laboratory has proven difficult because plasmas that leak from the confinement can halt the reaction. Therefore, controlling the plasma is a basic goal of fusion research.

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton University, James Forrestal Campus; 609-243-2000; fax, 609-243-2751. Stewart Prager, director.

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