[Table of Contents]

Plasma and Fusion Research

Volume 4, 035 (2009)

Review Articles

Progress Towards Burning Plasmas
James W. VAN DAM1,2)
U.S. Burning Plasma Organization & U.S. ITER Project Office
Institute for Fusion Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA
(Received 23 September 2008 / Accepted 5 March 2009 / Published 29 June 2009)


The next frontier for fusion science is the study of burning plasmas. The international ITER facility will advance research efforts into this new regime. In this paper we will first define burning plasmas and describe their distinctive features. One such feature is dominant self-heating (exothermic) by a large population of alpha particles, created from thermonuclear reactions. Next, we will briefly review how previous experiments on JET and TFTR to attain breakeven have laid the foundation for taking the present step to ITER. Then, we will describe various physics and technology issues that need to be addressed for burning plasmas. In addition to the scientific opportunities, we will also describe how ITER, being operated as a large-scale international project, is making progress in terms of organization, mission, funding, and programmatic coordination worldwide.


burning plasma, fusion energy, thermonuclear reactions, alpha particles, ITER

DOI: 10.1585/pfr.4.035


  • [1] J. Ahearne, R.J. Fonck and Burning Plasma Assessment Committee, Burning Plasma: Bringing A Star To Earth (US National Academy of Science, 2004).
  • [2] ITER Physics Basis, Nucl. Fusion 39 (12), 2137 (1999).
  • [3] Progress in the ITER Physics Basis, Nucl. Fusion 47 (6), S1 (2007).
  • [4] See presentations given at the USBPO Burning Plasma Workshop (www.burningplasma.org/reference.html).
  • [5] R. Hawryluk, Rev. Mod. Phys. 70, 537 (1998).
  • [6] See web site for ITER Organization (www.iter.org).
  • [7] See web sites for USDOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (http://www.science.doe.gov/ofes/), US ITER Project Office (www.usiter.org), US Burning Plasma Organization (www.burningplasma.org), and US Virtual Laboratory for Technology (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/vlt/).

This paper may be cited as follows:

James W. VAN DAM, Plasma Fusion Res. 4, 035 (2009).