SCIENTISTS at the University of Huddersfield have been using world-class new facilities to carry out experiments that could aid the development of nuclear fusion reactors, widely regarded as the "Holy Grail" solution to future energy needs.
By simulating the damage caused by high energy neutrons and alpha particles produced during the fusion process, the Huddersfield researchers have discovered that tungsten -- a favoured choice of metal within the reactor -- is liable to become brittle, leading to failure.
"At this moment in time, even though tungsten is a leading candidate, we don't see how we can use it as a structural material.
We can use it as a barrier, but not for anything structurally sound," states Dr Robert Harrison, who is a Research Fellow at the University of Huddersfield's Electron Microscopy and Materials Analysis Research Group (EMMA).
The answer will be to develop a new alloy that combines tungsten -- which has desirable properties of extreme hardness and exceptionally high melting temperature -- with some other material that can prevent its embrittlement from radiation damage and nuclear transmutation reactions, which would have significant safety implications for the operation of the reactor.
Dr Harrison and his colleagues have access to the University of Huddersfield's Microscope and Ion Accelerator for Materials Investigation (MIAMI) facilities.