Kinetic modelling of runaway electron avalanches in tokamak plasmas
Runaway electrons can be generated in tokamak plasmas if the accelerating force from the toroidal electric field exceeds the collisional drag force owing to Coulomb collisions with the background plasma. In ITER, disruptions are expected to generate runaway electrons mainly through knock-on collisions (Hender et al 2007 Nucl. Fusion 47 S128-202), where enough momentum can be transferred from existing runaways to slow electrons to transport the latter beyond a critical momentum, setting off an avalanche of runaway electrons. Since knock-on runaways are usually scattered off with a significant perpendicular component of the momentum with respect to the local magnetic field direction, these particles are highly magnetized. Consequently, the momentum dynamics require a full 3D kinetic description, since these electrons are highly sensitive to the magnetic non-uniformity of a toroidal configuration. For this purpose, a bounce-averaged knock-on source term is derived. The generation of runaway electrons from the combined effect of Dreicer mechanism and knock-on collision process is studied with the code LUKE, a solver of the 3D linearized bounce-averaged relativistic electron Fokker-Planck equation (Decker and Peysson 2004 DKE: a fast numerical solver for the 3D drift kinetic equation Report EUR-CEA-FC-1736, Euratom-CEA), through the calculation of the response of the electron distribution function to a constant parallel electric field. The model, which has been successfully benchmarked against the standard Dreicer runaway theory now describes the runaway generation by knock-on collisions as proposed by Rosenbluth (Rosenbluth and Putvinski 1997 Nucl. Fusion 37 1355-62). This paper shows that the avalanche effect can be important even in non-disruptive scenarios. Runaway formation through knock-on collisions is found to be strongly reduced when taking place off the magnetic axis, since trapped electrons can not contribute to the runaway electron population. Finally, the relative importance of the avalanche mechanism is investigated as a function of the key parameters for runaway electron formation, namely the plasma temperature and the electric field strength. In agreement with theoretical predictions, the LUKE simulations show that in low temperature and electric field the knock-on collisions becomes the dominant source of runaway electrons and can play a significant role for runaway electron generation, including in non-disruptive tokamak scenarios.