Exploration of candidate fusion reactor regimes by real time control of tokamak plasma shape

The potential of nuclear fusion to provide a practically inexhaustible source of energy has motivated scientists to work towards developing nuclear fusion tokamak power plants. Stable operation of a tokamak at high performance requires simultaneous treatment of several plasma control problems. Moreover, the complex physics which governs the tokamak plasma evolution must be studied and understood to make correct choices in controller design. This mutual inter-dependence has informed this thesis, using control solutions as an experimental tool for physics studies, and using physics knowledge for developing new advanced control solutions. The TCV tokamak at SPC-EPFL is ideally placed to explore issues at the interface between plasma physics and plasma control, by combining a state-of-the-art digital real time control system with a flexible and diverse set of actuators including a full set of independently powered shaping coils. The recent deployment of the real time version of the Grad-Shafranov equilibrium reconstruction code LIUQE, with a sub-ms cycle time in the digital control system, has facilitated the design of a new generalised plasma position and shape controller, based on the information on poloidal flux and magnetic field provided by the real-time Grad-Shafranov solver. The first issue addressed in the thesis is the development and experimental testing of a new real time control strategy to construct a generalised control algorithm for not only controlling the position of the plasma but also to aid in the precise control of higher order shape moments, X-points and strike points, particularly in advanced plasma configurations such as negative-triangularity plasmas, snowflake and super-X divertors, and doublets. A controller formulation ensuring flexibility through an ordering of controlled variables from the most easily to the least easily controlled, while respecting the hardware limits on the poloidal field coil currents, is developed. The successful experimental implementation of the control algorithm has been demonstrated for both fixed and time varying plasma position and shape for limiter and divertor plasma discharges. In addition, the controller has provided satisfactory performance with respect to plasma scenarios involving complex changes in the plasma shape and position. The second issue addressed in the thesis is the application of the generalised plasma position and shape controller to a snowflake plasma configuration. A comparison between the optimised generalised plasma position and shape controller with the performance of the TCV hybrid controller for a given reference snowflake plasma discharge showed a marked improvement in various geometrical properties of the snowflake plasma configuration in the vicinity of the null point. However, strong control of the poloidal magnetic field at the two X-points resulted in a tradeoff on the upper part of the plasma boundary, where the overall precision was comparable to that of the legacy controller. In the experimental time available, the snowflake shots developed exhibited a boundary that was too close to the inner wall of the vessel, modifying the edge plasma behaviour (studied with infrared cameras and Langmuir probes) and making it difficult to study the physics properties of the exact snowflake. However, further optimisation should well be possible.

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