Momentum-space dynamics of runaway electrons in plasmas

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: Fast electrons in a plasma experience a friction force that decreases with increasing particle speed, and may therefore be continuously accelerated by sufficiently strong electric fields. These so-called runaway electrons may quickly reach relativistic speeds. This is problematic in tokamaks – devices aimed at producing sustainable energy through the use of thermonuclear fusion reactions – where runaway-electron beams carrying strong currents may form. If the runaway electrons deposit their kinetic energy in the plasma-facing components, these may be seriously damaged, leading to long and costly device shutdowns. Crucial to the runaway phenomenon is the behavior of the runaway electrons in two-dimensional momentum space. The interplay between electric-field acceleration, collisional momentum-space transport, and radiation reaction determines the dynamics and the growth or decay of the runaway-electron population. In this thesis, several aspects of this interplay are investigated, including avalanche multiplication rates, synchrotron radiation reaction, modifications to the critical electric field for runaway generation, rapidly changing plasma parameters, and electron slide-away. Two numerical tools for studying electron momentum-space dynamics, based on an efficient solution of the kinetic equation, are presented and used throughout the thesis. The spectrum of the synchrotron radiation emitted by the runaway electrons – a useful diagnostic for their properties – is also studied. It is found that taking the electron distribution into account properly is crucial for the interpretation of synchrotron spectra; that a commonly used numerical avalanche operator may either overestimate or underestimate the runaway-electron growth rate, depending on the scenario; that radiation reaction modifies the critical electric field, but that this modification often is small compared to other effects; that electron slide-away can occur at significantly weaker electric fields than expected; and that collisional nonlinearities may be significant for the evolution of runaway-electron populations in disruption scenarios.

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