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ENEA - Fusion division

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Short history of the Frascati thermonuclear fusion laboratories

The Plasma Physics Laboratories, also known as the Ionised Gas Laboratories, were set up in the 1960s at the Frascati National Laboratories, where research on fundamental physics or high-energy physics had already started in 1956. This particular field of research is now carried out under the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN).
Since 1976 the research activities on controlled thermonuclear fusion have continued under ENEA programmes, always developped in collaboration with industries and in association with Euratom and CNR.

Plasma physics at Frascati: the first experiments

For about 20 years, the plasma physics laboratories carried out intense studies and research on the generation and physical properties of short-lived dense plasmas, with the objective of seeing whether controlled nuclear fusion could be used as a source of clean energy. The activities led to the construction of the prototype Frascati Tokomak (FT) in the 1970s and then the Frascati Tokamak Upgrade (FTU) in the 1980s.

There were four plasma physics experiments in this first period:

Later experiments included:

Another important activity concerned studies on the direct conversion of nuclear into electric energy. The "magnetohydrodynamic method" entails using a noble gas and an alkaline metal at high temperatures (2000 Kelvin), so it is necessary to know how the materials behave at extreme temperatures. The ultimate aim of these studies was to realistically predict the performance of large-dimension converters.

In 1977 the Frascati Tokamak (FT) began operation. A compact, toroidally shaped experimental machine for studying controlled thermonuclear fusion, it was characterised by a high (10 Tesla) magnetic field, high current and by a particular method of heating the plasma by means of electromagnetic waves in the radiofrequency range.

FT modelFT model



Parameters of the Frascati Tokamak

Magnetic Field     10 Tesla

Plasma current     1 MA

Major radius         0.83 m


The Frascati Tokamak Upgrade (FTU) started operation in 1989. Similar to FT, it is compact and has a high magnetic field, but it has a much larger surface accessible to the plasma than FT; this allows substantial heating of the plasma by means of radiofrequency power injection systems. The three systems, which differ according to their frequency (433 MHz, 8GHz and 140 GHz), can couple up 9.2 MW of additional power to the plasma. With this method it is expected to be able to increase the temperature of the high-density plasma up to 50-100 million degrees.

Top view of FTUTop view of FTU



Frascati Tokamak Upgrade Parameters

Magnetic Field      8 Tesla

Plasma current     1.6 MA

Major radius         0.92 m