Kinetic modelling of runaway in plasmas
Licentiate thesis, 2016
The phenomenon of runaway occurs in plasmas in the presence of a strong electric field, which overcomes the collisional friction acting on the charged particles moving through the plasma. A subpopulation of particles can then be accelerated to energies significantly higher than the thermal energy. Such events are observed in both laboratory and space plasmas, and are of great importance in fusion-energy research, where highly energetic runaway electrons can damage the plasma-facing components of the reactor.
In this thesis, a series of papers are presented which investigate various aspects of runaway dynamics. The emission of synchrotron and bremsstrahlung radiation are important energy-loss mechanisms for relativistic runaway electrons. Photons emitted in bremsstrahlung radiation often have energy comparable to the energetic electrons, and we therefore use a Boltzmann transport equation in order to describe their effect on the electron motion. This treatment reveals that electrons can reach significantly higher energies than previously thought. In comparison, synchrotron radiation has lower frequency, and is well described by the classical electromagnetic radiation-reaction force. This loss mechanism, often dominant in laboratory plasmas, significantly alters the electron dynamics, and is found to produce non-monotonic features in the runaway tail.
A study is also presented of the related phenomenon of ion runaway acceleration, which differs from electron runaway due to their larger mass. Renewed interest in this topic has been sparked after recent observations of fast ions in various experiments. Finally a new method is explored to treat the non-linear Fokker-Planck equation which is commonly used to describe the collisional dynamics in a plasma. The new method is appealing for its physically intuitive description and analytic simplicity.