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It has long been recognized that auxiliary plasma heating will be required to achieve the high temperature, high density conditions within a magnetically confined plasma in which a fusion “burn” may be sustained by copious fusion reactions. Consequently, the application of radio and microwave frequency electromagnetic waves to magnetically confined plasma, commonly referred to as RF, has been a major part of the program almost since its inception in the 1950s. These RF waves provide heating, current drive, plasma profile control, and Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) stabilization. Fusion experiments employ electromagnetic radiation in a wide range of frequencies, from tens of MHz to hundreds of GHz. The fusion devices containing the plasma are typically tori, axisymmetric or non, in which the equilibrium magnetic fields are composed of a strong toroidal magnetic field generated by external coils, and a poloidal field created, at least in the symmetric configurations, by currents flowing in the plasma. The waves are excited in the peripheral regions of the plasma, by specially designed launching structures, and subsequently propagate into the core regions, where resonant wave-plasma interactions produce localized heating or other modification of the local equilibrium profiles. Experimental studies coupled with the development of theoretical models and advanced simulation codes over the past 40+ years have led to an unprecedented understanding of the physics of RF heating and current drive in the of magnetic fusion devices. Nevertheless, there are serious gaps in our knowledge base that continue to have a negative impact on the success of ongoing experiments and that must be resolved as the program progresses to the next generation devices and ultimately to “demo” and “fusion power plant.” A serious gap, at least in the ion cyclotron (IC) range of frequencies and partially in the lower hybrid frequency ranges, is the difficulty in coupling large amount of power to the plasma while minimizing the interaction between the plasma and launching structures. These potentially harmful interactions between the plasma and the vessel and launching structures are challenging: (i) significant and variable loss of power in the edge regions of confined plasmas and surrounding vessel structures adversely affect the core plasma performance and lifetime of a device; (ii) the launcher design is partly “trial and error,” with the consequence that launchers may have to be reconfigured after initial tests in a given device, at an additional cost. Over the broader frequency range, another serious gap is a quantitative lack of understanding of the combined effects of nonlinear wave-plasma processes, energetic particle interactions and non-axisymmetric equilibrium effects on determining the overall efficiency of plasma equilibrium and stability profile control techniques using RF waves. This is complicated by a corresponding lack of predictive understanding of the time evolution of transport and stability processes in fusion plasmas.


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