Kinetic modeling of runaway-electron dynamics in partially ionized plasmas

Sammanfattning: An essential result of kinetic plasma physics is the runaway phenomenon, whereby a fraction of an electron population can be accelerated to relativistic energies. Such runaway electrons are formed in astrophysical settings, but are also of great practical relevance to fusion research. In the most developed fusion device, known as the tokamak, runaway electrons have the potential to cause severe damage to the first wall. Runaway-electron mitigation is therefore one of the critical issues in the design of a fusion power plant. In many situations, runaway electrons interact with partially ionized atoms. In particular, the currently envisaged mitigation method for tokamaks is to inject heavy atoms which collisionally dissipate the runaway beam before it can collide with the wall, or prevent it from forming at all. When the atoms are partially ionized, their bound electrons screen out a fraction of the atomic charge, which directly affects the collisional scattering rates. However, accurate expressions for these collisional scattering rates between energetic electrons and partially ionized atoms have not been available previously. In this thesis, we explore kinetic aspects of runaway dynamics in partially ionized plasmas. We derive collisional scattering rates using a quantum-mechanical treatment, and study the interaction between fast electrons and partially ionized atoms. We then apply these results to calculate the threshold field for runaway generation, as well as the production rate of runaway electrons via the avalanche and Dreicer mechanisms. We find that even if material injection increases the dissipation rates, it also enhances avalanche generation which could potentially aggravate the runaway problem. These results contribute to more accurate runaway-electron modeling and can lead to more effective mitigation schemes in the longer term.