The conventional route to nuclear fusion for power generation is based on the reaction between deuterium and tritium nuclei, which yields one alpha particle and one neutron. Formidable technology and sustainability challenges, however, stem from the availability and handling of tritium as well as from the radiation damage and radioactivity induced by the high-energy neutron in reactor materials. In this respect, the fusion reaction between a proton and a boron-11 nucleus to yield three alpha particles is very attractive as it involves only abundant and stable isotopes in the reactants, and no neutron in the reaction products.
Unfortunately, the hydrogen-boron plasma has an ignition temperature which is ten times higher than the deuterium-tritium one, thus proton-boron fusion is prohibitive to exploit under thermonuclear schemes.
Nevertheless, in the last 15 years it has effectively been induced by means of high-power lasers, showing an impressive progression in the reaction yield. Recent experimental findings and theoretical predictions, along with the advent of dramatically enhanced laser capabilities, call for an urgent, systematic investigation of possible ignition schemes in laser-driven proton-boron fusion.
Recently, an innovative technique named PBCT (Proton Boron Capture Therapy) has been demonstrated experimentally using molecules containing 11B nuclei absorbed in cancer cells (in-vitro tests) which can potentially be administered onto a deep-seated tumor and then bombarded with a proton beam typically used in hadrontherapy. As a consequence of the interaction of the proton beam with 11B nuclei, alpha-particles with low energy (around 4 MeV) are generated in the nuclear fusion events and ultimately stopped inside the tumor, thus releasing their entire energy in a single cancer cell. The macroscopic effect is enhanced biological damage of the tumor and treatment selectivity (simultaneously reduction of unwanted side effects on healthy tissues) compared to that caused only by the incoming protons.
Both topics will be presented and discussed during the workshop with the goal of identifying current technological challenges and future steps, along with scientific and societal impact in the field of clean energy production and cancer treatment. The main objective of the workshop is to generate a task force of European scientific institutions for a potential EU application for funding.