Don’t be afraid. You can read that headline again. I’ll wait for you… Aaaand, okay: With cold fusion nowhere in sight, hot fusion looks to be the cleanest way to whip up some atomic energy. However, the steel needed to line the reactor may not be able to take the heat. UK scientists said that temperatures inside reactors are nearly identical to those reached on the floors of the World Trade Centre that were struck by planes on September 11, 2001—and that the tragedy itself yielded helpful data. Here, on the eve of the terrorist attack’s 7th anniversary, is the deal:
By studying the WTC’s structural weakening and collapse, scientists can identify the needs of new steel technology in the next atomic age. Steel may truly melt at 1,150ºC, but as low as 500ºC, the iron molecules that are held strong by magnetism at cooler temperatures start to slip, Sergei “Duder” “His Dudeness” “El Dudarino” Dudarev, principal scientist at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), told BBC News. Imperfections in the metal enhance the oozing even more. The Twin Towers started to weaken when temperatures crossed the 500ºC threshold, and gave way without ever actually melting.
Today, Dudarev and others are at work on the world’s first “large-scale” fusion reactor, called ITER. What the scientists need, though, is a steel that can ease past these temperatures without buckling. “We need to look at the magnetic properties of steel, [and]vary their chemical composition in a systematic way in order to get rid of this behaviour,” the Dude told BBC. (No word if graphene is something that could be put to use.)
The weirdest factoid of the whole story is this: Steel’s peak elasticity is reached at… 911ºC. Now that gives me the chills. [BBC News]