Scientists In Germany Take A Major Step Towards Nuclear Fusion

Scientists in Germany Take a Major Step Towards Nuclear Fusion

Physicists in Germany have used an experimental nuclear fusion device to produce hydrogen plasma in a process similar to what happens on the Sun. The test marks an important milestone on the road towards this super-futuristic source of cheap and clean nuclear energy.

Earlier today in an event attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (herself a PhD physicist), researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald turned on the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, an experimental nuclear fusion reactor. (Actually, the researchers let Merkel do the honours). This €400 million ($616 million) stellarator is being used by physicists to test the technical viability of a future fusion reactor.

Unlike nuclear fission in which the nucleus of an atom is split into smaller parts, nuclear fusion creates a single heavy nucleus from two lighter nuclei. The resulting change in mass produces a massive amount of energy that physicists believe can be harnessed into a viable source of clean energy.

It will likely be decades (if not longer) before true nuclear fusion energy is available, but advocates of the technology say it could replace fossil fuels and conventional nuclear fission reactors. Unlike conventional fission reactors, which produce large amounts of radioactive waste, the by-products from nuclear fusion are deemed safe.

Scientists in Germany Take a Major Step Towards Nuclear Fusion

Via Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik, Tino Schulz - Public Relations Department, Max-Planck-Institut.

Back in December, the same team of researchers fired up the doughnut-shaped device for the first time, heating a tiny amount of helium. During today's experiment, a 2-megawatt pulse of microwave was used to heat the hydrogen gas and convert it into an extremely low density hydrogen plasma. "With a temperature of 80 million degrees and a lifetime of a quarter of a second, the device's first hydrogen plasma has completely lived up to our expectations," said physicist Hans-Stephan Bosch in a press statement.

W7-X isn't expected to produce any energy, but it will be used to test many of the extreme conditions that future devices will be subjected to in order to generate power. Temperatures within the device could conceivably reach 180 million degrees F (100 million degrees C).

As noted by John Jelonnek, a physicist at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in a Guardian article, "It's a very clean source of power, the cleanest you could possibly wish for. We're not doing this for us but for our children and grandchildren."


Top image:The first hydrogen plasma produced by W7-X. Via IPP

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    this exciting. space travel hear we come!

      Here, not hear

        ha ha
        good call. clearly the 3 hours sleep i got last night wasnt enough.

        either that or it was bad grammar.... :S

          It was an obvious typo though, so it didn't really need correcting and thus was just grammar trolled. :)

            Yeah, I'm usually not pedantic about this kind of shit. It was just a spur of a moment thing.

    Not sure which to be more impressed by, the 1/4 second burst or that Angela Merkel is a physicist.
    Anyway, I remember decades ago when they said it would be decades before they can build a Fusion reactor and it seems they still think it will be decades?

      There is an old joke that physicists like to wheel out every now and then. It goes like this:
      fusion power is just 20 years away and it always will be.

      Margaret Thatcher was an Industrial Chemist! Scientists get things done!

    ^^ Because Australia is scared of anything with the word "nuclear". We dont mind pumping the atmosphere full of crap cuz "nuclear be too scary".

    Most other first world countries have had nuclear power for donkeys. Only major incidents in history were Japan and Chernoybyl. But nah too scary and ambitious for old complacement Australia!

      To be fair "Japan and Chernobyl" weren't exactly explosions that you could flick off as easy fixes, they still haven't solved those problems.

        To be fair, Chernobyl (by far the worst bar none) was a Soviet mess with a terrible reactor design, and Fukushima's design and management wasn't much better. There are better, safer reactor designs and if we didn't demonise nuclear power it wouldn't be such a hidden industry.

          What is your point? You pretty much just said what I did, but with more words.

            You have to make a point to comment?

            And think it's unfair to Japan to lump them in with Soviet era Russia. I thought Japan to be far more safety orientated than other cultures of our time and hence with their nuclear reactors safety measures. IIRC Japan had made considerations in their reactor design and safety processes for earth quake, it just turned out that they were insufficient for the events that took place (correct me if I'm wrong here).

              You have to make a point to comment?What? You can't see that "to be fair" was a qualifier that I agreed with his comment,.. however?

              Last edited 04/02/16 12:25 pm

              There actually were concerns raised about Fukushima's ability to withstand a tsunami since the backup diesel generators were inadequately protected from just such a threat. This was apparently ignored. These absolutely critical pumps are needed to cool the reactor in the event of an emergency shutdown.

              Japan's safety culture failed at Fukushima. Is it Soviet-level insanity? No, nowhere near it, as reflected by Chernobyl being far worse. But it was still a failure.

            You seemed like you were suggesting that Chernobyl and Fukushima were good reasons not to have nuclear power. I was pointing out that both of them had massive issues that could have been avoided. Chernobyl never had to happen and was entirely human error exacerbated by a bad reactor design. Fukushima's risk was pointed out and ignored.

          Not to mention that Fukushima took a major earthquake to cause...

          Considering how Australia is relatively geologically stable that's hardly an issue.

            Exactly this. Fukushima was the result of a 9.1 magnitude earthquake followed by one of the largest tsunamis in recorded history hitting a very old nuclear reactor (built in the 60s) that was close to its decommission date. This is a pretty damn unlikely set of occurrences.

      My favourite stat is that coal plants actually leak more radiation into the local area than nuclear plants.

      Chernoybyl was inept negligence, and Japan was one of the worlds oldest reactors(40 or 50 years), months from being decommissioned, being hit by a f***ing tidal wave!

    Thorium reactors sound promising as hell. U can feed them the waste form the current fission reactors. Trouble is GE and others have invested billions in high pressure reactors so they work behind the scenes to keep new technology from competing.

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