New Nuclear Reactor Could Hold The Secret Of Lasting Fusion
A team of researchers from Germany has completed the construction of a new experimental fusion reactor, which they hope will surpass all the other models in having the longest sustained reaction, according to Science.
Nuclear fusion reactors aim to replicate the processes that go on inside stars to get electricity, fusing lighter atoms (like hydrogen or helium) together to form heavier elements. Nuclear fusion is still experimental, and it is unlikely we will have commercial power stations before 2050, but it is being pursued (including projects such as ITER) because it produces a lot of energy using a tiny amount of fuel.
It requires having the atoms in an extremely hot plasma (over 100 million kelvins), though, something that can’t be done on a large scale at the moment. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany, however, think they may have a solution.
To achieve the scalding plasma, scientists typically use lasers to heat up gas and the plasma is trapped by a magnetic field. Keeping the plasma hot and confined is the main technological challenge when it comes to reactors.
The most common model of nuclear reactors is called a tokamak, a device that confines the plasma in a donut shape. To maintain the plasma in this shape, strong magnets surround the reactor, and an electrical current is induced in the plasma. This current severely limits the tokamak, as it can make the plasma break free of the magnetic confinement and seriously damage the reactor. The current can only be provided in short pulses, limiting the fusion time to only a few minutes.
The other model is called a stellarator. Stellarators were invented by American physicist Lyman Spitzer in 1950, but they fell from favor in the 1970s as the tokamaks were giving much better results. They force the plasma in a weird twisted donut, with no need for an induced electric current inside but requiring a lot more magnets and a more
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