Successful Test of Important Fusion Reactor ComponentCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: September 19, 2012 04:41PM
Nuclear fusion is one of the hottest energy topics, both literally and figuratively, because it could supply the world with prodigious amounts of power from relatively small amounts of fuel and with little waste. There are different approaches to this technology though, such as the tokomak design of ITER and the inertial design being developed at Sandia National Laboratories. The inertial design us powerful magnetic fields to suddenly collapse heated fuel to the critical point of nuclear fusion, and a recent test at Sandia suggests they may achieve the break-even point in the near future.
That Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion (MagLIF) concept being developed at Sandia has as one of its components a cylindrical container that holds the fuel before the fusion reactor. This container is subject to amazingly powerful magnetic fields that cause the container to collapse, but they also induce a current that vaporizes the outer layers of the cylinder. If the cylinder is too thin, the current will cause it to fall apart before fusion occurs, but if it is too thick then energy will be wasted crushing it. Theoretical models predicted what an optimal thickness and the researchers have just successfully tested it as the container did survive the magnetic fields.
This is a more positive sign than just a successful test because the models that determined the thickness also predict the break-even point for this reactor design. While there is certainly more confidence in the model, it will not be until next year that the fully integrated reactor will be tested against it.