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Getting a Handle on Nuclear Fusion

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 08:58AM

Nuclear fusion one day may become the primary power source for nations as it uses a fuel derived from heavy water to generate power. Achieving nuclear fusion is very difficult though as it requires a great deal of energy to be invested into the reactor to get any energy out. Researchers at the University of Washington however may have found a way to drastically reduce this energy investment while also making this style of fusion reactor much safer.

One of the families of fusion reactors utilizes hot plasmas to contain the fuel and even dive the reaction, but containing this plasma is very difficult. It is so hot that if the plasma touches the reactor walls, it will vaporize them, so a magnetic bottle has to be used to hold the plasma. These bottles are not perfect though as the plasma wants to escape their grasp, but the researchers have found a way to fix this. By adding an asymmetric field, that looks like handles on a coffee mug, the researchers have produced a static equilibrium for the plasma, which means that if it is disrupted the plasma will return to this equilibrium, instead of exploding.

Having such an equilibrium state could drop the energy requirement of the reactor by as much as 99%, which would also drastically drop the cost of the reactor. Unfortunately the reactor at the University of Washington is too small for them to test this on and they are now looking for a larger reactor which can support the additional handles.

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masterbinky on October 15, 2012 11:16AM
If you drop the energy requirement for the reactor 99% we would have a viable commercial design in that we finally get a lot more than we put in, much less getting anything more than you put in.
Guest comment
Leonid on October 15, 2012 12:15PM
With electrostatic generator and superconducting electromagnets, the energy requirement drops significantly to just few kilowatts. http://youtu.be/ro5-QYqqxzM
Guest comment
Robert Steinhaus on October 16, 2012 12:43PM
Impractical forms of nuclear fusion, that will probably not produce an erg of energy into the grid in the next 50 years, are considered safe and for the last several decades have been funded at levels that have greatly exceed the investment in better practical fission nuclear reactors that could be used to light factories and heat American homes. It is interesting that a practical form of nuclear fusion that could be built today that uses nuclear fission as an igniter, and works reliably first time every time (as proven by repeated actual demonstration at the Nevada Test Site) is considered too dangerous to even consider. Fission ignited Fusion is real D-T fusion, just like tokomak magnetic confinement D-T fusion or inertial confinement Laser D-T fusion, is just D-T fusion. There is no difference between the type of energy (and nuclear waste) produced by impractical diffuse energy ignited D-T fusion and practical fission ignited D-T fusion except fission ignited D-T fission actually works and has been repeatedly demonstrated to produce huge amounts of practical energy since the Ivy Mike nuclear test in 1952, which took place fully four+ years before the first fission nuclear reactor, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, went into operation. Fission ignited Fusion that takes place safely inside an engineered PACER cavity can be harnessed by very common conventional steam Rankin cycle turbines, and used to produce real power for communities that need power. Impractical fusion is considered safe nuclear - sometimes heralded by opponents of nuclear fission, including Arjun Makhijani, President of IEER, and the high profile, media favorite nuclear physicist Dr. Michio Kaku as the ultimate energy source - yet it is all the same D-T fusion that we regularly deployed and tested in very carefully controlled fashion in underground nuclear tests and tunnel shots as part of the nuclear test program. It is easier to make Peaceful Nuclear Explosives that produce very high percentages of their outputs (estimate in excess of 99% of their output from fusion for PNE optimized devices) when you build larger devices. Both LLNL and LANL designed PNE based fusion reactors in the mid-1970s, and this included preliminary designs for optimized PNE devices. LLNL's devices were small, around 3 kt, which is the size of a very small tactical nuclear weapon like the W70-3, which is an ultra-clean enhanced-radiation tactical thermonuclear warhead producing minimal fission products (fallout) and was a regular part of the US nuclear arsenal for over a decade. To make a very small and efficient thermonuclear PNEs requires a very modern and sophisticated fission primary, and the small LLNL preliminary designs were modern designs. LANL's preliminary PNE devices were larger, closer to 50 kt, but were easier to adapt from existing weapons designs and employ a more conventional fission primary. Details of the actual PNE devices is still classified. Both LLNL and LANL designers had confidence that they could design PNEs with optimized characteristics to make economical fission ignited fusion reactors cost effective and practical. We did not go further down the road of producing practical fusion reactors in the mid 1970s, not because the technology would not work, but because people in the Nixon and Carter Administrations were uncomfortable with the concept and macro-scale government budget problems forced a reduction in the number of projects that could be actively pursued. Proposal to ensure PNE device safety - PNE devices are built in significant numbers in a restricted access robot factory. When completed the PNE devices weight around 50 lbs in a couple of small castings and a bit of sheet metal. The D-T fusion fuel and the subcritical micro-pits for the LLNL devices (and more conventional fission pits for the LANL devices) are added to the PNEs at the fusion power plant in a just in time fashion right before the devices are ignited. No PNE is ever shipped around the country with nuclear fuels inside. If a PNE is somehow stolen when transported from the robot factory to the power plant, all the thief gets for his trouble is a couple of small metal castings and a little sheet metal, nothing of value to a terrorist wanting to make a bomb. The heavy stainless steel fusion reactor cavity is buried 100 meters underground and has better hardening and safety from terrorist assault than any existing above ground nuclear reactor. Buried at 100 meters, a fission ignited fusion reactor could sustain a full power vertical direct dive-crash from a fully fueled airliner from a height of 40 thousand feet or alternatively, from a direct nuclear strike by a submarine launched missile on the land surface immediately above the reactor by a conventional 100 kt MIRVed weapon and continue to operate producing reliable electrical power without interruption. Fission Ignited Fusion Reactors buried underground and powered by small controlled peaceful nuclear explosives can be designed to be cost effective and safe and produce real power decades before all of the fusion approaches currently being pursued are ready in commercial forms. Fission Ignited Fusion Reactors are complementary technology to conventional and unconventional fission nuclear power plants and can, through use of a 10X profusion of fast 14.1 MeV neutrons, burn up LWR SNF or be used to manufacture high quality fissile fuel (Pu-239 or U-233) from fertile materials. More info: http://www.yottawatts.net

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