Getting a Handle on Nuclear Fusion

Guest_Jim_* - October 15, 2012 08:58AM in Science & Technology

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.