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Building The World’s First Nuclear Fusion Reactor

Building The World’s First Nuclear Fusion Reactor thumbnail

70 years after the first energy was made using nuclear power at an experimental station near Arco, Idaho, nuclear energy remains at the heart of a contentious debate. Nuclear power holds enormous potential as a solution to curbing emissions that contribute to global warming, as splitting atoms to make energy is extremely efficient and produces absolutely greenhouse gas emissions. What it does produce, however, is hazardous waste that remains radioactive for millennia. And then there is the issue of public mistrust, as high-profile nuclear disasters like those at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island have seared themselves into the global community’s collective memory.  But what if there was a way to produce nearly boundless atomic energy without creating any radioactive waste and without any risk of meltdown? Scientists have been chasing this holy grail of clean energy–nuclear fusion–for nearly 100 years. Nuclear fusion, the energy creation process that occurs naturally on the sun, is many times more powerful than nuclear fission, and could solve some of humanity’s most pressing and seemingly unsolvable problems with its infinitely renewable and totally clean energy production if we can finally find a way to make it commercially viable.

Building a star here on Earth, however, is far easier said than done. This silver bullet solution to energy and climate change has remained elusive. But we are now closer than ever to making it a reality. The European ITER project has recently surpassed a series of milestones with their tokamak currently under construction in the South of France. The project, a collaboration between 35 nations decades in the making claims that they will achieve first plasma by 2025, and commercial nuclear fusion could be close behind.

But now there is another project underway in the UK that could pave the way for ITER. “Dozens of scientific projects have fought to make commercial nuclear fusion a reality. None has succeeded,” reports Wired. “But in 2021, an ambitious European-funded project in the UK will switch on for the first time in 23 years, and it could be a vital step on the road to fusion.”

This project is, in many ways, a model miniature of the massive ITER tokamak project in France. “Inside a reactor shaped like a giant doughnut, scientists from the Joint European Torus (or JET) project will smash hydrogen atoms together at high speed, releasing a huge amount of energy and heat in the form of plasma. Temperatures will reach a level ten times hotter than the Sun as the plasma swirls around,” the article details. ITER, Wired writes, is relying on the smaller-scale experiments currently underway at JET to fasttrack nuclear fusion for commercialization by “[cutting] down the amount of time required to take fusion power out of the lab and into our homes.”

The Wired article published this week takes readers on a tour of this new reactor, starting with the waveguide pipes that transmit microwaves to heat plasma to “temperatures ten times hotter than the Sun.” Operations within the replica tokamak test facility are carried out by “articulated arms.” From a control room, highly trained engineers practice using these robot arms–called the MASCOT– to move things around so that actual workers will not have to go inside the tokamak to touch potentially radioactive materials. The MASCOT “mimics human arms and hands, and is capable of tightening screws and ‘feeling’ objects on behalf of humans that control it from a safe distance,” explains Wired. “Robots go into the tokamak when human beings cannot.”

With the huge scale and even bigger stakes for the tokamak project currently being built by ITER, it is essential that the mechanizations and routine operations of the tokamak environment are practiced and perfected before the machine goes online in coming years. When building a machine that could change everything, you better know how to use it.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 



4 Comments on "Building The World’s First Nuclear Fusion Reactor"

  1. Anonymouse on Thu, 27th Aug 2020 5:49 pm 

    “But what if there was a way to produce nearly boundless atomic energy without creating any radioactive waste and without any risk of meltdown? Scientists have been chasing this holy grail of clean energy–nuclear fusion–for nearly 100 years.”

    and….

    “its infinitely renewable and totally clean energy production if we can finally find a way to make it commercially viable.”

    But what if flying unicorns shit magic fairy dust?

    No wonder 100 years on and there is nothing to show for it. This is what happens when you pursue impossible goals, like ‘infinitely renewable fusion’. Or state that fusion is ‘totally clean’ (it sure as hell wouldn’t be that either). I do agree though that a ‘working’ fusion power station, could however, consume infinite amounts of money and resources. But I doubt that is what the fusion fan-boys have in mind though.

    Nuclear fusion, will create PLENTY of radioactive waste. saying it wont, or cant, is lying. Boundless energy from any artificial source, IE human built power stations, is also a lie. If that was the case, we have a boundless numbers of coal plants, gas plants, nuclear fission plants, and hydro dams. And wed have boundless fields of solar panels and windmill too, as far as the eye could see.

    But we dont and never will. Fusion, if it were ‘practical’, would have so many constraints imposed by its own limitations, no one would be interested in owning a fusion power station.

    If all the lies in this stupid little article were not enough, CancerPrice.com doesnt seem aware ITER is not a ‘fusion’ reactor, or a reactor of any kind, period. It cant, and wont, produce any power or energy. In fact, it will do the exact opposite and CONSUME huge amounts power.

    I can help think of the Alchemists quest to turn Lead into Gold. They were looking for a way to make that process commercially viable as well, except it didn’t pan out.

  2. makati1 on Thu, 27th Aug 2020 6:21 pm 

    Fairy dust dreams of the techie zombies. Nothing more. Those who want their cushy lifestyle to continue indefinably, on a finite planet, are not rational. Nor are they very intelligent.

    BAU is over. The world of ‘2019’ will not return in 2021 or ever. We are in the Great Leveling/Reset change that will take a few years to be obvious to most, but it is underway now. Adapt or die.

  3. dissident on Fri, 28th Aug 2020 6:57 pm 

    I am going to wait and see if the scale of this reactor is big enough to marginalize wall losses. As I posted before, fusion tokomak reactors have been on a size growth trajectory from day one. For some reason, smarmy scientists have not clued in to the scaling aspect until recently but the drift was in the right direction anyway.

    The basic point is that volume scales as the cube of the radius (for a sphere or a torus), but the surface area scales only as the square of the radius. So surface energy losses of the plasma which are such a pain scale down with larger reactors. At the same time, larger reactors result in larger distances between the plasma and the reactor wall. And here every mm counts since parasitic currents to the wall are really a show stopper. Thanks to these currents there are metal crystals that start to grow on the reactor wall which make the losses even larger. These crystals grow thanks to vapourization of the wall material.

  4. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 30th Aug 2020 4:06 am 

    “scientists from the Joint European Torus (or JET) project”

    The good scribes from Oilprice and Wired may have missed a development in Europe called “Brexit”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_European_Torus

    “Brexit has thrown the plans for JET in doubt. As part of their plan to leave the EU, the UK will also leave Euratom, which provides the funding for JET. Talks on the funding after 2018, when the current 5-year plan expires, were underway and a new agreement to extend JET’s operation until 2019 or 2020 appeared to be largely complete. These talks were put on hold after the Brexit announcement. However, in March 2019 the UK Government and European Commission signed a contract extension for JET. This guarantees JET operations until the end of 2020 regardless of the Brexit situation.”

    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/last-minute-deal-grants-european-money-uk-based-fusion-reactor#

    Apparently money has been guaranteed until the end of this year, but after that, certainly in the likely case of a no-deal Brexit, the joint could very well be closed down.

    Brexit, the best argument against referendums. Just like thinking is done by the brain and not the arse, decisions like this should be done by the elite, not the fish-and-chips shack. And if the elite really f*cks up, like with diversity, then there is always the guillotine.

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