Author Topic: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...  (Read 762 times)

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Offline Taronyu Leleioae

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Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« on: October 07, 2013, 04:54:01 pm »
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24429621

07 OCT 2013 - From BBC News website

Researchers at a US lab have passed a crucial milestone on the way to their ultimate goal of achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion.  Harnessing fusion - the process that powers the Sun - could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy.  But to be viable, fusion power plants would have to produce more energy than they consume, which has proven elusive.

Now, a breakthrough by scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) could boost hopes of scaling up fusion.  NIF, based at Livermore in California, uses 192 beams from the world's most powerful laser to heat and compress a small pellet of hydrogen fuel to the point where nuclear fusion reactions take place.

The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel - the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.  This is a step short of the lab's stated goal of "ignition", where nuclear fusion generates as much energy as the lasers supply. This is because known "inefficiencies" in different parts of the system mean not all the energy supplied through the laser is delivered to the fuel.

Highlights:  Nuclear fusion at NIF Hohlraum

    192 laser beams are focused through holes in a target container called a hohlraum
    Inside the hohlraum is a tiny pellet containing an extremely cold, solid mixture of hydrogen isotopes
    Lasers strike the hohlraum's walls, which in turn radiate X-rays
    X-rays strip material from the outer shell of the fuel pellet, heating it up to millions of degrees
    If the compression of the fuel is high enough and uniform enough, nuclear fusion can result

But the latest achievement has been described as the single most meaningful step for fusion in recent years, and demonstrates NIF is well on its way towards the coveted target of ignition and self-sustaining fusion.

For half a century, researchers have strived for controlled nuclear fusion and been disappointed. It was hoped that NIF would provide the breakthrough fusion research needed.

In 2009, NIF officials announced an aim to demonstrate nuclear fusion producing net energy by 30 September 2012. But unexpected technical problems ensured the deadline came and went; the fusion output was less than had originally been predicted by mathematical models.

Soon after, the $3.5bn facility shifted focus, cutting the amount of time spent on fusion versus nuclear weapons research - which was part of the lab's original mission.

However, the latest experiments agree well with predictions of energy output, which will provide a welcome boost to ignition research at NIF, as well as encouragement to advocates of fusion energy in general.

It is markedly different from current nuclear power, which operates through splitting atoms - fission - rather than squashing them together in fusion.

NIF, based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is one of several projects around the world aimed at harnessing fusion. They include the multi-billion-euro ITER facility, currently under construction in Cadarache, France.

However, ITER will take a different approach to the laser-driven fusion at NIF; the Cadarache facility will use magnetic fields to confine the hot fusion fuel - a concept known as magnetic confinement.

Offline Tìtstewan

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2013, 05:27:19 pm »
Interesting!!
Hmm, here is not mentioned about the Wendelstein 7-X (The German Wiki is more detailed *click*)

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Offline Clarke

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2013, 05:33:04 pm »
SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

...I'm rather excited about fusion being a step closer.   :)

Offline `Eylan Ayfalulukanä

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2013, 03:04:42 am »
"breakeven" is tantalizing close! Instead of orders of magnitude, we are now talking percentages. But keep in mind that most lasers are notoriously inefficient. Although inertial confinement is elegantly simple, it is thought the tokamak style machines have a better chance at true energy generation.

I have heard of the Wendelstein machine, but under names other than 'stellerator'. The stellarator is a really old plasma concentrator design.

The NIF is about  a 3-4 hour drive from here, and I need to visit it one of these days. Here in Reno, we have a "Z-pinch machine", at the Nevada Terawatt Facility. That facility is almost visible out the back window of my house, and I have been through it.

If you saw 'Star Trek: Into Darkness', the engine room scene was shot around the plasma chamber of the NIF. Perhaps, this is the first time that a sci-fi movie has used an actual fusion reactor for its engine room!

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Offline Tìtstewan

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2013, 03:38:55 am »
There an interesting pics of Wendelstein 7-X:

And this:
Research status

Edit:
If you saw 'Star Trek: Into Darkness', the engine room scene was shot around the plasma chamber of the NIF. Perhaps, this is the first time that a sci-fi movie has used an actual fusion reactor for its engine room!
As far as I know, they use a fusion generator and a matter-antimatter generator...
« Last Edit: October 08, 2013, 03:43:38 am by Tìtstewan »

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Offline Clarke

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2013, 12:08:02 pm »
"breakeven" is tantalizing close! Instead of orders of magnitude, we are now talking percentages. But keep in mind that most lasers are notoriously inefficient. Although inertial confinement is elegantly simple, it is thought the tokamak style machines have a better chance at true energy generation.
So long as you can achieve both scalability and >1 efficiency, exactly how efficient you are doesn't really matter in the short term. "Free" energy for everyone. :P

Offline archaic

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2013, 01:58:35 pm »
Harnessing fusion - the process that powers the Sun - could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy. 
We've been here before, basically the exact same was said about Nuclear:- "Free" energy for everyone.  It wasn't!

What we all now know only too well, is what we weren't told back then; storage costs for spent fuel plus high and medium level waste, not to mention the minor detail of the decommissioning costs.

Then there's the substantial containment, decontamination and health care costs following accidents, such as Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Sellafield, Kyshtym, etc .....
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_nuclear_disasters_and_radioactive_incidents
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Offline Clarke

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #7 on: October 08, 2013, 04:12:48 pm »
Fusion has no "spent" fuel - it can produce helium-4 and 3He from what might as well be seawater, both of which are stable. :P

It also has no risk of radiation accidents. Literally, zero: the problem is keeping the reaction going, so any sort of fault results in it stopping automatically. I don't know about laser confinement-type reactors, but Tokamak plasma rings typically involve amounts of fuel literally millions of times smaller than fission reactors, so even in a "perfect failure," the radiation leak is tiny and most likely inconsequential. (I certainly can't imagine any significant consequences to that amount of material escaping, except perhaps if it was inhaled or eaten.) Further, all of the materials that can be involved in fusion reactions are either stable, or have half-lives shorter than 60 seconds.

You have to be very creative to come up with a scenario where fusion power can fail in any way remotely describable as "dangerous."  :P

Offline archaic

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2013, 04:27:31 pm »
My apologies, my point was not that fusion would have inherent dangers, it was that it would not be as cheap as it's proponents would like us to believe.
Nuclear energy was billed as clean, safe and virtually free, the accidents show that it wasn't that safe and the costs that we weren't told about at the time meant that it certainly wasn't virtually free.

Fusion could be great, but I'm cautious about the claims made for it.
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Offline Clarke

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2013, 04:50:51 pm »
In monetary terms, it's not going to be free, of course - but considering the lack of risks and pollution, and plentiful fuel, it'll still be vastly cheaper than any other option.

Offline `Eylan Ayfalulukanä

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Re: Fusion - Perhaps a step closer...
« Reply #10 on: October 08, 2013, 05:22:09 pm »
Although there is lots of hope for fusion, it is still going to be expensive. There is a lot of talk right now that if people who have the space to do so could generate their own energy, it would greatly reduce the need to more central generation. Still, large cities and industry (who uses most of the power, anyway) will still not likely be able to generate their own renewable energy.

Breakeven is still exciting!

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