A revolutionary reactor that might form the basis for a working hot fusion device is working as advertised.

The Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X); or stellarator, is producing high quality magnetic fields verifying that its design works, Nature reported. Stellerators are supposed to hold hot charged gas or plasma in three dimensional fields generated by huge superconducting coils. The idea is to avoid the vast expenses with the tokamak design being used in the $18 billion (€17.04 billion) International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER project in France.

A team of scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) of the US Department of Energy confirmed that the W7-X is working as planned. The stellerator was built by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald. Among other things the PPPL team found that there was a discrepancy of less than 100,000 in the W7-X’s magnetic field meaning that it works as advertised.

The Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X);

A Saucer-Shaped Reactor

The device was completed last year but this is the first time its’ operations have been confirmed. The doughnut shaped stellerator looks more like a flyer saucer; or the Millennium Falcon, than a nuclear reactor. The strange twisty design is what enables it to generate magnetic fields strong enough to contain plasma.

The ultimate is goal is to replicate the temperatures and pressures found in stars like the sun to create vast amounts of energy in the form of heat. Theoretically such hot fusion would be able to generate tremendous amounts of electricity without radiation or pollution and use nothing but seawater as fuel.

In what does not look like a coincidence the ITER Council announced that it is speeding up the schedule of its project. The ITER wants to start generating plasma by 2025 and power by 2035, Reuters reported. Previously it planned to start generating plasma in 2027.

If the stellerator is up and running before then that would be a major embarrassment for the ITER. If somebody else builds a working fusion reactor for a lot less money, politicians are going to start asking the ITER what it was doing.

Hot Fusion Might be 10 Years Away

The W7-X is first generation technology designed to prove a concept much like the Wright Brothers’ first airplane, Popular Mechanics reported.  Once it works scientists want to build better more efficient fusion reactors capable of producing energy.

There is no time table for that but the stellerator but the W7-X has been producing plasma for a year. It took nine years to build the stellerator which is supposed to prove the concept in continuous operation.

The idea for a stellerator is nothing new it was proposed by astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer back in the 1950s. Only in recent years have new technologies like computer assisted design allowed technicians to build the complex design. Tokamaks are far simpler to build but potentially much more costly.

Interestingly enough a far cheaper tokamak than the ITER; the Alcator C-Mod, is up and running at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Alcator C-Mod can create plasma by heating deuterium and tritium to temperatures of 150 million degrees Celsius or twice the temperature of the sun.

One of the men behind the Alcator C-Mod Dennis Whyte; the head of MIT’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Department, has claimed it will be possible to build a working hot fusion reactor with off the shelf technology within 10 years. It looks as if the W7-X and Alcator C Mod are proving Whyte correct.

The fusion revolution might be closer than we thought. If it is the coal industry is doomed and global warming will be history.

 

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