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Researchers Announce Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough


For years nuclear fusion was the stuff of sci-fi books and movies, but technology has brought it, like so many other things, closer to reality. So close, in fact, that there are plans to build the first nuclear fusion reactor by 2025—a reactor that could yield a lot more energy than is fed into it and provide vast amounts of clean, sustainable energy.

 Nuclear fusion, unlike fission, involves smashing particles together to generate energy. Basically, as Bloomberg Energy author Jing Cao explained in a detailed June overview, it’s like recreating the Sun on Earth.

 An international team of scientists is working on the biggest project in nuclear fusion in France, to build the largest magnetic fusion machine—a tokamak—and test the commercial-scale viability of this clean energy source. The ITER project is based on the pretty simple premise that the larger the vessel in which fusion reactions occur, the more of them occur, generating more energy.

 The ITER tokamak will be ten times larger than the largest existing such device, capable, as per plans, to produce 500 MW of fusion power. To compare, the record so far, set by European tokamak JET (the largest existing one), is 16 MW, from input of 24 MW. The goal of the ITER team is to produce these 500 MW from an input of just 50 MW. Recently, a team of researchers from the MIT published a paper that suggests this achievement is realistic.

 The MIT team tweaked the “recipe” for nuclear fusion in such a way that the output of power was ten times greater than with the original composition, which consists of 95 percent deuterium ions and 5 percent hydrogen ions, forming plasma heated to incredibly high temperatures in the tokamak from the movement of the ions.

 The tokamak produces magnetic fields that keep the superhot plasma inside and keep it moving—and hot—but controlling it for ever-longer periods of time and making it move faster to produce more energy has been a challenge. Now, the MIT scientists may have found the secret ingredient in an isotope of helium, helium-3.

Related: Tesla Successfully Raises Funds As Cash Bleed Continues

 The team, from the Plasma Science and Fusion Center of the MIT, added trace amounts—1 percent—of helium-3 to the traditional combination and tested the new combination at the Alcator C-Mod tokamak. The results showed that the hydrogen-deuterium-helium plasma got wrigglier and hotter, producing 10 times more energy than before. The amount of energy produced after the addition of helium, the researchers explained, increased output by an order of magnitude, bringing it into the realm of megaelectronvolts.

 One of the scientists involved in the project, John C. Wright, explains, “These higher energy ranges are in the same range as activated fusion products. To be able to create such energetic ions in a non-activated device — not doing a huge amount of fusion — is beneficial, because we can study how ions with energies comparable to fusion reaction products behave, how well they would be confined.”

 The test results were so exciting that another team, the one working with the JET in the UK, decided to replicate them. The replication confirmed the results, raising hopes that a fully functional nuclear fusion reactor may indeed be on the horizon. This horizon is still far, or near, depending on your perspective. According to the head of the Alcator C-Mod project, Earl Marmar, we could see fusion reactors in the 2030s. The main problem: keeping the process going.

 By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Josh Gregner on August 27 2017 said:
    Ever since I went to school many many years ago, nuclear fusion was always between 10 to 30 years away from being commercially viable. I'm old now and it still doesn't work but the articles with the "break throughs" are still coming on a weekly/monthly basis.

    Now let's assume this stuff starts to work in 2030 - what for? It will be too late. By 2030 WSS (Wind+Solar+Storage) will be by far the cheapest / most convenient form of electricity generation.
  • john on August 27 2017 said:
    Too funny Mr. Gregner - I've been hearing the same thing for 50 years on wind, solar, storage. Which is STILL very, very expensive compared to gas/oil.
  • Brandon on August 28 2017 said:
    Sadly true: 30 years back experimental tokamaks were capable of producing a sparkle of about 2 seconds and today it's more or less the same (with a lot more specialized knowledge around, but...). In 30 years we may just be in a slightly better shape but still very experimental I'm afraid.
  • Robert Steinhaus on August 28 2017 said:
    (Sorry, No fusion power output breakthrough as yet)
    There is unfortunately widespread public misunderstanding with respect to this story. I invite readers to examine the scientific paper that relates what has actually been accomplished.

    Efficient generation of energetic ions in multi-ion plasmas by radio-frequency heating

    You will find that fusion energy output has not in fact been increased but only the energy (temperature) of a small quantity of He3 ions injected into the fusion plasma has increased. The obtained results demonstrate efficient acceleration of He-3 ions to high energies in dedicated hydrogen-deuterium mixtures.

    No fusion reactor loaded with the new three component fusion fuel including the rare He3 element has it fact been observed or measured to produce any additional fusion output power (what has happened is that the tiny quantity of He3 injected has been successfully heated by radio-frequency heating to higher than customary temperature).

    Science reporters did not get enough from the researchers to report the research accurately. All of us in the fusion information and advocacy effort have to try harder to get the facts out straight.
    Robert Steinhaus
    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - Engineering (retired)
  • Steve on August 28 2017 said:
    Let's assume there is some truth here and cheap, sustainable energy arrives in the next dozen years...how does this undo the damage already done to the environment? How does it replace the dwindling fish stocks? Expand the disappearing arable land? Make more of the non-renewable resources we depend so much upon and have far surpassed the point of diminishing returns?
    Or, does it actually serve to speed up our drawdown of these essential resources?
    Will it also halt the hegemonic aspirations of the competing empires when they don't have to wrestle over fossil fuels? (Probably not since such lunacy far predates such energy resources).
    Will it curtail the asinine monetary policies of the various central banks that are helping to fuel inequality, currency devaluation, and asset price inflation? (Again, probably not since such lunacy far predates energy issues).
    So, really, nothing is solved...and, more likely, issues of concern become exacerbated if energy limits suddenly vanish.
  • G R Morton on August 28 2017 said:
    Isn't it nice how 'breakthroughs' are always announced just before funding season? And if only we would give them wheelbarrows full of our tax dollars they would solve a problem by running a computer model (which ignores the engineering problem of how to maintain the structural integrity of the Tokamak's walls which are constantly bombarded by high energy protons, ) Until they solve the material problems which arise from high energy proton bombardment of the walls, their 'breakthrough' which is nothing more than a computer model, won't be worth a bucket of warm spit.
  • Dave on August 28 2017 said:
    "Now, the MIT scientists may have found the secret ingredient in an isotope of helium, helium-3."

    Great! Helium is already one of the less common elements on Earth and helium-3 is only 0.0002% of that. Are we to base our energy system on such an extremely rare isotope?
  • John Brown on August 28 2017 said:
    Good to hear progress is still being made. I remember their talking about both Fusion Nuclear power and Hydrogen as clean renewable fuel sources when I was in Science Class in high school. That was in the mid 70s. I suppose change happens so fast these days in many fields that we've come to expect it in months or years, not bit by bit over multiple decades.
    The slow movement in fission, fusion, hydrogen etc are one of the reason's I think the Global Warmists and the corrupt politicians who buy into the left wing hysteria are just trying to pry out trillions of dollars and/or more power for themselves. If they really thought the planet was in danger we'd have a lot more new technology safe fission nuclear plants already in operation, and huge amounts of money going into even more promising clean renewable energy sources like Fusion and Hydrogen. Yet they'd rather tax us until our eyes bleed and pass out hundreds of billions to corrupt 3rd world dictators than actually fund programs to provide plentiful clean renewable energy.
    Think about what the hundred billion Obama poured into Green Corruption with companies like Solyndra could have accomplished if spent on clean renewable Fusion technology, or even clean safe fission nuclear?
  • Richard Wicks on August 28 2017 said:
    To Robert Steinhaus,

    I had to have a chuckle over this statement, "Science reporters did not get enough from the researchers to report the research accurately. All of us in the fusion information and advocacy effort have to try harder to get the facts out straight."

    Good luck with that...

    The United States has maybe a handful of investigative reporters, and even less people competent in technology to talk about it. I live and work in Silicon Valley California and I've seen nothing but a slew of bad information and advice, for 20 years, with regard to any technology, or any other field I'm familiar with.

    I'm certain you are old enough to remember what Pravda was in the USSR in 1985. That's all the US has in 2017. The US does not have a functioning media. Look at who the author of this piece is - her name is Irina Slav. Who is she?

    "Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry."

    Finding her Linked In page:

    Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski
    Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), English Language and Literature/Letters
    1998 – 2003
    English linguistics and literature

    St. Andrew's College, Cambridge, UK
    A-level, Communication and Media Studies, Psychology, Modern history
    1994 – 1997
    Psychology, Communication Studies, and Modern History

    These were considered the blow off party courses at my university.

    She doesn't even have a BS in... anything - not that it's necessarily important, but she's completely unfamiliar with technology.

    You want to get the word out? Write. You're retired, right?
  • Icepilot on August 28 2017 said:
    The problem has never been the ability to create energetic fusion reactions.
    The problem has always been the ability to sustain, contain & control those reactions in a fusion generator of reasonable cost.
  • M11S on August 28 2017 said:
    Cold fusion is much more practical.
    Here's an MIT professor who was beaten to death shortly after publicly exposing the fraudulent research.


    Pons Fleischmann
  • Frank Blangeard on August 28 2017 said:
    The very last sentence is the kicker. "The main problem: keeping the process going". Explanation: they can only keep this energy output going for a limited time. Most likely nanoseconds.
  • Richard Graham on August 29 2017 said:
    Josh Gregner has it correct. Show me fusion that works then call it a breakthrough.
    As for Wind-Solar-Hydro being much more expensive than petroleum; well this is just a lie.
    Only natural gas, for the moment, is cheaper than wind and solar. Both will continue to drop rapidly as economies of scale and engineering research improve them.
    And nuclear will be nothing but a pipe dream for everyone but those who hope to colonize other planets.
  • Dano on August 29 2017 said:
    I'm perfectly happy they will be constructing and testing a full scale model... in France.
  • EdBCBN on August 30 2017 said:
    By the time they build a demonstration plant in 2030 distributed solar PV plus batteries will be as cheap as just the transmission costs of centrally generated electricity. By the time they get the technology to potentially commercial in about 2040 much of the grid will have atrophied to the point that central generation won't be possible in most locations.
  • Bill Simpson on August 31 2017 said:
    Look at it this way. There are 3 places where fusion occurs, and only 1 of them is a continuous process, like we would need to generate usable electric power.
    One fusion process is inside a thermonuclear bomb in a trillionth of a second as the radiation from the fission part, fueled by the fission of atoms in the crushed plutonium core, heats the fusion fuel to millions of degrees. Yet, despite the enormous blast which results, the process is actually very inefficient, transforming only a small percentage of the nuclear fuel into energy. The majority of the nuclear fuel is wasted.
    Another spot where fusion probably occurs is in the shock wave from a supernova - an exploding star. That is how the elements heavier than iron were made.
    The last place where fusion occurs is at the center of stars. Stars are really, really big, so the gravity at the center is able to heat hydrogen enough to fuse it into helium. The hydrogen can't escape the gravity of the star, so it has to stay there and get heated into helium, and eventually into heavier elements as the star ages. That process stops at the element iron. Supernova explosions have to take the periodic table from there up to uranium, the heaviest natural element.
    Humans might be able to match those conditions in some machine which isn't a bomb that lasts for a billionth of a second, but I doubt it. So don't hold your breath waiting for the next fusion 'breakthrough'.
    That said, I do support the research, since if it can ever be perfected on an industrial scale at a price we could afford, it might transform human civilization like nothing else has.
  • Robert Godes on August 31 2017 said:
    Sad that society continues to through good money after bad for an idea that most people working on will admit will never work. Mean while, like the other entrenched players like Uranium fuel cycle plants and Hot Fusion players each work hard individually to try and starve any competition of funds. Just ask the people working on molten salt reactors or any competing and more promising fusion technologies like P 11B... I had a successful TAP with PNNL and then had them refuse to take $100K from me to forward my project as it was labeled "to controversial". No TAP at LLNL but the same result. A researcher at LANL contacted me after a successful test of my hypothesis but they threaten him with loss of access if he published!
  • Oliver Tickell on September 03 2017 said:
    This looks interesting, but takes us little closer to a self-sustaining nuclear fusion reactor delivering gigawatts of reliable power to the grid. Three big problems: 1) creating the materials that will withstand intense neutron bombardment for decades on end; 2) containing the 'wriggly' (as this author puts it) plasma, which gets all the more wriggly and uncontrollable as temperatures increase; 3) doing the first two at a cost that can compete with new power sources like wind and solar whose costs are declining rapidly and will continue to do so for many years to come.

    In short, it's a mirage.
  • JAY on September 14 2017 said:

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