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Costly, not available for decades, but Germany steps forward in nuclear fusion development

How Germany took big step toward nuclear fusion  German scientists working on the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device started a series of experiments that could eventually prove the superiority of the stellarator-type fusion devices. By Corey Fedde, Christian Science Monitor Staff FEBRUARY 3, 2016 

Nuclear fusion power has been the dream of many since the 1950s and on Wednesday German scientists took one step closer to making it possible.
fusion reactor Germany
German scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald, joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, injected hydrogen into the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device and heated the gas into plasma for a moment, according to the press release.

The device will not produce energy from the plasma, but the experiment is the first of many that could prove whether the design is capable of being used as a power plant. If so, it could answer one of the many questions surrounding nuclear fusion.

Two different designs for fusion power plants have shown promise: the tokamak, such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor being constructed in France, and the stellarator. The Wendelstein 7-X is the world’s largest stellarator.

Only the ITER project, a tokamak, is thought to be able to produce plasma that supplies energy, according to the press release. The experiments begun Wednesday could prove that stellarator designs could produce comparable heat- and plasma-confinement.

Scientists working on the Wendelstein 7-X will perform similar experiments, heating gas to plasma and holding it in stasis, over the next four years, slowly increasing the temperature and the time of the discharges, according to the press release.

Eventually, in about four years, the Wendelstein 7-X will test its full heating power (20 megawatts) and discharges lasting 30 minutes………

Nuclear fusion is seen as a safe, efficient form of nuclear power and has been proposed as an eventual replacement for oil and fossil fuels, according to the press release.

But critics have pointed to the mounting cost of a technology that is still under development and likely remain unavailable for decades. Investments for the Greifswald fusion device have surpassed €1 billion over the last 20 years, CBS News reported.

The ITER project recently announced in November that it would take six years longer to construct than previously thought and would require additional funding from the €5 billion estimate in 2006. Science reports current estimates place the ITER project needing €15 billion.  http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0203/How-Germany-took-big-step-toward-nuclear-fusion

February 5, 2016 - Posted by | Germany, technology

4 Comments »

  1. Fusion: The Holy Grail of one of my chemistry profs. This makes even more tritium which they already refuse to filter at Fukushima and elsewhere, even though tech to do so exists.

    Comment by miningawareness | February 6, 2016 | Reply

    • That is something that I didn’t know. I had always thought that nuclear fusion was a good idea, but ruled out because of (a) astronomic costs and (b) many decades away before it could ever be developed. Of course there’s also (c) and(d) and so on. A centralised mighty source of electricity is an out-dated idea, goes completely against the 21st Century trend to decentralisation and democracy in energy sources.

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | February 6, 2016 | Reply

      • I did too. Longer reply below.

        Comment by miningawareness | February 7, 2016

  2. I am surprised too. I have read repeatedly about tritium being a major unresolved fusion problem. it may depend on fusion type. I can’t find a good reference. I found this in pro nuke occupied Wikipedia however. in 500 years as rad as coal ash… still very bad. 500 years ago was 1516…Thomas Moore published Utopia, Henry Viii daughter Mary I born, new Greek translation of the Bible by Erasmus. Americas Australia barely discovered. tritium itself will be around for almost 200 years.
    ‘Effluents
    The natural product of the fusion reaction is a small amount of helium, … Of more concern is tritium, which, like other isotopes of hydrogen, is difficult to retain completely. During normal operation, some amount of tritium will be continually released. There would be no acute danger, but the cumulative effect on the world’s population from a fusion economy could be a matter of concern. Although tritium is volatile and biologically active, the health risk posed by a release is much lower than that of most radioactive contaminants,… Current ITER designs are investigating total containment facilities for any tritium.
    Waste management
    The large flux of high-energy neutrons in a reactor will make the structural materials radioactive. The radioactive inventory at shut-down may be comparable to that of a fission reactor, but there are important differences. The half-life of the radioisotopes produced by fusion tends to be less than those from fission, so that the inventory decreases more rapidly. Unlike fission reactors, whose waste remains radioactive for thousands of years, most of the radioactive material in a fusion reactor would be the reactor core itself, which would be dangerous for about 50 years, and low-level waste another 100. Although this waste will be considerably more radioactive during those 50 years than fission waste, the very short half-life makes the process very attractive, as the waste management is fairly straightforward. By 500 years the material would have the same radiotoxicity as coal ash. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Effluents

    Comment by miningawareness | February 7, 2016 | Reply


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