Science & Technology
Experiment offers new nuclear fusion hope
By T.K. Randall
May 26, 2021 · 1 comment
Is nuclear fusion the solution to the world's problems ? Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Eye Steel Film
A recent breakthrough in fusion reactor heat dissipation could pave the way for commercial fusion power.
Often seen as the Holy Grail of power generation, nuclear fusion is the same process that produces energy in the Sun and works by fusing hydrogen nuclei together to create helium.
Unlike nuclear fission which comes with the inherent risk of a meltdown, fusion is much cleaner and safer while the hydrogen fuel used by the process is so abundant that it is practically limitless.
Physicists have been attempting to build a working nuclear fusion reactor for the purpose of energy generation for over 60 years, however success has always remained tantalizing out of reach.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the dissipation of the intense heat produced by fusion reactions - limiting the potential of nuclear fusion to produce sustainable power.
Now though, a new experiment at the Mast (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) Upgrade nuclear fusion experiment in Oxfordshire, England has provided a spark of hope for a solution to this problem.
To dissipate the heat, scientists used a special exhaust system known as a Super-X divertor which is ten times more effective than previous systems and could help components last much longer.
The development has been described as a "game-changer".
"We built Mast Upgrade to solve the exhaust problem for compact fusion power plants, and the signs are that we've succeeded," said project lead scientist Dr Andrew Kirk. "Super-X reduces the heat on the exhaust system from a blowtorch level down to more like you'd find in a car engine."
"This could mean it would only have to be replaced once during the lifetime of a power plant."
While the promise of cheap, clean, limitless energy through nuclear fusion always seems to be a couple of decades away, perhaps, at last, this is the critical breakthrough that we've been waiting for.
Source: BBC News
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