Scientists to inject hydrogen into fusion device

GREIFSWALD, Germany - Scientists in northeast Germany were poised to flip the switch Wednesday on an experiment they hope will advance the quest for a clean and safe form of nuclear power.

See Full Article

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald planned to inject a tiny amount of hydrogen and heat it until it becomes a super-hot gas known as plasma, mimicking conditions inside the sun.

It's part of a world-wide effort to harness nuclear fusion, a process in which atoms join at extremely high temperatures and release large amounts of energy.

Advocates acknowledge that the technology is probably many decades away, but argue that - once achieved - it could replace fossil fuels and conventional nuclear fission reactors.

Construction has already begun in southern France on ITER, a huge international research reactor that uses a strong electric current to trap plasma inside a doughnut-shaped device long enough for fusion to take place. The device, known as a tokamak, was conceived by Soviet physicists in the 1950s and is considered fairly easy to build, but extremely difficult to operate.

The team in Greifswald, a port city on Germany's Baltic coast, is focused on a rival technology invented by the American physicist Lyman Spitzer in 1950. Called a stellarator, the device has the same doughnut shape as a tokamak but uses a complicated system of magnetic coils to achieve the same result.

The Greifswald device should be able to keep plasma in place for much longer than a tokamak, said Thomas Klinger, who heads the project.

"The stellarator is much calmer," he said in a telephone interview. "It's far harder to build, but easier to operate."

Known as the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, or W7-X, the 400-million-euro ($435-million) device was first fired up in December using helium, which is easier to heat. Helium also has the advantage of "cleaning" any minute dirt particles left behind during the construction of the device.

David Anderson, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin who isn't involved in the project, said the project in Greifswald looks promising so far.

"The impressive results obtained in the startup of the machine were remarkable," he said in an email. "This is usually a difficult and arduous process. The speed with which W7-X became operational is a testament to the care and quality of the fabrication of the device and makes a very positive statement about the stellarator concept itself. W7-X is a truly remarkable achievement and the worldwide fusion community looks forward to many exciting results."

While critics have said the pursuit of nuclear fusion is an expensive waste of money that could be better spent on other projects, Germany has forged ahead in funding the Greifswald project, which in the past 20 years has reached (euro)1.06 billion euros if staff salaries are included. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a doctorate in physics, is expected to attend Wednesday's event, which happens to be in her constituency.

Over the coming years W7-X, which isn't designed to produce any energy itself, will test many of the extreme conditions such devices will be subjected to if they are ever to generate power, said John Jelonnek, a physicists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany.

Jelonnek's team is responsible for a key component of the device, the massive microwave ovens that will turn hydrogen into plasma, eventually reaching 100 million degrees Celsius (212 million Fahrenheit).

Compared to nuclear fission, which produces huge amounts of radioactive material that will be around for thousands of years, the waste from nuclear fusion would be negligible, he said.

"It's a very clean source of power, the cleanest you could possibly wish for. We're not doing this for us, but for our children and grandchildren."


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Here's how to protect your privacy on Facebook

    Tech & Science CTV News
    As Facebook takes heat after it was disclosed that a U.K.-based company improperly obtained data from 50 million users, now’s a great time to look over your Facebook account’s privacy settings. But first, some background. Source
  • Alberta suspends caribou protection plan, asks for assistance from Ottawa

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Alberta is suspending portions of its draft plan to protect threatened woodland caribou, saying more research needs to be done and that Ottawa needs to help out. Environment Minister Shannon Phillips told the house Monday that the province is acting on concerns about the economic impacts of the protection plan. Source
  • BlackBerry says new software bridge to Microsoft products will increase security

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BlackBerry Ltd. is launching a new way to enhance the security of commonly-used Microsoft Corp. cloud and mobility software in response to increased customer awareness of the need to protect sensitive information. The two companies jointly announced Monday that they've collaborated on a software bridge between Microsoft's suite of applications and BlackBerry's highly-secure operating environment for enterprises. Source
  • Uber halts self-driving test in Toronto after Arizona pedestrian death

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Uber said Monday it has paused its testing of autonomous cars, including in Toronto, after a pedestrian fatality overnight in Tempe, Ariz. A spokesperson for Uber Canada confirmed the company has halted tests in San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto. Source
  • Notorious Russian online troll farm also took swipes at Canadian targets

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The same Russian online troll farm that meddled in the U.S. presidential election has also taken swipes at Canadian targets, including the country's oil infrastructure and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Evidence is embedded in data made publicly available through investigations in the United States, where congressional probes have been examining Russian information campaigns following the 2016 presidential election. Source
  • Cigar-shaped interstellar visitor likely came from 2-star system

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Our interstellar visitor last fall likely came from a two-star system. That's the latest from astronomers who were amazed by the mysterious cigar-shaped object, detected as it passed through our inner solar system. Source
  • 5G wireless telecommunication corridor slated for Ontario, Quebec

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec are partnering with some of the world's digital heavyweights to usher in the next generation of wireless technology. A $400-million, public-private investment will create a 5G wireless corridor through Canada's two largest provinces, which will support the growing network of physical devices, vehicles and other objects that are increasingly communicating directly with each other. Source
  • Robots break new ground in construction industry

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- As a teenager working for his dad's construction business, Noah Ready-Campbell dreamed that robots could take over the dirty, tedious parts of his job, such as digging and levelling soil for building projects. Source
  • Century-old shipwreck found in Lake Erie, 8 died in sinking

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOLEDO, Ohio -- Shipwreck hunters say they've discovered the remains of a steamer that sank in Lake Erie over a century ago and left eight people dead. The National Museum of the Great Lakes says the wreck is several miles off the Ohio shore near Lorain, about 48 kilometres west of Cleveland. Source
  • Alberta First Nation fears for bison herd if mega oilsands mine opens

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Dene elder Roy Ladouceur's voice grows quiet as his eyes settle on a cellphone photo of a bison slaughtered by poachers. The animal from the Ronald Lake herd, which grazes in the boreal forest between Fort McMurray and the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, has been decapitated, its body left to waste away in blood-splattered snow. Source