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."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Using the wrong emoji can cost you — literally

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Imagine if an emoji — one casually fired off in a text-message conversation — ended up costing the sender thousands of dollars. Or $3,000, to be exact. That's what happened in Israel recently, after a judge determined that a message containing a string of emojis conveyed clear intent. Source
  • 'Aggressive' coyotes close down Calgary greenspace

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Officials in Calgary have shut down a greenspace in the Panorama Hills area of the city after complaints about aggressive coyotes. Area resident Gavin de Jong, who has young children, says the coyotes seem particularly aggressive this year. Source
  • NASA'S Juno spacecraft finds chaotic weather, massive cyclones over Jupiter's poles

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Once it began skimming the giant gas planet's cloud tops last year, NASA's Juno spacecraft spotted chaotic weather, including enormous cyclones over Jupiter's poles, according to new research. Scientists released their first major findings Thursday. "What we've learned so far is earth-shattering. Source
  • New research reveals what happens when adults learn to read

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Learning to read is hard when you are a kid, and even harder as an adult. New research published Wednesday in Science Advances has revealed what your brain is doing when you learn to read as an adult, and found that brain regions associated with ancient functions are largely responsible for our ability to read. Source
  • Forecasters predict above-normal Atlantic hurricane season

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MIAMI -- Warm ocean waters could fuel an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, while storm-suppressing El Nino conditions are expected to be scarce, U.S. government forecasters said Thursday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast calls for 11 to 17 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes. Source
  • Google AI wins 2nd game against Chinese go champion

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A computer beat China's top player of go, one of the last games machines have yet to master, for a second time Thursday in a competition authorities limited the Chinese public's ability to see. Ke Jie lost despite playing what Google's AlphaGo indicated was the best game any opponent has played against it, said Demis Hassabis, founder of the company that developed the program. Source
  • Honeybee losses in U.S. decline, but some warn too early to celebrate

    Tech & Science CBC News
    There's a glimmer of hope for America's ailing honeybees as winter losses were the lowest in more than a decade, according to a U.S. survey of beekeepers released Thursday. Beekeepers lost 21 per cent of their colonies over last winter, the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey found. Source
  • U.S. honeybee losses improve from horrible to bad

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- There's a glimmer of hope for America's ailing honeybees as winter losses were the lowest in more than a decade, according to a U.S. survey of beekeepers released Thursday. Beekeepers lost 21 per cent of their colonies over last winter, the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey found. Source
  • Russian spies may have backed email phishing campaign in effort to spread disinformation

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A lengthy report by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab details a global espionage campaign involving email phishing attacks and leaked falsified documents. Although there is no "smoking gun" so to speak, there is overlap with previously reported Russian activities, the report released Thursday suggests. Source
  • From phishing to false documents, researchers detail a cyberespionage campaign that points to Russia

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A lengthy report by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab details a global espionage campaign involving email phishing attacks and leaked falsified documents. Although there is no "smoking gun" so to speak, there is overlap with previously reported Russian activities, the report released Thursday suggests. Source