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  1. #1

    Nuclear Fusion on the Distant Horizon?!

    Just noticed there is actual movement in the race toward Nuclear Fusion:
    https://www.newscientist.com/article...usion-reactor/

    There are several groups that are targeting igniting the first, sustainable fusion reactions in 5-10 years. The carrot always seems out in front of the proverbial donkey.
    I haven't seen the science on this to know that there is a predicted trigger/catalyst point for a sustained fusion reaction, and if these 'new' magnets are theoretically going to help them attain that trigger, much like a predicted energy threshold in the search for the Higgs Boson, you don't know till you get there.

    It is still a long road till we get to Marty McFly's Mr. Fusion.

    BTW, not sure if this note belonged here or in the Astronomy Buff's Forum (after all, it is the power of the Sun..).

    Larry
    DevilHorse

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
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    (It can be its own topic!)

    Isn't fusion always 15 or 20 years out?

    I remember reading about the Princeton Tokamak reactor in the 80s being just a decade or two away.

    On the other hand, it would be the greatest revolution in energy since Prometheus stole fire.

    -jk

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Washington, D.C.

    Well

    Quote Originally Posted by -jk View Post
    (It can be its own topic!)

    Isn't fusion always 15 or 20 years out?

    I remember reading about the Princeton Tokamak reactor in the 80s being just a decade or two away.

    On the other hand, it would be the greatest revolution in energy since Prometheus stole fire.

    -jk
    In basketball terms, it's a decade or two away from being a decade or two away.

  4. #4
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    Nov 2007
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    Vermont
    Good article in the paper today. The MIT group claims they have a design that will be commercially viable (we'll see). The European structure is enormous...they claim their magnet can llift an aircraft carrier...so if the fusion is a bust, at least they can go around hoisting aircraft carriers.

  5. #5
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by -jk View Post
    (It can be its own topic!)

    Isn't fusion always 15 or 20 years out?

    I remember reading about the Princeton Tokamak reactor in the 80s being just a decade or two away.

    On the other hand, it would be the greatest revolution in energy since Prometheus stole fire.

    -jk
    Relevant XKCD (https://xkcd.com/678/)

  6. #6
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    Lynchburg, VA
    Quote Originally Posted by budwom View Post
    Good article in the paper today. The MIT group claims they have a design that will be commercially viable (we'll see). The European structure is enormous...they claim their magnet can llift an aircraft carrier...so if the fusion is a bust, at least they can go around hoisting aircraft carriers.
    I like it. If we canít make fusion commercially viable, creating S.H.I.E.L.D. is a strong fallback plan.

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    Durham, NC
    Quote Originally Posted by -jk View Post
    (It can be its own topic!)

    Isn't fusion always 15 or 20 years out?

    -jk
    When I was a Senior I wrote a paper about alternative energy. I cited some articles that claimed commercial fusion power should be available within 20 years. That was 1981.

    Howard

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by MChambers View Post
    In basketball terms, it's a decade or two away from being a decade or two away.
    In the words of State fans everywhere:

    "Wait till next year"

  9. #9
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    Nov 2007
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    and it was right after World War II that power companies said that nuclear power would be too cheap to meter...d'oh!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
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    Raleigh, NC
    Quote Originally Posted by budwom View Post
    Good article in the paper today. The MIT group claims they have a design that will be commercially viable (we'll see). The European structure is enormous...they claim their magnet can llift an aircraft carrier...so if the fusion is a bust, at least they can go around hoisting aircraft carriers.
    Do they qualify for America's Got Talent? Lifting an aircraft carrier would seem to be a sure winner.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by budwom View Post
    and it was right after World War II that power companies said that nuclear power would be too cheap to meter...d'oh!
    Who could have foreseen the problem with meltdowns and storing nuclear waste for thousands of years?

  12. #12
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    I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya
    Quote Originally Posted by PackMan97 View Post
    Who could have foreseen the problem with meltdowns and storing nuclear waste for thousands of years?
    They planned on using Chapel Hill but Jesse Helms was too powerful.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by dudog84 View Post
    They planned on using Chapel Hill but Jesse Helms was too powerful.
    Doubt that, from what I recall Helms wasn't the exactly a fan of UNC.

  14. #14
    Join Date
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    I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya
    Quote Originally Posted by PackMan97 View Post
    Doubt that, from what I recall Helms wasn't the exactly a fan of UNC.
    Quite literal tonight, aren't we?

  15. #15
    Some interesting comments in the thread..

    I note that there is a difference between 1) proving a viable fusion reaction can occur and 2) making such a thing available even on a small scale. Probably a big gap as making these huge magnets (to hold the very high temperature plasma) are probably not easy to manufacture. I expect that there are significant issue that must be overcome to scale such a thing up to produce electricity for a community. Remember, you are just producing heat here; what does the heat have to do to create electricity? Produce steam to power turbines, etc.. which is still fairly old technology. Steam is also corrosive to pipes. <just spitballing that part>.

    This is a very different nuclear reaction than fission, which is a chain reaction; fusion is not a chain reaction. The sun may do it on a large scale, but I doubt that we have similar mechanisms of feeding Hydrogen in huge amounts into superheated regions planned; all kinds of fuel can be used for fusion, but Hydrogen is probably the lowest temperature fuel. This has to be controlled just over thresholds, otherwise.. goodbye to the experimental equipment (and perhaps the scientists) [bad things happen when superconductors "quench".. read on]. The fuel is plentiful, not so much the other things.

    If you're not interested in some of physics that contributes to fusion, and some general theory, you can stop here..

    We all know about MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) devices (renamed from the original name of the phenomenon Nuclear Magnetic Resonance [NMR] discovered by Purcell who won the 1952 Nobel Prize). This is all made possible by the necessary magnetism produced by macroscopic quantum effects that have limited scalability. Fritz London (of Duke, I'm sure you all attended [or maybe not] the London Lecture given annually in the Physics, Bio, or Chem auditoriums depending on the fame of the speaker), theorized about 2 types of macroscopic quantum properties: superfluidity and superconductivity. MRI requires controllable magnetism on a large scale. Yes, you can get large magnets, cooled by water, to do some NMR; but the magnets have to be close to each other (magnetism, like gravity, is a 1/r^2 force) so putting something large like a head or plasma between large magnets requires big magnetic fields. Natural magnets are just not strong, so you need something large and controllable; that is, electromagnets! If you tried the types of currents you need for NMR/MRI and only used copper coils, and cooled it with water, you would melt the copper wires before getting near the level of magnetism you need. The only way we that we can do MRI with magnetic fields to iggjle (that's scientific jargon I'm sure you can appreciate) your nuclei [what happens in MRI], and you only can get that with superconductors which have to be cooled to liquid helium temperatures (I know, more than you wanted to know). My point is that the Superconducting current also has a limit on the amount of current you can put in before it "quenches", which means it will break down (a.k.a., heat up) and boil off the Helium in an event! So you can't MRI a whale (or maybe you can, but you get the point). Things do not scale larger easily. <just prattling here>. Similar types of engineering difficulties might await fusion once a sustainable reaction has been proven.

    [an aside, higher temperature superconductor, that do not require Liquid Helium, exist, but are not yet viable/dependable for use.., especially in a need that is reliable like MRI (human inside) or Fusion Reactor (millions of $ at stake) ]

    Believe it or not, the NJ Tokomak Fusion device, which is very high temperature, uses well insulated superconducting (i.e., 4 degree Kelvin Helium) wires to create its magnetic field. I haven't seen information on the specs for this new big magnet delivered this month in Europe. Same issues of physics apply to those magnets.

    When they searched for the Higgs Boson, they did not know the Mass/Energy of it. It was theoretical. It required a lot of looking at different energies in a range at the Large Hadron Collider (at CERN) before they found it. So hopefully they have a target temperature, and other parameters, in mind with the new experiments, so that their present theories can be probed with their new experimental set-ups.

    If they start to Fuse water in Princeton, there is plenty of it in the nearby Passaic river (thanks to Ida), they can start there!!

    Larry
    DevilHorse

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