Fusion Reactor Ready To Light New Path To Clean Energy?

Most people these days have probably at least heard of fusion– a proposed way to generate electricity by using heat from nuclear fusion reactors, combining two atomic nuclei to form a heavier nucleus while releasing energy.  While the concept has long remained the darling of science fiction and scientific research, it has of yet failed to bear fruit. 

A research lab in Germany is working to advance fusion technology and evaluate the main components of a future fusion power plant in its development of the Wendelstein 7-X.  This machine is a stellarator, the largest of its kind and costing over €1 billion.  The strangely twisted device is a 16-meter-wide ring of metal studded with odd devices and mysterious cables that lead off in all directions. 


Inside lies 50 6-ton non-planar and 20 planar magnetic coils which create a magnetic field that prevents plasma from colliding with the inside of the reactor.  The plasma itself flows with a temperature of 60-130 megakelvin (10.8 to 23.4 billion degrees F; 60 million to 13 billion degrees C).  The coils wind around a cooling device which creates enough liquid helium to cool down the magnets and their enclosure to 4 kelvin (-452° F; -269° C).  Those are some extreme temperatures, to be sure. 

While stellarators are expensive, hard to build, and may look like something out of a Dali painting, they do have their benefits.  Once started, they should be able to run steadily and reliably and are not tormented by the potentially metal-bending magnetic disruptions of other fusion devices. 

It is expected that the Wendelstein 7-X will be able to reach 30 minutes of continuous plasma discharge in 2021. 

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AJ has been writing ever since he could first hold a pencil, and hasn't really slowed down since. Previously working as an editor and ghostwriter (he still does those things, actually), these days he's putting his keyboard to good use at multiple tech websites.