Germany Just Activated the Largest Ever Fusion Reactor and We're All Still Alive

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Germany Just Activated the Largest Ever Fusion Reactor and We're All Still Alive

On Thursday, December 10th, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany fired up a monstrous machine capable of containing a small sun.

19 years after construction began, with 1.1 billion dollars spent and 1.1 million hours worked, the Wendelstein 7-X is ready to capture a sun.

The Wendestein, or W7-X is a type of nuclear fusion reactor called a stellarator. Note the root word there: stellar - this thing is making and harvesting a sun. It is the largest and most complex machine of its kind ever built, and its modern-art-like design was conceived with the help of a supercomputer.

Nuclear fusion could, the theory goes, become the most efficient and clean energy sources our planet has ever seen, but no such device has ever proved to work. The closest cousin to a stellarator, the tokamak, has been built hundreds of times, but has some key weaknesses. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics see the stellarator as an immense step forward in nuclear fusion technology.

The generators work by containing super-heated plasma within a circular cage by magnets fields. The magnets are super-cooled to -270 degrees celsius; the gas that is contained in the machine, flowing by just a metre away from magnet-lined walls, heats to about 100 million degrees.

The design of a tokamak is basically a doughnut shape, or torus. The stellarator, by contrast, flattens and twists the super-heated plasma as it spins through its cage, creating something akin to a mobius strip, or the most nausea-inducing Roller Coaster Tycoon ride I ever built. While a tokamak can only function for minutes at a time before shut down, and cannot produce more energy than it takes to tun it on, the stellarator is expected to work for about 30 minutes at a time thanks its more efficient design.

This is one of the most fascinating cross-sections of science, to me: it took physicists decades to figure out the awe-inspiring task of containing what amounts to a small star using nothing more than powerful magnets; from there, it became a matter of geometry to get the most efficient shape to present itself. And how did we get that shape? A supercomputer.

Any day now, we'll be asking the Last Question for the first time.

Source: Business Insider

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It doesn't contain or harvest a star. It mimics and contains the chain reaction that continually takes place within stars. There's a world of difference between the two.

This was a triumph! I'm making a note here: Huge Success!

OT: Every advancement in nuclear fusion is one that deserves celebration. Hopefully someone will finally crack fusion to make it viable soon.

Ah, there is hope that I might one day live to see a fusion reactor that is actually cost and energy efficient. Maybe.

I enjoyed the reference to The Last Question. Good references to classic, hard sci-fi are always appreciated when it comes to science news.

The reactor itself? It's fascinating but, as always, we need to wait for the results of it's practical application to ascertain whether it is going to be efficient and how it can be improved.

I'm guessing the background research for this article was mostly Spiderman 2.

Thanks for a headline in a "science" section that casts doubt on, and creates fear, about science.

I wonder how much energy is needed to contain that plasma donut. And if one of these devices were to crack open, shit happens, how much damage would the release of a 100 million degree hot plasma cloud cause?

*Cackling* Hol-ee shit that design's ugly as sin. Oh, I'm sure it does all the engineer-y stuff it needs to do, but "art-like?" It looks like a junkyard threw up. Maybe don't leave the making of beautiful and elegant artwork to a goddamn computer, or at least, not to one that isn't tailor-made for it.

On the other hand, it does look like modern art, but most modern art looks pretty atrocious too. Also maybe don't compare something to an artistic style that's supposed to look like a pile of trash, unless you're trying to insult it.

So does this mean we'll have sustainable energy before we get Resource Wars and Super Mutants?
Fusion is cool as all hell.

Was anyone arguing a fusion reactor would destroy the world? I get the fear about the LHC, but how was their fusion reactor supposed to destroy the world?

Saetha:
*Cackling* Hol-ee shit that design's ugly as sin. Oh, I'm sure it does all the engineer-y stuff it needs to do, but "art-like?" It looks like a junkyard threw up. Maybe don't leave the making of beautiful and elegant artwork to a goddamn computer, or at least, not to one that isn't tailor-made for it.

On the other hand, it does look like modern art, but most modern art looks pretty atrocious too. Also maybe don't compare something to an artistic style that's supposed to look like a pile of trash, unless you're trying to insult it.

She'll make point five past lightspeed. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. I've made a lot of special modifications myself.

I'm interested in how exactly this reactor harnesses energy
Is it steam generator or something else?
For example beta fusion reactor is partial steam generator and partial direct generator (according to designers it generates some amount of electricity directly)
My guess would be on mixture of steam generator and "solar" panels, but I may be wrong

Saetha:
*Cackling* Hol-ee shit that design's ugly as sin. Oh, I'm sure it does all the engineer-y stuff it needs to do, but "art-like?" It looks like a junkyard threw up. Maybe don't leave the making of beautiful and elegant artwork to a goddamn computer, or at least, not to one that isn't tailor-made for it.

On the other hand, it does look like modern art, but most modern art looks pretty atrocious too. Also maybe don't compare something to an artistic style that's supposed to look like a pile of trash, unless you're trying to insult it.

You can put anything into glitter covered plastic box
On functional level most tech stuff looks "ugly"
At least for laymen, specialists most probably fap to this image daily

Groovy, hopefully soon we can cut out the Middleman that is Solar Power <_<, nah we'll probably still use solar power but really if you compare it to fusion power it's like cooking eggs by catching the radiation off of a nuclear detonation.

Fusion and Fission; the two primary sources of energy. Fission from Within the Earth, Fusion from Without. Everything else is just a secondary/tertiary/etc form of those two.

This was only the prototype.... The one based on actual alien Craft that's capable of producing more energy than it consumes in containment, is being finalized by Lockheed Martin with an ETA still in the 2020's (so atleast 5 years out). ...which much like Solar power... means another 10 to 20 years of incubation and failures before the technology itself becomes cheap and efficient enough for wide distribution

sorsa:
I wonder how much energy is needed to contain that plasma donut. And if one of these devices were to crack open, shit happens, how much damage would the release of a 100 million degree hot plasma cloud cause?

Barely anything. Fusion isn't Fision. The reaction of Fusion can only happen only very specific circumstances. Any changes to that and the reaction would shut itself down within seconds.

Amaror:

sorsa:
I wonder how much energy is needed to contain that plasma donut. And if one of these devices were to crack open, shit happens, how much damage would the release of a 100 million degree hot plasma cloud cause?

Barely anything. Fusion isn't Fision. The reaction of Fusion can only happen only very specific circumstances. Any changes to that and the reaction would shut itself down within seconds.

100 Million degrees for a few seconds still sounds bad. Just saying.

Kidding aside, this sounds awesome, we could really use a new energy source.

blackrave:
I'm interested in how exactly this reactor harnesses energy
Is it steam generator or something else?
For example beta fusion reactor is partial steam generator and partial direct generator (according to designers it generates some amount of electricity directly)
My guess would be on mixture of steam generator and "solar" panels, but I may be wrong

Turbines, basically. As with almost all power plants, this is supposed to make heat, which runs turbines. The only other electric power plant I am aware of, which isn't supposed to run turbines, are using the photoelectric effect.

They didn't activate it. They just began start-up testing, which in this case means things like pressure checks for the superheated helium.

Redlin5:
So does this mean we'll have sustainable energy before we get Resource Wars and Super Mutants?
Fusion is cool as all hell.

Well, it will just be used as a weapon by the top leading nations. Cause, you know, 2077 is just around the corner. Invest in a Vault today from Vault-Tec. Where nothing suspicious is going on.

Nothing.

Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

So, to be clear, this was just a helium plasma test, right? It wasn't actually a full test that generated anything, right?

Hydrogen plasma to come and succeed hopefully.

EDIT: Looks like the helium plasma lasted for a tenth of a second but managed to produce a million degrees. So certainly a promising start though helium plasma is significantly easier to produce than hydrogen plasma.

Parasondox:
Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Of course, that's how thermonuclear weapons work.

Major_Tom:

Parasondox:
Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Of course, that's how thermonuclear weapons work.

I'm not really sure it could be used in any useful ways. I mean, it's incredibly difficult to sustain plasma even while in a reactor because you have to have constant pressure applied to the plasma (stars' gravity provides this for their plasma) and hte moment that pressure is gone the plasma dissipates. I can't imagine a legitimate bomb or something that could somehow generate and maintain plasma in any meaningful ways that could cause significant damage and especially not with the impact that a nuke or something we already have would do. The cost alone of creating a device that can generate fusion plasma right now is high enough to turn small countries to glass with nukes because of how many more nukes you could buy.

Realistically speaking, if we ever had mini-fusion generators then they would be far more useful at powering the vehicles that deliver the nukes rather than as the nukes themselves.

The truth is that fusion is really safe. Next to other nuclear options that require radioactive material it's bascially the house cat of the feline world whereas radioactive fission is a tiger fused with a cheeta that has a scorpion tail. Sure, a house cat can scratch and bite, but a tiger/cheeta/scorpion hybrid will kill yo ass. It's another reason why it would be an ideal power source because a meltdown of fused hydrogen and helium doesn't mean you get Chernobyl.

Major_Tom:

Parasondox:
Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Of course, that's how thermonuclear weapons work.

Via a completely different method though. Fusion bombs use a fission bomb to superheat and compress hydrogen to the point where it fuses. A rather trivial task compared to the "slow burn" required for power production.

PatrickJS:
Any day now, we'll be asking the Last Question for the first time.

And now I have read The Last Question. Thank you for that. Is this author "Isaac Asimov" new?

Relax. I'm just trolling. Don't ever get angry at the mention of Asimov.

.

Parasondox:

Redlin5:
So does this mean we'll have sustainable energy before we get Resource Wars and Super Mutants?
Fusion is cool as all hell.

Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Fusion POWER, no. Pragmatically, even Fission POWER isn't weaponizable, because of the circumstances inside a reactor.

Obviously Fusion and Fission reactions in a base sense can be weaponized, as @Major_Tom commented, a Fission-Fusion compound reaction is used in thermonuclear weapons, but that, as @Lightknight stated, requires a fission reaction to compress into a fusion reaction. So you're already detonating a nuclear explosion, just the fusion makes it more powerful.

The circumstances inside a reactor, however, are far more fragile and many magnitudes slower than inside a bomb, and sudden changes can cause the reaction to fail and thus stop doing anything, especially in Fusion reactors, where you have to have an astoundingly high pressure system to constrain the plasma to the point a fusion reaction occurs(as the article comments, it requires the plasma to be a hundred million degrees). if that pressure wains, the temperature of the plasma drops below a criticality threshold, and the fusion reaction ceases.

The absolute worst case is the containment fails, and in the few seconds the plasma is still hot, it melts the Torus core the plasma courses through damaging tens or hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment, but outside that nothing would really happen.

Clankenbeard:

PatrickJS:
Any day now, we'll be asking the Last Question for the first time.

And now I have read The Last Question. Thank you for that. Is this author "Isaac Asimov" new?

Relax. I'm just trolling. Don't ever get angry at the mention of Asimov.

.

Now read The Last Answer. <_< also while you're at it read Living Space. Both by Asimov, of course.

sorsa:
I wonder how much energy is needed to contain that plasma donut. And if one of these devices were to crack open, shit happens, how much damage would the release of a 100 million degree hot plasma cloud cause?

The actual mass of plasma inside isn't that high, its electrical charge would dissipate rapidly and while it could cause some issues in terms of heating, the plasma itself isn't radioactive or anything so it wouldn't be too bad I think.

A while ago people came up with "What if the magnetic containment fields ran out of power?" and the maths for that pretty much says "Fuck all". They magnetic compression is required for fusion to take place so the plasma would just interact with the inner surfaces of the reactor which are already built to take a lot of that kind of punishment.

Loonyyy:
I'm guessing the background research for this article was mostly Spiderman 2.

Thanks for a headline in a "science" section that casts doubt on, and creates fear, about science.

Eh, Personally I thought it was a reference to the first atomic bomb, the scientists working on it weren't sure if the temperatures released by the detonation would be able to ignite the nitrogen in the atmosphere in a chain reaction that would burn most of the earth to cinder and leave it an oxygen less, uninhabitable rock.

Parasondox:

Redlin5:
So does this mean we'll have sustainable energy before we get Resource Wars and Super Mutants?
Fusion is cool as all hell.

Well, it will just be used as a weapon by the top leading nations. Cause, you know, 2077 is just around the corner. Invest in a Vault today from Vault-Tec. Where nothing suspicious is going on.

Nothing.

Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Yes and no. We fuse heavy hydrogen in H bombs to increase the power that would be released by uranium or plutonium fission. Aside from that, not really, you can weaponize most anything if you REALLY put your mind to it but Fusion requires exceptionally difficult circumstances to happen, we won't be getting fusion powered laser or plasma guns for a long while yet, and in this case it can pretty much ONLY be a power source.

Lightknight:

Major_Tom:

Parasondox:
Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Of course, that's how thermonuclear weapons work.

I'm not really sure it could be used in any useful ways. I mean, it's incredibly difficult to sustain plasma even while in a reactor because you have to have constant pressure applied to the plasma (stars' gravity provides this for their plasma) and hte moment that pressure is gone the plasma dissipates. I can't imagine a legitimate bomb or something that could somehow generate and maintain plasma in any meaningful ways that could cause significant damage and especially not with the impact that a nuke or something we already have would do. The cost alone of creating a device that can generate fusion plasma right now is high enough to turn small countries to glass with nukes because of how many more nukes you could buy.

Realistically speaking, if we ever had mini-fusion generators then they would be far more useful at powering the vehicles that deliver the nukes rather than as the nukes themselves.

The truth is that fusion is really safe. Next to other nuclear options that require radioactive material it's bascially the house cat of the feline world whereas radioactive fission is a tiger fused with a cheeta that has a scorpion tail. Sure, a house cat can scratch and bite, but a tiger/cheeta/scorpion hybrid will kill yo ass. It's another reason why it would be an ideal power source because a meltdown of fused hydrogen and helium doesn't mean you get Chernobyl.

I'm not sure that's quite right, Fusion produces enough high energy neutrons and other subatomic particles that the inner walls of the reactor become slightly radioactive over time. It's extremely safe, safer even than a Thorium reactor (Which don't melt down if they lose power) but, as with any power source, there are downsides to it. Coal ruins the lungs of people, Oil releases sulphur and other things as well as occasionally spilling everywhere, natural gas sometimes catches on fire and explodes, wind is intermittent, tidal requires specific conditions and can ruin marine and bird habitats, solar requires a lot of space for the power it produces and it doesn't produce much power during the "peak hours" of the morning and evening.

But yeah, I think we could do better off with Fusion power and good battery technology than nearly any other kind of large scale power source. Supplement that with Thorium reactors as backup and Solar for going off the grid or places where it's sensible to build them and humanity should be set for power for a few billion years.

Areloch:

Parasondox:

Redlin5:
So does this mean we'll have sustainable energy before we get Resource Wars and Super Mutants?
Fusion is cool as all hell.

Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Fusion POWER, no. Pragmatically, even Fission POWER isn't weaponizable, because of the circumstances inside a reactor.

Obviously Fusion and Fission reactions in a base sense can be weaponized, as @Major_Tom commented, a Fission-Fusion compound reaction is used in thermonuclear weapons, but that, as @Lightknight stated, requires a fission reaction to compress into a fusion reaction. So you're already detonating a nuclear explosion, just the fusion makes it more powerful.

The circumstances inside a reactor, however, are far more fragile and many magnitudes slower than inside a bomb, and sudden changes can cause the reaction to fail and thus stop doing anything, especially in Fusion reactors, where you have to have an astoundingly high pressure system to constrain the plasma to the point a fusion reaction occurs(as the article comments, it requires the plasma to be a hundred million degrees). if that pressure wains, the temperature of the plasma drops below a criticality threshold, and the fusion reaction ceases.

The absolute worst case is the containment fails, and in the few seconds the plasma is still hot, it melts the Torus core the plasma courses through damaging tens or hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment, but outside that nothing would really happen.

Hopefully the tech will start getting cheaper. 2 billion for this current setup is bonkers. But I don't know how much it would cost to simply recreate the same thing once you had something you knew worked.

Lightknight:

Hopefully the tech will start getting cheaper. 2 billion for this current setup is bonkers. But I don't know how much it would cost to simply recreate the same thing once you had something you knew worked.

Well, the systemic requirements for fusion are a lot harder to acheive than basic fission, so while it'd definitely get cheaper once a standard is in place, I don't imagine it'd get "cheap".

I'd say the bright side is though, that because of how much safer fusion is comparitively, that it'd be a lot easier to get past 'Not in my back yard' syndrome, and we can actually just build the bloody things. Fission reactors are still ludicrously expensive even now, but we're still building them, so if a safer, even more effective alternative came along for roughly the same price, I don't think there'd be much resistance to adopting that in place of fission.

A cursory look on wikipedia shows that Gen 3 reactors actually cost in the 1-5 billion dollar range as-is, so honestly 1 or 2 billion is the low range. If we got efficient at their production because they become the standard, then I'd imagine development cost would sink too, even if only because it wouldn't take 20 years to build a single one once the form factor is standard(Gen 3's look to take about 5-ish years to make currently).

Loonyyy:
I'm guessing the background research for this article was mostly Spiderman 2.

Thanks for a headline in a "science" section that casts doubt on, and creates fear, about science.

Oh please, this is nothing compared to what they used to put up. This is a fair and balanced presentation of the information about the article. There wasn't a single mention of any pop culture evil scientists, or the borg, or any of the other things they usually reference to imply doom and gloom.

Gethsemani:
It doesn't contain or harvest a star. It mimics and contains the chain reaction that continually takes place within stars. There's a world of difference between the two.

It doesn't do that either. W7-X ist not a fusion reactor, it is a plasma containment test device. There will never be any fusion done with it, the point is to test if the stellarator design can efficiently contain plasma. To test that, they create plasma with microwaves and then observe how well the containment field does. If this one works out and the containment field works well enough (and long enough) the next prototype will probably be build with actual fusion in mind.
The reason why this isn't a fusion reactor is that it's far easier and cheaper to test the containment with "artifically" created plasma. No need for radiation shielding, no need for deuterium, etc. And since the biggest challenge of fusion is containing the plasma, not starting fusion, it makes sense to do the research separately.

PatrickJS:
Germany Just Activated the Largest Ever Fusion Reactor and We're All Still Alive

And why wouldn't we be?

I know people were getting their feathers ruffled with all the speculations around the LHD and how it could possibly produce a black hole but no one was worried about a fusion reactor dooming mankind. Fusion is well understood but hard to achieve and maintain. Unlike fission plants, there's no risk of a runaway effect melting down the plant and spewing radioactive material around the world. There's no risk of it accidentally producing a rogue "Element X" that destroys planets.

So why the need for a sensationalizing title?

PatrickJS:
Wendelstein 7-X is ready to capture a sun.

Also, it may be a pet peeve of mine but please don't use the word "sun" when describing a star, unless you're specifically referring to our Sun. The Sun is the name of our star. It's like calling all planets that we spot "earths".

Amaror:

sorsa:
I wonder how much energy is needed to contain that plasma donut. And if one of these devices were to crack open, shit happens, how much damage would the release of a 100 million degree hot plasma cloud cause?

Barely anything. Fusion isn't Fision. The reaction of Fusion can only happen only very specific circumstances. Any changes to that and the reaction would shut itself down within seconds.

That's not really true you know? Catastrophic confinement failure of a full scale reactor would be devastating, and radioactive. It would blow apart the machine, including the breeding blanket and all of its tritium, all of the intermediate radioactive elements... it would be awful. Remember, we're using Tritium-Deuterium fusion right now, so we still have to worry about radioactivity. We're nowhere near achieving breakeven Dt-Dt dusion after all.

The actual explosion would also be pretty vast. You don't need a sustained reaction to do damage. You should look into how long a thermonuclear detonation actually takes, to appreciate how long "Seconds" is. None of this is true for current gen fusion reactors though, which are nothing like a full scale powerplant. One of them blowing up would just be a good old fashioned dirty bomb.

Naldan:

blackrave:
I'm interested in how exactly this reactor harnesses energy
Is it steam generator or something else?
For example beta fusion reactor is partial steam generator and partial direct generator (according to designers it generates some amount of electricity directly)
My guess would be on mixture of steam generator and "solar" panels, but I may be wrong

Turbines, basically. As with almost all power plants, this is supposed to make heat, which runs turbines. The only other electric power plant I am aware of, which isn't supposed to run turbines, are using the photoelectric effect.

There are also TEGs.

Gethsemani:
It doesn't contain or harvest a star. It mimics and contains the chain reaction that continually takes place within stars. There's a world of difference between the two.

Nor is it the largest fusion reactor, it is the largest fusion reactor of the Stellerator design. That's still interesting an exciting, although this article is brutally science-free.

Morti:

Major_Tom:

Parasondox:
Okay I don't know how Fusion Power works. Can it be used as a weapon?

Of course, that's how thermonuclear weapons work.

Via a completely different method though. Fusion bombs use a fission bomb to superheat and compress hydrogen to the point where it fuses. A rather trivial task compared to the "slow burn" required for power production.

If you quickly fuse just a few milligrams of hydrogen into helium in a single flash, you'd have a bomb. Fortunately there is no way to make that happen right now, but there's no reason to assume that will always be the case. A future breakthrough in Muon catalyzed fusion could make a fusion bomb on a vast scale possible too.

Gethsemani:
It doesn't contain or harvest a star. It mimics and contains the chain reaction that continually takes place within stars. There's a world of difference between the two.

Hey, just because it's not Precious Tridium doesn't mean it isn't important. Science isn't about big leaps. Not really. Remember Connections. It's a series of small jumps to REACH a big advancement.

FalloutJack:

Hey, just because it's not Precious Tridium doesn't mean it isn't important. Science isn't about big leaps. Not really. Remember Connections. It's a series of small jumps to REACH a big advancement.

I never said it wasn't important and in my world containing plasma in some high speed loop is freaking awesome. But, this article is grossly misleading about what a Stellarator actually is and does. I mean, we've had Stellarators since the 50's so they are hardly new inventions and they can absolutely not "create and harvest a sun". My point of contention is that this is a science article that obviously was written by someone who doesn't understand science (and I am not much more then a happy layman myself).

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