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

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Gethsemani:

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).

Eh, nobody's perfect. Besides, y'all know that even in the event of having a small and weirdly stable and contained sun in here - maybe living only...ohhh...a few hundred years - there would be an effect on the Earth's gravitational field.

01189998819991197253:

Morti:

Major_Tom:

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.

I'm guessing I'm misunderstanding you, because it sounds like you're saying we can't build a fusion bomb? We can. We have. We are. Fusion bombs are part (if not all) of the current arsenal and have been since the 60's, having started development in the 50's.

Or are you thinking of a "Pure Fusion" bomb? With no fission stage?

Morti:

01189998819991197253:

Morti:

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.

I'm guessing I'm misunderstanding you, because it sounds like you're saying we can't build a fusion bomb? We can. We have. We are. Fusion bombs are part (if not all) of the current arsenal and have been since the 60's, having started development in the 50's.

Or are you thinking of a "Pure Fusion" bomb? With no fission stage?

Yes, as compared to a hybrid device using a fission reaction to breed tritium from Lithium, and fuse the results with a deuterium in the physics package. A pure fusion device, meaning one that initiates fusion of (presumably) hydrogen without a fissile stage. In essence it would be a reactor designed to create a single flash, without the blanket or shielding elements. For now, that would be like building a skyscraper, but then, so were the early fission widgets.

Hopefully we'll treat that as we do space based kinetic weapons, and just never open the door to allow it. Otherwise, well, it was nice knowing all of you I guess.

sorsa:
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?

Not much, actually. The bulk of the reactor is the magnets that produce the field containing the plasma, if the casing happened to be compromised then the magnets would warm to room temperature and the field intensity would drop to the point that the plasma would not be under enough pressure to undergo fusion and it would quickly cool down and recombine into ordinary gas.

But assuming it was the reaction chamber itself that was exposed to the environment, what would happen is that the room temperature air would cool the plasma, the only hazard to the researchers would be the resulting ozone and nitrous oxides from the superheated air.

great, now all we need is is a nuclear engineer with a fancy shirt so we can divert our attention to shitgate instead of scientific inventions!

Ukomba:
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?

just look at the video comments. there are people claiming fukoshima radiation literally killed the netire pacific ocean. some people cannot be reasoned with.

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?

probably scortch the chamber its going to be housed in, thats about it. it would cool down very fast outside of containment chamber.

Areloch:

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.

forget about it. the fearmongering already begun. its going to blow up the earth.

Areloch:

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).

From what I've read it's actually something insane like $6 Bn per GWe. As of three years ago, Solar plants cost around 5 times that amount per GWe.

But we have no idea what kind of energy this fusion reactor is actually built to produce. Sure, it's $2 Bn dollars, but if this test reactor that's not really intended to generate mass energy is just going to generate 1 MWe then the cost would be a couple thousand times more expensive. I've seen a few articles where something like 500 MW was hoped to be produced during 16 minutes of a reaction (the current record is just over 6 minutes). But I have no idea how valid that target was. I mean, especially considering that this stellarator is supposed to be able to sustain fusion for upwards of 30 minutes. 1 GWe in an hour would be nuts.

Happyninja42:

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.

No, it just reproduced the fears about the LHC (Unfounded), referred to Nuclear fusion as "Capturing a sun", which I hope to god was a Spiderman reference, otherwise no, it's a similar reaction, but that is not how suns work. It then says it is making a sun, which it is not, it's reproducing the fusion reaction of a sun, it's like saying that my car's motor is "Capturing" a Fuel Air Bomb. Also, stellar means star, not sun, and that matters because a sun is distinct from a star (Before someone tries calling me an idiot for that, all suns are stars, not all stars are suns, and the only people who would refer to this as the power of the sun are being poetic, not scientifically rigorous).

To argue with the article more, as the article itself has pointed out, such devices HAVE been proven to work, they're just not sustainable, and they don't produce significant power, because the fundamental problem is plasma containment. The plasma can't contact the apparatus, and must be magnetically contained, if containment fails, the plasma cools, and can't perform the fusion reaction. Which is exactly why they built this.

It's not the worst Escapist science article, but the only context in which is can be regarded as a good report on current science is in comparison to the other Escapist science articles. At least this one has some basic information, doesn't bury the lede with how cute a tardigrade is, and they googled what a Torus is, which is fun. They brought up Mobius strips for some reason though, so I'm taking off points there. If it's got an even number of twists, it's no longer a Mobius strip. A Mobius strip is interesting because it's a one sided shape, and in the field of topology, it can be used as a fundamental shape to construct other shapes, along with IIRC, a sphere. It's not because it's a twisted loop.

But hey, that's only nitpicking the article (Because it's very short on sources).

People who actually know the story have pointed out:

McKitten:

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.

If you check the actual guys behind the reactor (Who don't get cited here. The citations lead us to two reports based on a Science Magazine interview with some of the people involved: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/350/6259/369.full [It's a pretty good read, and has a lot of information] and the Business Insider one isn't very good either, and there is some obvious plagiarism occurring, which the editor should have caught), the Max Planck Institute (You know, basic Journalistic due diligence, or what they expect of you writing a high school essay, using primary sources), you'll see that this is true. They intend to use the stellarotor to test containment for continuous operation. It is not being used as a reactor. The headline is misleading, the entire article is. They used a microwave pulse to create helium plasma to test the magnetic fields. This is following their electron beam testing to ensure that the magnetic fields are forming as designed (Which is where the supercomputer comes in. Studying Magnetic Fields is basically performing advanced vector calculus in 3-D, and it's likely something that your local University's Maths department has some experience in). They plan to move onto Hydrogen plasma testing, the purpose of the device, next year.

Nowhere do they mention power generation, because tokomaks have shown that we can generate power through nuclear fusion, it's just that containment can't break 7 minutes, and that means that it takes more power to heat the plasma and contain it than you get out, while they're hoping to get around half an hour with the W7-X, which would be a massive, wordlchanging breakthrough, however, the design is a mess to construct, which has so far hampered testing, until now, which is why this is so groundbreaking. This is a fantastic engineering achievement, and it's being buried underneath a bit of doomsaying, a bit of advanced geometry, and a brief history of nuclear fusion (With errors). They used supercomputers to perform advanced calculus to simulate complicated magnetic fields to contain plasma, and whatever software they used (I'm sure that's very interesting too, I'd love to read about it, simulating physics is awesome, and it's fun watching what you can do with fields and calculus in MATLAB alone) allowed them to design a machine capable of doing it, and they built it. It's an engineering marvel, and yeah, it's beautiful as hell, because of exactly what it is, and what it's designed to do.

It deserves better.

While it does warm my hearth to see science make progress this is another Escapist blunder.
The device is merely for testing and it has only been testing if things are operational, they haven't "activated a reactor".

Also this type of reactor doesn't "explode" or run away as the uranium reactors can. The fusion that can me achieved in these magnetic fields operates only on the fringes of functional, very very few atoms actually react during operation.
The conditions for the fusion are both pressure from the magnetic field and heat, if any part of the operation fails they loose pressure and heat so nothing can continue reacting. And the amount of material has been tops 5 grams of gas, even at 100mil K the heat it retains is incredibly small, yes it would melt a panel or two which are no doubt very expensive but it can do little else.
In comparison a fully operational uranium reactor needs to be constantly kept from going out of control, if anything fails there you have several tons of material self-reacting towards an explosion. Which is why they usually have multiple extra cooling pumps always at the ready and run on diesel generators independent of the system, the reason Fukushima Daiichi ran out of control was an after earthquake tsunami destroying near all their generators.

Meanwhile Keshe foundation is making plasma reactors with an empty coke bottle, three copper nails and a few chemicals.

What's next, mainstream Science? Giving a Bush an award in physics? Trolololololololol.

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