Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fusion reactor halfway completed

During rough times for alternative energy, it's nice to read a bit of good news.

The world is about halfway towards having its first fusion reactor. 

Being built in Cadarache, France, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) will spin plasma that is ten times hotter than the Sun with magnets colder than interstellar space.

Nuclear fusion is what powers the stars. Atomic particles fuse together to form heavier nuclei, for example, tritium and deuterium fuse to form helium. This creates tremendous amounts of energy, far more than our current fission reactors which split nuclei and create hazardous waste.

Whenever I hear the claim that we're close to fusion, I can't help but be skeptical. I was studying physics at the time the whole Pons and Fleischmann debacle occurred.

Yes, at one point I wanted to be a physicist. Then I found out I'm really awful at math and the wind pretty much went right out of those sails. But I digress...

Since fusion takes place in the cores of stars, it goes without saying that it's a nuclear process that requires extraordinary levels of heat. In 1989, two men named Pons and Fleischmann claimed to have done it at room temperature. That turned out not to be the case and all the buzz generated ended in a whisper followed by evaporation into obscurity. I know that ITER is not the same thing, but I'm still leery. At least the proponents behind ITER are realistic in saying that it will be a long while before fusion can affordably provide enough power to the public at-large.

Still, it'd be nifty as heck to see fusion reactors actually become viable. I also don't think it's any coincidence that ITER is being built outside the United States.

Doesn't look like we'll be leading the way to clean energy any time soon.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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