On November 24, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research fusion reactor (KSTAR) set a new operating record, running at over a million degrees Celsius for twenty seconds. While this might seem like a less-than-useful amount of time to have run the high-tech facility at peak temperature, this 20-second uptime is more than
Defense contractor Lockheed Martin was recently awarded a patent for a novel design of compact nuclear fusion reactor, a device presumably small enough to be housed in a standard shipping container. According to earlier promotional material released by the company, the reactor’s compact design could be used not only for commercial energy-generating applications, but also incorporated into ocean-going ships and aircraft to vastly extend the vehicles’ ranges. In terms of generating electricity for commercial use, the device could also be used to replace not only nuclear waste-producing fission reactors, but also fossil fuel-based electrical generators, dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of our civilization’s thirst for energy.
A joint team of researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems is predicting that they will have a viable nuclear fusion reactor generating electricity and attached to the electrical grid within the next fifteen years.
A recent breakthrough in superconductor technology that involves the use of steel tape coated with a compound called yttrium-barium-copper oxide (YBCO) allows reactor designers to shrink the size of the magnets that contain the super-hot plasma fuel within the reactor, making them more powerful, and thus lowering the amount of energy required to run the reactor.
A new experimental fusion reactor built by the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Germany received a brief test run on February 3, bringing the promise of clean and sustainable fusion-generated power one step closer to reality.
This new reactor, called the Wendelstein 7-X, is a doughnut-shaped, 425-ton device, made up of a series of winding magnetic segments. The reactor was test-fired using helium last December, since helium is easier to convert to plasma than hydrogen (the intended fuel for a fusion reaction), and helium plasma can clean the interior of the plasma chamber of any dust left over from the unit’s construction.