Scientists Take One Giant Step Closer to Fusion Energy

Scientists Take One Giant Step Closer to Fusion Energy

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[Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Scientists could finally have the key ingredient for producing nuclear fusion. Engineers at MIT set a new world record for plasma pressure at 2.05 atmospheres.

The previous record was 1.77 atmospheres, and both records were set at the Alcator C-Mod reactor at MIT.

For decades, nuclear fission reactors seemed like our only option given that fusion reactions only took place on the sun. However, being able to duplicate a plasma pressure comparable to that of the sun’s could mean nuclear fusion reactors can eventually be used for clean energy. Increased pressures mean increased reaction rates, and these studies could show we’re getting closer to a reactor that’s finally technologically viable.

“This is a remarkable achievement that highlights the highly successful Alcator C-Mod program at MIT,” said physicist Dale Meade of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, who wasn’t involved in the experiments, in an interview with Science Alert.

“The record plasma pressure validates the high-magnetic-field approach as an attractive path to practical fusion energy.”

[Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Researchers had to turn the reactor up to 65 million degrees Fahrenheit (35 million degrees Celsius). That’s over twice as hot as the Sun’s core temperature of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (17 million degrees Celsius). This temperature produced 300 trillion fusion reactions per second, and the reactions lasted two seconds.

The MIT team is elated with their discovery. They said pressure levels are “two-thirds of the challenge” in producing viable nuclear fusion reactions.

Scientists have long hoped that fusion would provide the clean, safe and unlimited energy power the world needs. Unlike nuclear fission reactions, there’s no chance of a meltdown given that fusion combines the atoms and doesn’t produce waste.

The only difficult part? Duplicating a star’s fusion power in a limited laboratory setting. According to Science Alert, the Alcator C-Mod which was instrumental in setting two plasma pressure records, will be put out to pasture after 23 years of usage. There’s hopes to construct a larger machine in France, one that could become the world’s biggest nuclear fusion model.

Via MIT, Science Alert