World's largest fusion device goes back to work

Sep 05, 2011
World's largest fusion device goes back to work

September is commonly the month where things begin to gather pace again, and in the world of fusion energy research, things are no different. European scientists working on the Joint European Torus (JET), the world's largest magnetic confinement fusion device, are about to embark on the first round of experiments following a 22-month period where the device was out of action whilst being upgraded and commissioned.

JET's researchers are investigating the potential of power as a safe, clean, and virtually limitless energy source for future generations. The research is coordinated under the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA), signed by all 27 Member States as well as Switzerland. The JET project forms part of the preparatory stages leading to preparation for (ITER) operation.

ITER, funded in part by the European Commission as part of the 'Fusion energy research' Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) under the Treaty of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), is an international research and engineering project currently building the world's largest and most advanced experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor in Cadarache, France. The ITER project aims to make the transition from the study of to building full-scale electricity-producing plants.

Fusion power is the attempt to mirror the process of energy release when light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier atoms. This process takes place in stars; scientists hope that it can be replicated in fusion power plants on Earth. In a fusion reactor, nuclei of hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium fuse at high temperatures and produce helium and high-energy neutrons. A commercial power station would use the heat generated by the neutrons when slowed down by denser material, to generate electricity. In addition, fusion reactions take place when temperatures exceed 100 million degrees.
Scientists claim the fusion power process produces no greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste.

JET, which is kept at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the United Kingdom, is the only machine capable of operating with the deuterium-tritium fuel mixture that will be used in ITER and commercial fusion power stations.

During JET's extended leave of absence from experiments, it was equipped with a completely new 'ITER-Like Wall', and it will be the first fusion machine to test materials that will be used as part of ITER. Scientists removed and replaced approximately 86,000 components, largely using remote handling technology. The inside of the vessel is now made up of beryllium and tungsten tiles. Beryllium is being used in the main wall, whereas tungsten, with its high melting point, is being used for the exhaust component known as the 'diverter' that has to withstand high heat flux.

Lorne Horton, head of EFDA's JET Department, comments: 'The coming experiments will aim to verify that the wall materials chosen for ITER will behave as expected.'

EFDA Leader Francesco Romanelli comments on the JET upgrade work: 'This is probably the largest effort that has been put into JET apart from the construction of the machine itself. With the expertise and contribution of many fusion laboratories, the JET team has succeeded in building a small ITER. We had a very good start with high purity plasmas readily established in ITER relevant conditions - a promising sign for the use of these wall materials in ITER.'

The other improvement carried out during this veritable 'fusion MOT' is a 50 % increase in the heating power. With the extra power, JET will achieve higher plasma temperatures and approach ITER conditions. New diagnostics and control systems, developed by the EFDA associate laboratories, will allow for deeper investigation into the scientific challenges ahead in ITER.

Maximos Tsalas, a scientist who previously worked on the JET project, was in the control room on 24 August as scientists gathered to watch the grand unveiling of JET since its upgrade and to see whether it would produce its first plasma since the installation of the new ITER-Like Wall. "I left JET more than a year ago. Coming back, the developments I see are amazing. JET has become a brand new machine. I feel extremely privileged to take part in the first set of experiments. The coming campaign will be very challenging, and we are all eager to see how the new systems perform and to learn how to operate with the new wall. JET will be progressively brought up to full power to allow a proper investigation of the ITER materials under conditions approaching those of ITER," he comments.

Remarkably, the first plasma with the new ITER-Like Wall lasted 15 seconds - much to the surprise of scientists. Peter Lomas, Head of Plasma Operations, comments: "We got plasma with no impurities and we got it on the first attempt. We were prepared to struggle, but we just did what we normally do with the old carbon wall. And that is the surprise."

Guy Matthews, leader of the ITER-Like Wall project, says: "Our first impression from spectroscopy is that the plasma was very clean. We got a really impressive result, given the large volume of new components."

Explore further: Flatland, we hardly knew ye: Unique 1-D metasurface acts as polarized beam splitter, allows novel form of holography

More information: JET: www.jet.efda.org/

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antialias_physorg
4.8 / 5 (9) Sep 05, 2011
Good job. Looking forward to seeing this in 'continuous' operation. 15 seconds might not seem long, but in fusion research terms that is an eternity.

Scientists claim the fusion power process produces no greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste.

Well, here is one (small) niggle: While the process itself produces no long-lived radioactive waste there is some. The walls of the machine get bombarded with high energy photons which do turn some of it into long-term radioactive waste (i.e. as with fission reactors you need to dismantle and dispose of the entire inner part of the powerplant after its lifecycle is over.)

Still: that is much less waste than with fission.
eachus
5 / 5 (8) Sep 05, 2011
Well, here is one (small) niggle: While the process itself produces no long-lived radioactive waste there is some. The walls of the machine get bombarded with high energy photons which do turn some of it into long-term radioactive waste (i.e. as with fission reactors you need to dismantle and dispose of the entire inner part of the powerplant after its lifecycle is over.)

Still: that is much less waste than with fission.


Beryllium has just one stable isotope, Be9. Some Be10 with a very long half life is formed by cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Beryllium is used for windows in X-ray tubes because it has a very low absorption rate for high energy photons. The thick beryllium plates being used in the first wall at JET and ITER will mostly slow down X-rays without reacting with them.

What about neutrons? If beryllium is stuck by a non thermal neutron, it splits into two He4 nuclei and two neutrons.

So the Beryllium will not become radioactive.
Callippo
1.5 / 5 (16) Sep 05, 2011
It's the brute force approach, which will be replaced with cold fusion soon. In addition, the hot fusion will make whole construction of tokamak radioactive fast because of presence of fast neutrons. It's factory for expensive radioactive waste production. These investments are waste of money.
89118a
2 / 5 (6) Sep 05, 2011
Not a waste of money as we gain valuable scientific knowledge and experience. But a waste of energy I would agree. Another killer steam engine is not what this planet needs.
Callippo
1 / 5 (14) Sep 05, 2011
Not a waste of money as we gain valuable scientific knowledge and experience.
Why not to gain scientific experience in cold fusion? The experience with hot fusion is not usable, so its not valuable. It's just drain of money for many private companies involved.
Callippo
1 / 5 (11) Sep 05, 2011
The general problem with hot fusion is, you're required to accelerate the atom nuclei at the high velocity to overcome Coulombic barier. The natural solution would be to surround these positively charged nuclei with envelope of negatively charged particles, which would shield the repulsive barrier in certain extent.

The question is, why not to use the natural atoms for this purpose? I'm pretty sure, the future civilization will call our generation the generation of fools..
rbrtwjohnson
1 / 5 (7) Sep 05, 2011
Genuinely Neanderthal, a truly behemoth, ITER is to use a lot of brute force instead of intelligence to get fusion reactions. On the other hand, electrostatic fusion machines such as Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor, Bussard Polywell, and CrossFire Reactor, are elegantly well-designed to use energy more rationally and efficiently to achieve the breakeven point.
Noumenon
4.9 / 5 (49) Sep 05, 2011
Ya, because we should't waste energy in creating fusion reactors.

*sarcasm brought to you by Noumenon.
Parsec
4.1 / 5 (9) Sep 05, 2011
The general problem with hot fusion is, you're required to accelerate the atom nuclei at the high velocity to overcome Coulombic barier. The natural solution would be to surround these positively charged nuclei with envelope of negatively charged particles, which would shield the repulsive barrier in certain extent.

The question is, why not to use the natural atoms for this purpose? I'm pretty sure, the future civilization will call our generation the generation of fools..

The only problem of course with cold fusion is that its completely bogus, perpetuated by frauds and lapped up by fools.
Callippo
1.1 / 5 (9) Sep 05, 2011
It just illustrates the tragicomic situation of contemporary physics, which spends billions if search of hypothetical particles but it denies the existence of megawatt devices without own single peer-revived publication about this process.

http://pesn.com/2...Reactor/

This ignorance is actually worse, than the ignorance of Holy Church regarding finding of Galileo. The people created planes and automobiles, but they didn't change their medieval way of thinking.
hard2grep
5 / 5 (4) Sep 05, 2011
This is great. I want to see them break even; that is all I ask... My only hope is that they can achieve a high enough turn-over that the reaction has a little extra left over.
Deesky
4 / 5 (11) Sep 05, 2011
The people created planes and automobiles, but they didn't change their medieval way of thinking.

Oh, the irony!
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (10) Sep 06, 2011
but it denies the existence of megawatt devices without own single peer-revived publication about this process.

You know what? Build it. Companies don't care whether their product was peer reviewed or not. If it works and makes a profit then that's good enough for them. It is perfectly allowable to bring a product to market that wasn't published in a scientific journal.

But somehow cold fusion never seems to manage to do that. (Or somehow thir proponents never even seem to manage to take their own house off the grid - which would seem like a logical first step for such desktop technoogy)
Paolo_panizaro
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 06, 2011
Cold fusion could well be a fake, but the stakes are so high (Irene reminds us) that it should be worth spending on it a bit more then it actually is. As far as I understand, the technology of cold fusion seems at least promising, though its theory not well understood and not always successful. Can anyone tell me the percentage of R&D spent on cold fusion in comparison with other energy forms?

I apologize for my clumsy English, I am Italian.
rawa1
1 / 5 (7) Sep 06, 2011
You know what? Build it. Companies don't care whether their product was peer reviewed or not.
Physicists don't care, if some Higgs boson or gravitational waves exist, they're building their experiments first, just after they're asking the questions about their meaning. Apparently we are facing the application of double standards in scientific research here.

Why the the research of cold fusion isn't handled in the same way? Is it less important for the future of civilization, than the research of some Higgs boson? What the private companies have to do with it?
dav_i
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 06, 2011
What's the old saying: "Fusion is always 30 years away"?
Re: the argument of cold vs. hot fusion, research must be done into both kinds (science has no discrimination), however hot has been shown to work, cold has not... as of yet.
Pete1983
5 / 5 (8) Sep 06, 2011
Amazing comments. I couldn't find anything that warranted a vote other than 1 or 5. Many comments are thoughtful and understanding, but there is an amazing amount of idiocy related to cold fusion.

To the cold fusion brigade who seems to think ITER is a waste of money -

We ALL want cold fusion. I think I first began discussing it with my father when I was 6 or so. I've been dreaming the day would one day come that cold fusion would work. It hasn't come. Cold fusion, at this point in time, is a pipe dream. Maybe we'll get lucky somewhere along the way, but we have no indication as yet that cold fusion is even possible AT ALL.

Fusion on the other hand is theoretically possible, just really really really hard to get going. THIS is where our support should be, because it actually has a chance of working.
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Sep 08, 2011
Callipo and Rawa are the same person, originally known as Zephyr.

Ethelred
rawa1
1 / 5 (3) Sep 08, 2011
Cold fusion, at this point in time, is a pipe dream
Sorry, physics is about experiments and experiments always goes first. These experiments were never attempted to replicate in peer-reviewed journal, so it has no meaning to theorize about them.

http://www.lenr-c...xces.pdf

Without replication its just another refusal to have look through Galileo telescope. What the mainstream physicists are afraid of? Why just the amateurs are attempting to replicate it?

http://energycata...eat.html
Azpod
not rated yet Sep 11, 2011
Cold fusion experiments in 2009 demonstrated the proof that fusion is going on: fast neutrons.

http://www.newsci...ion.html

Does that mean that we'll have cold fusion reactors in our basements someday? Maybe, but I doubt it will be in our lifetime. Cold fusion is hard to replicate because it relies on a precise arrangement of deuterium atoms in the rods of platinum or palladium used in the reaction chamber. If the atoms are too close or far apart, they can't reach the energies needed to react with each other. It may be decades before we have the atomic-scale engineering technology in place to create reliable cold fusion reactors.

Also, creating a cold fusion reactor isn't the only thing you need. You also need to find a way to use the reactor to generate electricity, and if cold fusion doesn't produce a high enough energy flux, doing so economically will prove quite difficult.