Japan’s renovated facility scientifically supports the even larger fusion power plant test reactor to be built in Europe.
Fusion power is progressing slowly, but it is hoped that it will eventually revolutionize the world’s energy production.
The step was taken when in Japan was officially put into use at the beginning of December the largest fusion power plant in the world so far.
That’s it the Naka experimental power plant located to the north is more than fifteen meters high. Its interior has a ring-shaped space with a vacuum. The extremely hot fusion plasma is controlled by superconducting magnets in the ring.
In the new reactor was already given birth plasma, of course for ten seconds. The goal is to eventually control the plasma for about a hundred seconds. The achievement was already that there was more plasma in the Japanese reactor than before.
Power station JT-60SA is a refurbished reactor that operated for years starting in the 1980s. The reactor is an experimental plant, because fusion reactors still have a long way to go for electricity production. Experimental power plants do not aim to produce electricity. The goal is to get the facility to operate in a controlled manner.
Fusion power the difficulty is that the reactor aims to control the plasma, which is hotter than the core of the Sun. The temperature of the plasma in a fusion reactor can be well over a hundred million degrees, even 200–300 million.
This kind of heat is needed for hydrogen isotopes to combine into helium and produce energy. In the Sun, fusion starts at a lower temperature because of the tremendous pressure inside the star.
On Earth, a powerful burst of energy is first needed to initiate fusion.
In fusion particles of the nucleus of the atom, neutrons, are released, which are present in different amounts in the isotopes.
The ejected neutrons heat the mantle around the reactor, where steam is generated. It spins turbines, which in turn spin generators – if we’re talking about a reactor that ever produces electricity.
A fusion power plant also produces steam as one solution, like a traditional nuclear power plant based on the fission of the uranium nucleus.
The challenge is to keep the enormous hot plasma under control with magnets so that it does not touch the walls of the chamber as well. No material could withstand that.
The new reactor uses two isotopes of hydrogen, i.e. ordinary hydrogen and deuterium, he reminds Bulletin of the Max Planck Research Institute. Normal hydrogen has no neutrons, while deuterium has one.
In theory, the most effective would be to fuse deuterium and tritium with two neutrons, in order to obtain energetic neutrons more easily. However, tritium is clearly the rarest of the isotopes in nature, and should be produced for future reactors.
Now the commissioned reactor is a joint project between Japan and the European Union. Institute scientifically supported of a larger plant to be built in southern France. The broad joint project is known by an acronym Iter.
The European power plant was initially promised to start up in 2025but schedule has been uncertain. The facility has been delayed for yearsand the expenditure estimate has at the same time greatly increased from the estimates in the initial phase.
Iter already has the reputation of being the most expensive scientific project. Even the 27-kilometer-long Cern particle accelerator in Geneva cost less.
Iter may be operational in the middle of the next decade. Fusion power plants that generate electricity can perhaps be realized when Iter shows that the technology works. Test facility target is to produce ten times the amount of energy needed to start the fusion.
Published in Tiede magazine 1/2024.
Correction January 15 at 11:15: Removed the word fusion plasma from the title. This is a test power plant.
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