Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Nuclear Fusion

A US lab today has made a step forwards in nuclear fusion research, by actually making a laser-compression style fusion reactor that conclusively released more energy than it absorbed.

That's very significant as a few groups have claimed to have done it before, but none have had the evidence to back it up.  This time, there's actual proof.

However - although it's a massive step forward, it's not a "break even" as some news agencies have claimed - the key phrase is "released more energy than it absorbed".   Less than 50% of the laser's energy makes it to the "hydrogen pellet" target, and the laser emitter, presumably, is loosing energy via heat etc.  So it's still using a lot more power than it's creating, but it's a huge step in the right direction.

What I don't understand is why more effort isn't being put into fusion research. It's a field that would pay such huge dividends when the breakthrough has finally been made.  It's not even like we don't know that the physics works - the sun is a great big ball of nuclear fusion, after all.  And it's not like science hasn't previously made and used devices that created nuclear fusion, although as they were hydrogen bombs, they were rather more just destructive than useful for power generation.  A bit tricky to control too.

My personal suspicion, although I have nothing to back this theory up, is that a combination of pulsed, toroidal magnetic compression and laser compression would get some way towards actual self-sustained fusion generation.




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