Nuclear Fusion Reactor In Germany Is Working As It Should, Its Magnetic Field Is Incredibly Accurate

Unlike nuclear fission, the process used for making nuclear energy for decades already, nuclear fusion is a bit trickier to make it work but potentially, nuclear fusion has a potential of providing the whole world with clean energy.

W 7-X layout

Fission, the process in which atoms get smashed, producing extreme amounts of energy while emitting huge amounts of radiation, is the process on which atom bombs work. It’s relatively easy to conduct fission, splitting atoms into smaller neutrons and nuclei, but the radiation is one very dangerous byproduct. Also, if something goes wrong the core used for fission can start melting, heating water used for cooling and generating potential steam explosions. The explosion can destroy the protective coating usually built around the nuclear core, as well as massive amounts of radiation that can be carried by the wind, contaminating large areas, like it happened after Chernobyl nuclear plant suffered a huge accident.

On the other hand, fusion means merging the cores of atoms, also emitting huge amounts of energy, this time without dangerous byproducts like radiation. The problem with fusion is that for it to happen, scorching hot plasma used for fusion must be enclosed in a massive magnetic field, allowing the plasma’s atoms to merge, releasing the energy. It’s the same method happening inside the Sun, and if humans manage to build a working fusion reactor our civilization might finally get an energy source that’s safe, and that can give practically unlimited amounts of energy.

We still can’t construct a fusion reactor able to produce massive amounts of energy, but we are getting closer. Germany switched on a nuclear fission reactor during the last year. The reactor was able to contain scorching plasma and to start the process of nuclear fusion. Despite the success, the scientist didn’t know if the reactor worked properly, especially its extremely strong magnetic field.

Now, after researchers from the US and Germany performed analysis, it has been found that the Wendelstein 7-X (W 7-X) stellarator is producing magnetic fields with “unprecedented accuracy,” completely by the books with an error rate being less than 1 in 100,000. The research has been published in Nature Communications, with  scientist stating that “To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented accuracy, both in terms of the as-built engineering of a fusion device, as well as in the measurement of magnetic topology.”

visualization of the field line on a magnetic surface

The magnetic field is the most important part of a fusion reactor, with its help the scientists can recreate conditions present inside the sun, allowing for the 100 million degree Celsius hot plasma gas to merge its atoms. Although the reactor already successfully controlled helium plasma as well as hydrogen plasma, it is still far away from producing large amounts of energy.

The largest problem at this point is that creating the plasma and maintaining the magnetic field requires huge amounts of energy, with reactors not being able to produce more energy than it requires running the reactor. For instance, the German-made fusion reactor is more of a proof-of-concept that an actual reactor able to create electricity, we are still far from achieving that. But, with enough research, next-generation stellarators could overcome the obstacle of energy creating. For now, the W 7-X is able to trap plasma long enough for the fusion to occur, a massive stepping stone for our journey to clean, unlimited energy.

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