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Power Science

A Step Closer To Cheap Nuclear Fusion 404

Posted by kdawson
from the you-may-feel-a-slight-pinch dept.
ewsnow writes "The Focus Fusion Society reports that the scientists and engineers at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics have finally built an operational Dense Plasma Focus device. While still at less than half power, they were able to achieve a pinch on their device. The small company that Eric Lerner started recently gathered enough funding to start a two-year study on the validity of his theory regarding fusion-inducing plasmoids. If the theory holds, the device will produce more electricity than it consumes. In contrast to the billions of dollars spent on Tokamak fusion (think ITER), LPP is conducting their research on a budget around a million dollars. Yet, if it works, it will provide nuclear fusion with much simpler equipment and much less cost. Eric Lerner and Focus Fusion have been discussed on Slashdot before."
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A Step Closer To Cheap Nuclear Fusion

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  • Fusion? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:31PM (#29785675)

    Sorry but the reaction "H + B -> 3 He" is nuclear fission -- the fission of boron.

    • Re:Fusion? (Score:5, Informative)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:38PM (#29785731) Journal

      It's the fusion of two isotopes.. which later break apart most of the time. A very small part of the time the ecited nucleus does not break apart: B11+H1 => C12 would you call that fusion and B11+H1 => 3He4 fission?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        By your reasoning, the fission of uranium would be fusion because the reaction n + U temporarily creates a heavier nucleus.

        The real reason the AC is wrong is because in the H + B -> 3 He reaction, most of the energy comes from combining H with something, not splitting B.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by wizardforce (1005805)

          By your reasoning, the fission of uranium would be fusion because the reaction n + U temporarily creates a heavier nucleus.

          When two or more isotopes fuse together it is fusion, neutrons are not isotopes of anything.

          The real reason the AC is wrong is because in the H + B -> 3 He reaction, most of the energy comes from combining H with something, not splitting B.

          By that reasoning Uranium + neutron is fusion because you're combining a neutron with something not specifically breaking Uranium by its self.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Teancum (67324)

            Free neutrons can be considered an isotope of "Neutronium", an element with an atomic number of zero.

            In listings of nuclides that attempt to be a complete table such as this one on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] usually list neutrons and even some interesting combinations of neutrons that even seem to indicate multiple isotopes of Neutronium.

            Still, I would have to agree with your main point that the breakdown of Uranium is typically considered a form of fission rather than fusion.

      • Re:Fusion? (Score:5, Funny)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:55PM (#29786325) Journal

        But wait, you're producing helium? Think about the environmental impact! Millions of adults walking around talking like chipmunks all the time! Won't someone think of the children!?!

        :-D

  • Fusion!? (Score:5, Funny)

    by blhack (921171) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:35PM (#29785715)

    Isn't that what they use on the sun!? I don't want that sort of thing in my backyard! what if the reaction gets out of control and it annihilates the entire solar system!? What are we going to do with all of the nucular waste?

    Folks, can we pretty please think of another name for this stuff? 50 years worth of misinformation is, I fear, holding us back. People here the word "nuclear" and immediately start shitting their pants with fear.

    I vote we call it "Hydrogen Energy". After all, hydrogen is 2/3 of the ingredients in water!

    • Re:Fusion!? (Score:5, Funny)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:50PM (#29785829) Journal

      You mean dihydrogen monoxide [dhmo.org]--pretty dangerous stuff...

      • by earlymon (1116185)

        Or for those of us who are Amphoteric Nazis, that happens to hydrogen hydroxide, thank you very much.

    • Re:Fusion!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:52PM (#29785841) Journal

      The public needs to be shown that the word "nuclear" is not cause for panic. Better yet, not to judge technology such as NMR as being dangerous simply because of the name. But I guess it is too much to ask that they have even a basic competency in science.

      • Re:Fusion!? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:58PM (#29785903)

        The public needs to be shown that the word "nuclear" is not cause for panic. Better yet, not to judge technology such as NMR as being dangerous simply because of the name. But I guess it is too much to ask that they have even a basic competency in science.

        Woah there sparky!

        We can't run banks without having them come falling down around our ears and you think the public is the problem with the perception of nuclear power?

        In of itself nuclear reactions are predictable and can be made safe using correct precautions.

        This is a layer 8 problem not a science problem.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        The public needs to be shown that the word "nuclear" is not cause for panic.

        I don't know, people seem to like the nuclear family, don't they? We should call it family energy.

      • Nuclear magnetic resonance? God man don't you know how dangerous that is, it's got nuclear right in the name. You can only guess how many extra limbs you'd get from that. Now if you'll excuse me I have to get ready for my MRI tomorrow:)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        Yes, as long as people openly brag about being too dumb to program a freakin' VCR/DVR, no chance here.
        Somehow, being a retard became cool, and being intelligent became uncool. The scene at the beginning of Idiocracy, where they chase Joe away from that burning barrel, because he sounds "pompous and faggy". That's what's already happening every day on TV.

        And I know exactly, how it came to this!
        What do you think happens, when everyone for decades, follows the rules that
        * everyone is equal, (There are no two e

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Planesdragon (210349)

        The public needs to be shown that the word "nuclear" is not cause for panic.

        Two nuclear weapons ended the biggest war of human history. Two. And then the threat of even one more being used kept two alliances with far starker differences than that war's adversaries from ever entering into direct conflict -- because they were afraid of nuclear weapons.

        Find a new word if you want -- "fission" and "fusion" are perfectly serviceable -- but the public's fear of the word "nuclear" is warranted by history, and will not go away anytime soon.

    • "Hydrogen Energy". Think of the Hindenberg.

    • by JamesP (688957)

      I want to make a suggestion.

      Let's put the most god-darn awful and polluting coal plants in the backyard of the morons who start "OMG NUKULAR THIS IS BAD"

      I'm really not as afraid of, I dunno, Exxon as compared to "Green""Peace" with respects to global warming.

    • complete strawman (Score:3, Informative)

      by nomadic (141991)
      Folks, can we pretty please think of another name for this stuff? 50 years worth of misinformation is, I fear, holding us back. People here the word "nuclear" and immediately start shitting their pants with fear.

      Folks, can you all stop reacting to stories regarding nuclear power on slashdot by falling over at your computers, foaming at the mouth, and shrieking about how the general public are all so stupid that they oppose any use of nuclear power because they're luddites and they're not as scientificall
      • Re:complete strawman (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mikael_j (106439) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @05:22PM (#29787051)

        There are 104 nuclear reactors in this country.

        No, there are ten reactors in use in this country.

        Oh wait, you just assumed that anyone with access to a computer, an internet connection and reading slashdot was from the US, I'm so sorry, your bad (no, I wasn't the one who screwed up, you did).

        /Mikael

      • Re:complete strawman (Score:5, Informative)

        by Tweenk (1274968) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @05:38PM (#29787203)

        There have not been any new nuclear plants built in this country in a long time not because of protesters, but because they are insanely and hideously expensive to build. They are for the most part not cost-effective.

        Nuclear plants are actually a viable long-term investment - there are several scheduled for construction in the US right now. The limiting factor until recently was the mind-boggling amount of red tape, but the situation has improved. There is still the ban on reprocessing and an implied moratorium on the construction of breeder reactors, but the recent changes are a promising move in the right direction.

        There are groups who argue against nuclear power for a variety of reasons, some environmental, some political, and some were formed to protest the operation of specific plants that have a track record of environmental damage.

        You are FUDding at this point. There are no such plants. They would have been shut down long ago if there was any significant release of radioactivity. If you're talking about tritium leaks - they are not even measurable in the environment, and actually highlight the ignorance of the masses ("it leaks something radioactive so it must be very dangerous" - well, except it's not, as you will be irradiated more by decaying potassium-40 in the body of a girl you're sleeping with than by most tritium leaks).

        Some of these organizations are led by or advised by nuclear physicists and engineers, who know a hell of a lot more about the technical aspects of nuclear power than 99% of the people reading this.

        There is a PhD at my university who is an expert on chemical NMR, so you could say he is a nuclear physicist to some extent, yet he keeps saying stupid things like "nuclear chemistry is dying" (in case you wonder, it's not - see positron emission tomography). The fact that you're competent in one field does not give you much credibility in other fields.

        • by dissy (172727) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:51PM (#29787755)

          "it leaks something radioactive so it must be very dangerous" - well, except it's not, as you will be irradiated more by decaying potassium-40 in the body of a girl you're sleeping with than by most tritium leaks

          Those of us not sleeping with a girl take exception to that comparison.

          Could you please put that in time of CRT exposure? Or some other more comprehensible metric?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:10PM (#29787483)

        There have not been any new nuclear plants built in this country in a long time not because of protesters, but because they are insanely and hideously expensive to build. They are for the most part not cost-effective.

        They have become insanely and hideously expensive to build primarily because of the influence of your sign-waving hippie-hordes and mouth foaming idiotic masses. The actual cost to build a nuclear power plant would be a secondary consideration if it weren't for the likewise insane regulatory requirements, which if you ask me are slanted disproportionately at nuclear power. Ergo, the sign wavers won, and sanity lost.

        The evidence is there. A power company can dump millions of tons of slightly radioactive and toxic coal ash under a golf course (a few tons of which contains vastly more radioactive waste than the totality of materials released by all civilian power related nuclear accidents). However, if that measly amount of waste came from a nuclear facility someone would have hung, certianly metaphorically, possibly in actuality. Furthermore, worker deaths occurring at fossil plants and related activities (especially coal mining naturally) are more numerous and held under far less scrutiny. If that number of people were killed because of nuclear power, there would be a huge price to pay.

        I'm not arguing that regulation of dangerous materials is bad... But sanity should prevail. Were we able to process the wastes available and store unprocessable waste, and let investors build safe plants without having excessive governmental burden, it would prove to be a very cost effective and safe enterprise. Japan is prone to earthquakes, and there haven't been significant problems.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by myrdos2 (989497)
        Estimates of the true cost of nuclear energy (from newly built plants) varies from 6.7 to 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour. The wikipedia page has a very detailed, in-depth look at the issue. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_of_new_nuclear_power_plants [wikipedia.org]

        Some choice quotes:

        "Nuclear Power plants tend to be very competitive in areas where other fuel resources are not readily available — France, most notably, has almost no native supplies of fossil fuels."

        "However a much more detailed review of over 200

      • Re:complete strawman (Score:4, Informative)

        by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:38AM (#29790055) Journal

        Folks, can you all stop reacting to stories regarding nuclear power on slashdot by falling over at your computers, foaming at the mouth, and shrieking about how the general public are all so stupid that they oppose any use of nuclear power because they're luddites and they're not as scientifically informed as all of us blah blah blah.

        There are 104 nuclear reactors in this country. They provide almost 20% of the country's electricity consumption.

        There's more than "this country" in the world, and in some of them luddites do shut down nuclear plants simply because of the irrational fear of the word "nuclear". Nuclear power phase-out in Germany [wikipedia.org] is a good example of that.

    • Isn't that what they use on the sun!? I don't want that sort of thing in my backyard!

      Don't worry -- Larry Ellison bought Sun recently, he will look after you - so that he can fleece you on licenses.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Nebulious (1241096)

      NO!

      If we keep treating people like they're too stupid to understand the science behind things, then it's going to just get harder and harder to get any real change in the technology our society uses. Not to mention the young people we scare away from science and technology. Rebranding a technology works only in the short term until the public catches on or some uses the exact same tactic against you. No, what we need to do is work to slowly win the culture war and continue to make the work of scientists

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:37PM (#29785723)
    I really hope this works. I get more excited about science for cheap and clean energy production than I do about efforts to raise the cost of energy consumption as a means to drive conservation. Too much emphasis on conservation will lead to a world where only rich people have the freedom to consume large amounts of energy. Access to cheap and clean power must be pushed down to today's poor. This will offer lots of ways for them to overcome their systemic poverty.
    • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:57PM (#29785899) Homepage

      If you change 'energy' and 'power' for 'food', you have got what the green revolution [wikipedia.org] achieved from the 50's or so onwards. I think this is a good model for what would happen if cheap energy became universal - consumption simply increases to match what is available and the underlying issue remains unresolved.

      • Are you against cheap and clean power generation?
        • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:06PM (#29785969) Journal

          Apparently, he's against cheap power AND cheap food. The poor should starve! That'll solve the problem.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by danpat (119101)

            Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to halt growth in most biological systems it to balance supply and demand.

            Right now, food and energy production around the world outstrips demand. Thus, population continues to increase.

            The 3 major governors of biological systems seem to be raw materials, energy and space. To some degree, they're convertible. If you remove "energy" as a limiting factor, we're just going to hit a wall with one of the other two at some point.

            Hitting any resource barrier is p

            • Not really ... (Score:3, Insightful)

              by boorack (1345877)
              Western countries have by far most access to cheap energy and cheap food. Yet their population diminshes and they (we) import immigrants to fill the gap. It is true for all advanced economies. Once a nation gets sophiscated enough to have people educated and equipped with birth control means, growth halts as people can "trade" number of children for economic conditions. Emerging countries will see the same thing once their societies will get sophiscated enough.

              It's a shame that western nations keep so mu
            • by TopSpin (753) * on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:31PM (#29786639) Journal

              Your model omits some readily [susps.org] available [businessweek.com] data [cbsnews.com] that would seem relevant. Population growth among non-immigrants of advanced, wealthy nations such as the US, Japan and parts of western Europe has plateaued at or below replacement. The "western" world has, despite an abundance or food, energy and space (in the case of North America,) tamed its population growth. This has occurred without coercive government control of breeding behavior.

              Apparently there are more factors involved in the growth curve than Malthusians such as yourself choose to allow. It is certain that our international governance is equally blind; the next global treaty on the environment that acknowledges this success and, heaven forbid, incorporates population growth into its protocol bean counting will be the first.

            • by damburger (981828) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:38PM (#29786705)

              Stop. Just stop.

              "Supply and demand" is a tenuous bit of pop economics that you can't blindly apply to any situation you feel could do with a bit of market fundamentalism applied to it. The idea that human population growth is governed by it is utter horseshit. Rich countries have more resources per capita than countries in Africa, but they have lower fertility rates. That blows your little hypothesis out of the water straight away.

              Misapplying pop economics. Ignoring real life fertility rates. Treating people of other races as if they were animals mindlessly breeding to fill an ecological niche. You've committed the three most common logical fallacies, and the three most disgusting ones, in this debate.

            • by Thiez (1281866) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:58PM (#29786873)

              > Right now, food and energy production around the world outstrips demand. Thus, population continues to increase.

              That is not true. The places on the world where energy and food are most abundant, such as the western countries, have populations that are no longer growing at a significant rate. If not for immigration, some of them would even be shrinking.

              While it is obvious that the availability of food and energy influences population growth (without food to feed your children the population isn't going to grow any time soon) it is not possible to explain population growth with these things alone. Many other factors are at work here, such as religion ("Every sperm is sacred"). I hear having pensions can also have a big influence on population growth, because people won't need their 10 children to take care of them when they retire.

              > The 3 major governors of biological systems seem to be raw materials, energy and space. To some degree, they're convertible. If you remove "energy" as a limiting factor, we're just going to hit a wall with one of the other two at some point.

              Maybe for most animals, but I like to think humans are able to choose and ignore their instincts to have "OVER 9000!!!1!!11!!eleven" children and use some form of anticonception. Should this be incorrect we'll just have to invent some kind of ray-gun that turns people into slashdotters. This should bring down birth rates a lot and has the added benefit of giving me a relatively low UID...

        • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:18PM (#29786071) Homepage

          I'm concerned about the idea of 'endless growth in a finite world' that cheap food and energy seem to sustain. If the world population was the same now as it was before the green revolution (2 billion or so) everything would be rosy. That is is now 6.8 billion, set for 7 billion in 2012 and utterly dependent on fossil-fuel centered food production is a worry for me.

          • by tftp (111690)

            I'm concerned about the idea of 'endless growth in a finite world'

            I'm sure there was a tribe of Neanderthals was also concerned about an idea to build a boat (or just to grab a piece of wood) to cross the river. After all, who knows what dangers lurk there? I'm also pretty sure that such a tribe did not survive. Expansion was, is, and likely will be the way of humans - and there is plenty of places to expand to.

            Abundant, cheap, efficient energy source will allow to expand that "finite world" of yours.

          • I agree. The core issue is living sustainably. You can buy time with more energy or food, but if the core ideas of living within our means isn't addressed, there will be problems with that too.

            I personally think its just a matter of time though. In the big scheme of things the industrial revolution is still a new thing, and it takes cultures a long time to adjust. But in time they do, in fact with time all living things tend toward an equilibrium with their environment, us humans included. The real question

          • I'm concerned about the idea of 'endless growth in a finite world' that cheap food and energy seem to sustain. If the world population was the same now as it was before the green revolution (2 billion or so) everything would be rosy. That is is now 6.8 billion, set for 7 billion in 2012 and utterly dependent on fossil-fuel centered food production is a worry for me.

            It goes something like this:

            1: Living organisms reproduce until the natural resources cannot sustain the population

            2: Some of the organisms chan

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I'm concerned about the idea of 'endless growth in a finite world' that cheap food and energy seem to sustain. If the world population was the same now as it was before the green revolution (2 billion or so) everything would be rosy. That is is now 6.8 billion, set for 7 billion in 2012 and utterly dependent on fossil-fuel centered food production is a worry for me.

            With cheap energy and cheap food we could hand the poor a bag lunch and then shoot them into space. I'm thinking massive rail gun.

            Got any other little problems you want solved?

            As my boss was fond of saying, before I strangled him, "Don't bring me a problem unless you're bringing a solution with it."

            So, get to work on a solution! I'm thinking massive rail gun...

      • That's essentially what Thomas Malthus thought. It was incomprehensible to him that people would willingly restrain themselves in the face of greater resources.

      • by damburger (981828)

        Restating the failed predictions of Malthus doesn't deserve to be modded 'insightful'. The fact is, fertility rates are determined by social factors (generally, higher gender equality leads to sustainable fertility rates) - if, as you so unthinkingly suggest, rates are determined simply by the availability of resources, then a family who is five times wealthier should have five times as many children (obviously wrong) and the UK should have 3 times the fertility rate of Equitorial Guinea (again, obviously w

      • by ductonius (705942) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:59PM (#29786885) Homepage

        People starve today not because there isn't enough food to go around, but because of politics. The world lines up cargo planes full of food aid to avert a humanitarian disaster and they idle on the tarmac while the 'leaders' of the starving people claim there isn't a problem and say the aid is unwelcome.

    • Imagine owning a swimming pool with porous walls. In order to use it, we either have to build a new swimming pool with non-porous walls (or hack it somehow), or constantly fill it up with more water. Which makes more sense? Do we have a water efficiency problem, or a water shortage? To improve the analogy a bit, let's say that we live in a very dry area and get new water from an aquifer.

      Energy efficiency vs energy shortage is analogous. And when these ultimately short term methods of energy production are e

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Cheap energy like nuclear fusion is much more than social justice. It means no more CO2 emissions from coal power, no more oil dependency from undemocratic countries, it means hydroelectric cars for everybody, cheap desalination and therefore cheap fresh water and irrigation. Energy is everything. Once we get this done, it might actually save the planet.

    • by damburger (981828) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @05:25PM (#29787087)

      Good call. The energy price spike in 2007-2008 caused a global food crisis; modern agriculture provides food as a function of how much energy is put into each unit area of land, so there is much more at stake than whether you can have incandescent light bulbs and leave your TV on standby.

      Even if low-energy agriculture could somehow feed the world, that isn't our only problem. China and India have shrugged off imperialism, modernised their economies, and thats 2.5 billion people demanding western-level lifestyles and we don't have the political clout (nor the moral right) to say no to them. With our current energy sources, the planet simply can't handle it though.

      Produce more energy. Promote gender equality (which reduces fertility rates to sustainable levels, without Chinese-style draconian population control methods). A better world is a higher energy one.

  • ah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:47PM (#29785799) Journal

    The idea is interesting- creating a self confining toroid of plasma instead of relying solely on external magnetic containment but from what I've seen of the "tech" it looks to be unfortunately the work of crackpots. Don't get me wrong, I really hope that they actually succeed in doing what they're claiming they can but I sincerely doubt it.

    • It may not work but I wouldn't classify it as crackpot.

  • Excellent! (Score:3, Funny)

    by cashman73 (855518) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:48PM (#29785803) Journal
    This is great news! If this works, I'll be able to install a Mr. Fusion device on my DeLorean, which should be able to generate the 1.21 Gigawatts of electricity that I need to run my flux capacitor! I'll no longer need to steal Plutonium from the Iranians! ;-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:50PM (#29785827)

    I hear Fusion has moved from "Always being 10 years away" to "Always being 5 years away." Great progress!

  • by Sam the Nemesis (604531) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:07PM (#29785989)
    Earth has moved one step nearer to the Sun?
  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:11PM (#29786013)

    In fusion research it always look good when you do low-energy tests or low density etc... It is relatively easy to confine plasmas that don't "burn". A penning trap will do the job quite nicely. The problems always show up when you try to push your design to operate close to the lawson criterion, at which point many otherwise promising designs just fall short ( taking the penning trap as an example the required magnetic field for any practical confinement time exceeds that at which modern superconductors stop beeing superconducting ).

    Now I admit that I don't know the details of this particular scheme, but I can say with almost certainty that when they try to get closer to break even the higher temperatures, densities and confinement times required will turn the thing into a massive headache.

    • by damburger (981828) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:43PM (#29786253)

      Agreed. Every joker who builds a farnsworth fusor in his basement thinks he is going to be producing commercial power some time next year, and when they make a noise about this, and idiots with money buy into their promises of more for less, it can take funding from genuine research. When you are doing something that is inherently slow, costly, and prone to overruns, you've constantly got some bullshit artist nipping at your heels claiming they can do the same for less money, in less time, with big fucking bells and whistles on.

      I'm involved in a cubesat project, and we recently had to explain why we were spending 100k on a launch when some random jokers on the internet with new-age mysticism and off-the-shelf amateur rocket motors claimed to be able to do the same for 10k "some time next year".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Delwin (599872) *
      You may want to take a closer look at this one then - they don't require any higher confinement times because they're setting this up like a piston not a turbine. It creates fusion in a microsecond pulse, the field collapses and then they start all over again. You set the sucker up to rapid fire (or line them up in series with one powering the generation of the field on the next) and you're in business.

      Now of course we need to see if they can take that final step, but so far they're close enough to th
      • by BlueParrot (965239) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:28PM (#29786607)

        It creates fusion in a microsecond pulse

        Which, just as with Inertial Confinemenet Fusion, means they just traded confinement time for Temperature and density.

        There's this neat little thing called the triple product which relates to the power output of a fusion plasma.

        n*T*tau

        n is the number density, T is the temperature and tau is the confinement time. In Tokamaks n is low and T and tau are high. In other fusion schemes tau may be low, meaning they need higher n and T to make up for it. Thus while this particular machine may not need to increase the confinement time, they will then simply have to increase either temperature or number density instead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by slyborg (524607)

      So, they're avoiding the problem of confining the plasma, which clearly is impossible with a 1G K plasma without it being inside a supergiant star. However, Todd Rider's excellent, albeit depressing, papers on this topic seem open and shut on the prospects of generating net power out of a non-equilibrium reactor. Particularly with the p-B reaction, you lose all the net power to brehmstrahllung.

      Lerner has done good PR, and I suspect he means well, but he's wasting his time. There isn't a magic reactor, dense

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by KonoWatakushi (910213)

        This again. Todd Rider's paper is essentially a straw man; his criticisms to do not apply to the Polywell, and they may not apply to the DPF either. His assumptions are flawed, and the resulting claims are too general.

        I can't find the specific post I was looking for, but here [talk-polywell.org] is a comment from Dr. Nebel, the lead researcher of the Polywell. Dr. Nebel has also co-authored research on the periodically oscillating plasma sphere (POPS), which provides direct experimental evidence for something which should b

      • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:37AM (#29791791)

        Particularly with the p-B reaction, you lose all the net power to brehmstrahllung.

        The design is supposed to mitigate this ; the magnetic fields involved are allegedly strong enough to prevent enough of the electrons hopping up to the quantum state they need to get to in order to emit X-ray photons. In addition, the design includes a photoelectric collector to harvest the X-rays that do get emitted (supposed to be 40% of the energy yield).

        I'm no expert but I'm watching this keenly. Out of the fusion approaches this one seems the most elegant to me ; no heat-engine step to reduce it's efficiency, solid-state energy collection, reactors that are a sensible size and not some enormous aircraft-carrier sized construction of doom. And the fact that it isn't founded on the impossible conceit of containing the uncontainable in a steady state helps it image a lot in my eyes.

        And if it turns out to be impossible... well, you could probably pay for the whole project out of the tea and biscuits kitty at ITER. They should fund a new project like this every year, just on the off-chance that one of them works.

  • That's a silly summary - it's not like we've achieved sustainable fusion at any cost, cheap or expensive. Right now the goal is still the same one we've been pursuing for a few decades.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @05:56PM (#29787367)

    An important facet of LPP's research is that they are pursuing aneutronic fusion. This is truly clean nuclear energy. Explained well here. [cafepress.com] and here. Nuclear Power without Nuclear Waste: It's Closer Than You Think

    Nuclear fusion has the potential to generate power without the radioactive waste of nuclear fission, but that depends on which atoms you decide to fuse. Conventional fusion approaches work with deuterium and tritium, while focus fusion works with hydrogen and boron. When a boron-11 atom fuses with a hydrogen atom the result is three helium atoms and energy, but no radioactive waste. This is because: the fuel (boron and hydrogen) is not radioactive, the reaction product (helium) is not radioactive, and the reaction releases no neutrons (it's "aneutronic").

    • Another interesting thing about 'aneutronic' fusion is that you can do direct power conversion.

      As the previous poster said, D-T fusion releases much of its energy in the form of fast neutrons. In order to convert this energy into electricity, you have to get the fast neutrons to heat up a fluid and then run a turbine or run some other thermal process.

      If your energy is largely in fast He nuclei, these are charged, and you can convert the energy directly into electricity in several ways, like just running th

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
      Plus, with all that Helium being produced, the cost of party balloons will fall dramatically.
  • OK, so... (Score:3, Funny)

    by jamstar7 (694492) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @08:53PM (#29788451)
    This means fusion is now 9.5 years away?
  • Puzzling (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jandersen (462034) on Monday October 19, 2009 @04:36AM (#29791241)

    When I look up Eric Lerner on Wikipedia, I can see that he is an activist who has been campaigning against things like the big bang - shouldn't this alone warn us to be bit skeptical? So why do we see this being taken serious again and again?

    The fact that he has completed a scientific education is not in itself proof that he is right; there have been many brilliant scientists who have proposed theories that were later proven to be false - this is the way science works - but once a theory has been dismissed, it is time to move on and leave it behind. Perhaps the most well-known, and rather sad, example of this is Fred Hoyle, a brilliant cosmologist, who until his death clung on to his steady-state theory, while everybody else had accepted Einstein's theory as the best working model.

Neckties strangle clear thinking. -- Lin Yutang

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