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Power The Almighty Buck Science Technology

Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again 147

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-to-life dept.
mdsolar writes with good news for the National Spherical Torus Experiment. Tucked away from major roadways and nestled amid more than 80 acres of forest sits a massive warehouse-like building where inside, a device that can produce temperatures hotter than the sun has sat cold and quiet for more than two years. But the wait is almost over for the nuclear fusion reactor to get back up and running at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. "We're very excited and we're all anxious to turn that machine back on," said Adam Cohen, deputy director for operations at PPPL. The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) has been shut down since 2012 as it underwent a $94 million upgrade that will make it what officials say will be the most powerful fusion facility of its kind in the world. It is expected to be ready for operations in late winter or early spring, Cohen said.
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Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again

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  • by i kan reed (749298) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:59AM (#47746871) Homepage Journal

    Public cynicism about fusion seems to have peaked at almost exactly the same time as there are a lot of new ideas and experiments ready to go.

    Even the needlessly big, expensive NIF has hit some amazing recent roadmarks recently(scientific net positive), while at the same time their funding is being slashed. Lots of new clever experiments seem to be promising(like Larwenceville plasma physics' Focus Fusion record heat density), in an era where no one in policy positions seems interested in chasing the tech.

    I'm glad Princeton is getting back in the game, but everything I hear says there won't be enough funding to actually get the staffing they need.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:30AM (#47747047) Journal

    It may be cynicism, but it is well placed cynicism. I'm all for funding fusion research, but the reality is that we are decades away from seeing anything remotely economically viable.

    And the other reality is that we do have solar which is already economically viable but still behind fossil fuels (if you forget about externalites). If I were king of the world, I'd fund solar heavily because it can do good NOW. Serious good. World saving good.

    And, yes, it is a false dichotomy to say we can only fund one. But the other reality is that we have only so much money for the sciences and one dollar spent on one project is one not spent on the other. If I were King of the world I'd also cut military spending and fund sciences much more heavily.

    But, alas, I am not King of the world.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:49AM (#47747211) Journal

    You seem to be perfectly willing to sell out the long term future for the medium term, which is the weirdest case of short-sightedness I've ever seen.

    And at this point, I think you are deliberately misstating my argument. Fusion is a dream at this point that the most knowledgeable in the sciences say is at least 60-80 years away from economic viability. Don't believe me? Look at the ITER roadmap, publically available. And the reality is that the visionaries are usually overoptimistic. You and I will be dead before it becomes viable and our children as well. And that is assuming this becomes viable as there is always a risk when talking about advanced tech like this. Even if you are convinced the science will work out, political upheaval could mean that we can't see the project through to the end. Just imagine a more indebted US and Europe having to cut science and a China that no longer has a market to sell to and collapses on its own centrally managed bureaucracy. Insert your own worst case scenario and you see why century long, multi billion dollar research projects are risky.

    So, fund it? Sure. But not at the expense of something that is a sure thing and will have a huge benefit now. You state that solar is somehow selling out the long-term... unless you mean over a billion years from now when the Sun goes nova, I'm not sure how this is remotely accurate.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:58AM (#47747293)

    That gives me an idea. If you build this in a way that looks cool (obviously make it functional first and foremost, but style it whenever you get a chance), you could rent it out to Hollywood studios needing a set.

    Make a control room with lots of blinkenlights, put in a window to something that glows (it can be the capacitors or whatever, if putting a window into a tokemak is a bad idea, which it probably is), have lots of big cables running around, and so on. And make every room spacious enough that you can fit a camera crew inside it. Charge them $50K/day to use it as a set, only conditions being that they can't alter or break the functional parts, and any new parts they add have to be removed once they stop using the set.

    This doesn't have to fund the entire project, it just has to pay off the cost of the cosmetics and the downtime, and after that it's free money. If you spent a quarter-million dollars making it look like something out of Star Trek, you could pay that off with a week of filming Star Trek XII or whatever number they're up to now.

    Plus - the public outreach. The general public are, unfortunately, idiots. You could be doing some amazing research, be the top lab in the world in your field, and they would just complain about "their" tax money being spent on it. But making something "mad bitchin'"? They can get behind that.

  • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:30PM (#47749333) Homepage

    The Skunkworks high beta fusion reactor [wikipedia.org] seems very interesting. 100MW reactor the size of a semi trailer and the complexity of a jet engine. Uses radio waves to heat the plasma (like a microwave oven). Confines plasma in a cylinder as opposed to a torus. In a tokamak reactor the confining magnetic field is created by the motion of the plasma. Thus the strength of the field decreases further from the plasma, creating an inherent instability. This creates a negative stability feedback because if the tokamak plasma expands the confining field gets weaker. I believe this is one of the reasons tokamaks need to be so huge to function.

    The high beta reactor has a confining field that increases in strength as you move farther from the plasma, making confinement inherently stable. The machine was designed by Dr. Thomas McGuire who did his PhD thesis on fusors at MIT. It may be possible to build a full reactor by as soon as 2017 for a cost measured in millions, NOT billions.

If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong. -- Norm Schryer

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