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HiPER nuclear fusion project underway

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October 9, 2008

Nuclear fusion, just like the sun
Photo: SOHO-EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

Nuclear fusion, just like the sun Photo: SOHO-EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

October 9, 2008 Nuclear fusion has long been the holy grail of energy production. It is the process going on inside the sun, it is clean, and it has the potential to provide practically limitless power. Up until now nuclear fusion reactions have only been replicated inside hydrogen bombs due to the huge amount of power needed to start the reaction and keep it running, but scientists in Britain are hoping to change all that. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper is reporting that British scientists believe they are on the verge of achieving controlled fusion in a laboratory for the first time and will begin work this week to create a nuclear fusion reactor.

Scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, near Oxford, will utilize laser beams with enough power to light up every home in Britain for a few microseconds to heat up the nuclear fuel to millions of degrees centigrade in order to trigger the reaction. If successful, the reactor will be a prototype for future commercial power stations, providing a cleaner and safer replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, which use nuclear fission to produce energy. Unlike nuclear fission, which tears apart atoms to release energy and highly radioactive by-products, fusion involves squeezing two "heavy" hydrogen atoms, called deuterium and tritium together so they fuse, producing harmless helium and vast amounts of energy.

The three year process of planning and designing the High Powered Laser Research (HiPER) facility is not the only project of its kind. Fusion reactors are already under construction in France and the US using two separate approaches to creating the intense pressure and heat required to trigger the nuclear fusion reaction. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in Cadarache, France, is aiming to use powerful magnetic fields to spark the reaction, while the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, is aiming to use powerful lasers to create the intense pressures required to trigger the reaction when it is switched on next year.

It is believed the US approach will prove that fusion can be created using laser technology and provide the first step towards a commercial power station, enabling the HiPER project to adapt the American laser approach and improve its efficiency so that it can trigger the reaction at lower pressure. The researchers, which includes a consortium of physicists from across Europe, have received £13 million for the first phase of the £1 billion project to build the HiPER facility. Most of the funding has come from the UK government funded Science and Technology Facilities Council, together with contributions from the European Commission.

Professor Mike Dunne, director of the central laser facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and one of the scientists leading the fusion project explained, "If you think of the NIF as being like a diesel engine – the lasers compress the fuel pellet until the pressure causes the fusion reaction to start. HiPER is more like a petrol engine where the fuel is compressed a little by the lasers but then a second more powerful laser acts like a spark plug to trigger the fusion reaction."

Unlike nuclear fission, the fusion reaction produces only produces very small amounts of low-grade radioactive material and does not carry the risk of radioactive meltdown. Fusion fuel, deuterium and tritium is also readily available in seawater. Just 2lbs of fusion fuel is capable of producing the same amount of energy as 10,000 tonnes of fossil fuel. Hopefully all goes well for the researchers and we’re all enjoying guilt free and eco-friendly electricity before too long.

Darren Quick

Via: The Telegraph.

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About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick
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5 Comments

Laser fusion is in the realm of complete ignorance in terms of energy utilization efficiency. It consumes an awesome energy. Electrostatic acceleration consumes much less energy and can reach very high temperatures. So my bet is on aneutronic fusion reactor, it is more clean and can power all our energy needs efficiently. http://www.crossfirefusor.com/nuclear-fusion-reactor/overview.html

rbrtwjohnson

why do people use centigrade for temperature? The correct unit is Celcius. A centigrade is 100/th of a grad (as in gradient), which is 90 degrees of ANGLE / 100.

It\'s about as bad as using light-year as a unit of time instead of distance.

Adrien

http://www.sizes.com/units/temperature_centigrade.htm Centigrade is Celsius. Centigrade is not 1/100 of a grad thats a centigrad . Note the e.

cloa513

Commercial energy production using nuclear fusion has ALWAYS been 50 years away. Those getting funding will tell you it is on the horizon. I grew up in the 1970\'s and we were supposed to have flying cars in every garage and limitless electricity from clean nuclear fusion by the turn of the century (the last one, not the next one). I\'m still waiting for both...

bret-h

This is such bull. The oil companies will let you do this when they run out of oil. Why are they testing and claiming they don\'t have the stuff? Tesla and Edison and others created free electricity 75 years ago. Does it make sense to keep pumping all the oil out of the ground? I mean who know what might happen? The earth might shift creating a wobble. We\'ve had free electricity for a long time and only the big oil companies stopped it. But they still don\'t want peope using this free stuff. I find it hard to believe you can get 2 pounds of seawater to do what 1,000 gallons of oil can do.

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