Germany’s massive nuclear fusion machine really works

At the end of last year, scientists started up a new type of massive nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, known as a stellarator. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald, Germany, injected a tiny amount of hydrogen and heated it until it became plasma, effectively mimicking conditions inside the sun.

Now, tests conducted by US and German researchers confirm that the experimental Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) stellarator is indeed producing magnetic fields that make controlled nuclear reactions possible, and with a high degree of accuracy and incredibly low error rate. Advocates acknowledge the argue that, once achieved, it could replace fossil fuels and conventional nuclear fusion reactors.

It is based on the life span of our Sun, nuclear fusion likewise has the possibility to supply humankind with energy for whatever length of time that we require it – in the case that we figure out how to collect the energy from the reaction. Controlling nuclear fusion is fundamental challenge , so  we need to actually reproduce conditions inside the Sun. That implies building a machine that is equipped for creating and controlling a 100-million-degree-Celsius (180 million degree Fahrenheit) ball of plasma gas.

Instead of trying to control plasma with just a 2D magnetic field, which is the approach used by the more common tokamak reactors, the stellerator works by generating twisted, 3D magnetic fields.

A group of scientists from the US Department of Energy and the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Germany sent an electron beam along the magnetic field lines in the reactor. Utilizing a fluorescent bar, they went through those lines and made light in the shape of the fields. The result, demonstrates the correct sort of twisted magnetic fields that it should make.

Shape of a magnetic field inside the reactor

                                                                             Shape of a magnetic field inside the reactor

In 2019, the reactor will begin to use deuterium instead of hydrogen to produce actual fusion reactions inside the machine, but it won’t be capable of generating more energy than it current requires to run. That’s something that the next-generation of stellerators will hopefully overcome.

The research has been published in Nature communications.


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