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Nuclear Fusion Reactor  (Source: The Institute of Telecommunications Professionals)
Could lead to an endless supply of clean energy

Researchers from Purdue University have found mechanisms that are vital to interactions between surfaces inside a thermonuclear fusion reactor and hot plasma, which could lead to the development of coatings capable of tolerating radiation damage and ultimately, fusion power plants. 

The inner lining of a fusion reactor often faces horrific conditions leading to radiation damage due to the hot plasma. With the use of nanotechnology, nuclear engineers are looking to "define" small features in the coating as a way to understand and develop a new material that can come in contact with plasma and not be harmed. Finding a material durable enough to withstand such harsh conditions has been difficult, until now. 

Along with researchers at Princeton University in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Purdue researchers are using the National Spherical Torus Experiment to test materials, which is the country's only spherical tokamak reactor. They will also study materials in a special "plasma-materials interface probe," then transfer these materials to an "in situ surface analysis facility laboratory."

"We will bring the samples in and study them right there, and will be able to do the characterization in real time to see what happens to the surfaces," said Jean Paul Allain, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at Purdue University. "We're also going to use computational modeling to connect the fundamental physics learned in our experiments and what we observe inside the tokamak."

One of the tested linings is lithiated graphite, which consists of lithium being added to the inner graphite wall, and when it diffuses into the reactor wall. Then deuterium atoms and the lithiated graphite bind together in the fuel inside these tokamaks, which are what the fusion reactors are called. A magnetic field inside the tokamaks encloses a circular-shaped plasma of deuterium, which is an isotope of hydrogen. 

When a fusion reaction occurs, deuterium atoms hit the inner lining of the fusion reactor and can be sent back to the core and recycled back to the plasma, or they're "pumped," which causes them to bind with the lithiated graphite. 

"We now have an understanding of how the lithiated graphite controls the recycling of hydrogen," said Allain. "This is the first time anyone has looked systematically at the chemistry and physics of pumping by the lithiated graphite. We are learning, at the atomic level, exactly how it is pumped and what dictates the binding of deuterium in this lithiated graphite. So we now have improved insight on how to recondition the surfaces of the tokamak."

The use of a fusion power plant could cut exhaust completely because the deuterium fuel is in seawater. Also, it could produce 10 times more energy than a nuclear fission reactor. Plants like these would be an endless supply of clean energy.

This study was led by Chase Taylor, a doctoral student, Bryan Heim, a graduate student, and Allain. Two papers have been written on the topic, and one will be presented at the Fusion Nuclear Science and Technology/Plasma Facing Components meeting in August.



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RE: A lot of research to boil some water
By Mjello on 7/28/2010 5:21:31 PM , Rating: 4
Yes the plan is to boil water and drive turbines that drive magnets like in conventional power plant designs. Be it coal or nuclear powered.

There is just no practical alternative when it comes to big scale electricity production. Its simple and its proven.

Fusion reactor however is far from simple. But its a lot safer than fission reactors. A runaway reaction is impossible. A catastrophic error would cause just a local boom and its all over. Some would say thats catastrophic enough but.

No atomic cloud and no chance of ground water being turned to radioactive guysers in your back yard. And any radioactive material from the reactor will be low grade.

This is the one clean energy source, that we know of, that is capable of producing electricity enough to replace the big baseline plants our energy grid is based upon.

And by the way this is all part of a big project started more than 30 years ago. Way before anyone but a few clever guys thought of global warming.

If we ever will control the energy source of the sun for power generation though. I don't know. It seems like a scary complicated science project at the moment. Commercial power generation is still 30 years away like it was 60 years ago when they first started. And don't start with the solar panels thingie, that is not the energy source of the sun :).


RE: A lot of research to boil some water
By FITCamaro on 7/28/2010 8:19:10 PM , Rating: 2
With the safety systems on modern nuclear reactor designs, a runaway reaction is impossible as well. No atomic cloud, no chance of ground water contamination.

And what do you mean commercial power generation is still 30 years away? What do you call the power sold to you now? Or are you referring solely to commercial FUSION power generation?


By NullSubroutine on 7/28/2010 10:35:44 PM , Rating: 1
Exactly, except for the fact that once the fuel is spent, fuel rods are needed to be submerged in cooling ponds otherwise they will catch on fire and burning, throwing radioactive isotopes into the air.

A water shortage could be the most dangerous threat to a nuclear power plant.


By Mogounus on 7/29/2010 2:37:58 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, there is no chance of even a local incident. The worst thing that can happen if they lose confinement or some other problem is that the plasma hits the reactor wall, cools down and the reaction stops. Worst case scenario is that the reactor wall is damaged. There is not even enough fusion material in the reactor at one time to cause an explosion.


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