Nuclear fusion

A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has achieved a new record for nuclear fusion technology, which may herald the dawn of limitless clean energy.

Scientists at the University created the highest plasma pressure ever recorded with the Alcator C-Mod reactor. High pressures and extreme temperatures are vital in forcing atoms together to release huge amounts of energy.
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is held up as a means of powering the world while halting climate change.

MIT scientists have increased the record plasma pressure to more than two atmospheres, a 16 per cent increase on the previous record set in 2005, at a temperature of 35mC and lasting for two seconds. The breakthrough was presented at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s fusion summit in Japan on Monday.

Successful fusion means getting more energy out than is put in and this requires the combination of pressure, temperature and time to pass a critical value at which point the reaction becomes self-sustaining. This remains elusive but the MIT record shows that using very high magnetic fields to contain the plasma may be the most promising route to practical nuclear fusion reactors.

There are numerous private companies hoping to develop small scale nuclear fusion reactors. One is Tokamak Energy, a spin-off from the UK’s national fusion lab, which uses high-temperature superconductors to create the magnetic field to contain the fusion plasma. Rival companies also backing small fusion reactors include Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works team.