German scientists turned on a new type of nuclear reactor at the end of 2015 and found that it was able to contain incredibly hot helium plasma inside its 3D magnetic fields. The nuclear fusion reactor is called Wendelstein 7-X stellerator or W 7-X for short and the big question that the scientists have been trying to answer is if the reactor was working the way it was designed.
This is incredibly important and the reactor that could one day maintain a controlled nuclear fusion reaction. Scientists from the US and Germany have now confirmed that the reactor is producing the incredibly strong 3D magnetic fields that it was designed to create. In fact the team says that the reactor is producing these magnetic fields with “unprecedented accuracy” to the tune of an error rate of less than one in 100,000.
“To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented accuracy, both in terms of the as-built engineering of a fusion device, as well as in the measurement of magnetic topology,” the researchers write in Nature Communications.
These magnetic fields are the only things that can contain these hot balls of plasma long enough for nuclear fusion to occur. If you are unaware why nuclear fusion is such a big deal, the reactor could use salt water to create limitless energy using the same sort of reaction that is inside the sun. Nuclear fusion produces no radioactive waste, unlike nuclear fission that we use today. Make no mistake, there is much research left before nuclear fusion is achieved and scientists have been working on a controllable fusion reactor for 60 years now.
An electron beam was sent along the magnetic field lines in the reactor and using a fluorescent rod, light was created along the lines of the magnetic fields and the team was able to determine that the magnetic fields were twisted as they were supposed to be. In 2019 the team will begin to use deuterium instead of hydrogen to produce actual fusion reactions inside the machine, but it won’t be able to create more energy than it needs to run.
SOURCE: Science Alert