Friday, April 27, 2007

NewScientistTech: Rapid-fire 'spark plug' may bring fusion power closer

Rapid-fire 'spark plug' may bring fusion power closer:
A "spark plug" that should trigger nuclear fusion in a pellet of hydrogen every 10 seconds is being tested by Russian and US researchers.

The device fires an intense pulse of electricity – half a million amps and one hundred thousand volts. It has just completed preliminary testing at Sandia National Laboratories' "Z Machine" facility in New Mexico, US. Researchers hope the component could help narrow the gap between the fusion technique being used there and the one that currently leads the field. Some experts are sceptical about its chances, however.

Nuclear fusion harnesses the process that powers stars, generating power by binding atomic nuclear together. Unlike nuclear fission, which drives existing nuclear power stations, it offers hope of producing nuclear energy cleanly.

Sandia is developing a method called inertial confinement, to compress and heat small pellets of hydrogen isotopes. The processes forces the isotopes to fuse together, producing helium and releasing energy.

Although inertial confinement is popular in the US, an alternative technique, known magnetic confinement, has shown greater practical promise. This involves pushing hydrogen atoms together using magnetic fields and it is the basis for an experimental fusion reactor called ITER, an international project. Following several years of intense negotiations, ITER will be built in Caderache, France, in 2008...


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