MIT scientists design a 6.6-metre-wide fusion reactor which could provide electricity to 100,000 people.

The new simple fusion reactor designed by MIT scientists could provide electricity to hundreds of thousands people and it could be running in the next ten years as per calculations.

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), U.S. have designed a 6.6-metre-wide fusion reactor that would be able to provide electricity to 1,00,000 people and as per calculations it can be built in a matter of just a decade.

Nuclear Fusion When two or more atomic nuclei come closer and collide with each other at a very high speed this results in formation of a new type of atomic nucleus and this process is known as “nuclear fusion”. During this process some of the matter gets converted into energy or photons and hence overall during nuclear fusion matter is not conserved. Further, the process also powers active stars.

During nuclear fusion unlimited energy can be produced with the help of small amount of sea water which also does not emit any greenhouse gases. And thus for years scientists have been working to harness this energy.

In-spite of having appropriate designs it has been difficult for scientists to get such reactors into actual market. In fact, for a long time experts from this field believed that it is not possible to build a nuclear fusion power plant for the next 30 years and may be even more.

However, the new design built by MIT scientists promised to be compact in comparison to the current reactors and also cheaper. According to the researchers, it is definitely possible to build commercial fusion reactors and it will soon be a reality because the devices which were similar to the proposed new design with respect to size and complexity were built in just five years.

While speaking to David L. Chandler from the MIT news office, a nuclear fusion expert from UK, David Kingham said: “Fusion energy is certain to be the most important source of electricity on Earth in the 22nd century, but we need it much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic global warming.” He was not a part of the research however he feels that the paper shows a good way to make a quick progress.

In nuclear power plants, a process known as Nuclear Fission is used wherein the atoms are split to generate electricity; however this process is comparatively less stable as well as it leads to production of large amounts of nuclear waste.

On the other hand, in nuclear fusion, hydrogen atoms are fused together at a very high temperature to release massive energy which is much cleaner for the environment. Then a question arises as to why are we not using a nuclear fusion to generate the energy! Well, the drawback of nuclear fusion is that the process can take place only under super critical temperature of around hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius. Further, it is necessary to keep the super hot plasma together in one place for a long time so as to allow the atoms to fuse together, which is quite difficult.

Scientists are using a Tokomak design in the current fusion reactors which helps to contain the plasma. The Tokomak reactors have been given a donut shape which helps to create strong magnetic field.

Now, the MIT’s new reactor which is termed as “ARC reactor” also works on similar grounds as that of Tokomak reactor with the only difference that the team has used superconductors to build the coils which can produce much stronger magnetic fields.

Thus an ARC reactor is able to contain more plasma in a smaller space and also the design helps to increase the fusion power of the reactor ten times in comparison to the current Tokomak reactors.

Brandon Sorbom, a PhD candidate who was also a part of the project said: “The much higher magnetic field allows you to achieve much higher performance.”

Currently, the world’ s most powerful fusion reactor is ITER and it is being built in France. According to MIT researchers the quantity of power produced by the ARC reactor would be almost equal to that produced by ITER. However, in comparison the size of ITER’s design is twice to that of ARC reactor and also price of ITER would be around $ 40 billion, though the cost of ARC reactor has not be announced yet but according to MIT’s claims it would be a “fraction of cost”.

Another plus point of the ARC reactor is the fact that it is the first ever proposed fusion reactor to generate an electricity which will be three times more in comparison to what is required to run it.

The MIT design has been published in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design and it is still on papers and in the conceptual stages. The calculations are based on computer models and have not been tested practically yet. However, the researchers say that these models rely on the existing technology and proven concepts. Dennis Whyte leading the research team says: “We’re not extrapolating to some brand-new regime.”

Kingham says the research is of “exceptional quality” and “shows that going to higher magnetic fields, an MIT speciality, can lead to much smaller (and hence cheaper and quicker-to-build) devices”.

He also added: “The next step … would be to refine the design and work out more of the engineering details. But already the work should be catching the attention of policy makers, philanthropists and private investors.”

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