Now just 5 years away
October 15, 2014 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Lockheed Martin Says they made a breakthrough in fusion technology:
Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade. Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed's secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.
posted by jenkinsEar (137 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
For the last half century, fusion has consistent been 20 years from commercial reality. For the next half century, fusion will be 10 years from commercial reality.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:47 PM on October 15, 2014 [33 favorites]


Some more detail in this Aviation Week article:

http://aviationweek.com/technology/skunk-works-reveals-compact-fusion-reactor-details

Along with a rough timeline right under the headline:

"Lockheed Martin aims to develop compact reactor prototype in five years, production unit in 10"
posted by enamon at 12:49 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, it's fusion, so yeah, boy who cried wolf, but on the other hand, this is the organization that designed the SR-71. It sure would be nice.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2014 [21 favorites]


Well, I associate those random fusion breakthrough claims with cranks working in their garage, is Lockheed saying it more credible? If we can deploy fusion power within 10 years it will literally save human civilization as we know it from environmental catastrophe.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


From the Yahoo! article,

In recent years, Lockheed has gotten increasingly involved in a variety of alternate energy projects, including several ocean energy projects, as it looks to offset a decline in U.S. and European military spending.

I've read dozens of articles about fusion on here over the years, so who knows, but I thought that was a really interesting dimension of this announcement.
posted by codacorolla at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


I don't understand this sentence: In a statement, the company, the Pentagon's largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.

If you build an test a compact reactor, is that not your prototype right there?

The "10 years away for 50 years" joke is old hat (we have it here in the title and the first comment) but I still get super excited every time one of these pieces comes out. Eventually we might figure it out, and a future with functional fusion energy is a bright one indeed.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was all "WOOO-" and then saw they didn't have a working reactor yet and I was all "-hoo."

It was what, 20 years from the first cyclotron to the first fission reactor? I have a grim feeling that if fusion reactors were gonna happen, they would have already.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you build an test a compact reactor, is that not your prototype right there?

No, the compact reactor, in addition to being smaller than the ultimately marketable one, would also probably be really ugly and not necessarily user friendly. They have to make a Thing That Works before they make a Potentially Useful Thing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:55 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Friday, February 22, 2013 they promised it in 4 years. (previously)

Today they say 5 years. Timeline has slipped a couple of years already.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:55 PM on October 15, 2014 [33 favorites]


If you build an test a compact reactor, is that not your prototype right there?
Not necessarily. If you build it in parts spread out over a football field, it's a test reactor but not a prototype.
posted by SkinnerSan at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Isn't this the same thing Lockheed announced over a year ago? That time they said there'd be a working unit by 2017 - here's the MeFi thread about it.

(Oops, beaten to it.)
posted by sobarel at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have more faith in Nukie, a YC W13 startup that aims to use crowdsourced r&d&f to build a portable fusion wearable with an API based electricity grid backend to facilitate an energy app market with micro transactions for mobile purchases of electricity.

A nuclear fusion reactor? lamewank
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [22 favorites]


The company made a profit of $3B off revenue of over $45B in the last financial year. Why does it need to "go public" to find investors and the like? Surely if this is a big breakthrough thingie, they'll want to keep all the profit, and keep quiet about it as long as possible to protect against infringements?
posted by Wordshore at 12:58 PM on October 15, 2014


I have a grim feeling that if fusion reactors were gonna happen, they would have already.

Given that every year, without fail, science discovers a whole bunch of new shit, why do you think this? I mean, pessimism is one thing, but "at our present level of knowledge and technological development, I don't think we could figure out fusion" is not the same as "fusion should be here already and it's not so it never will be, ever."
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:59 PM on October 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


The pessimist in me thinks they just want to hoover up some juicy federal energy grants.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:01 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have more faith in Nukie...

"Nukr" is funnier.
posted by The Tensor at 1:01 PM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


Interesting that the first customers will be military, where pretty much everything outside of subs and carriers operate on refined petroleum products; the timing of Lockheed's announcement aligns with Chuck Hagel's recent briefing that the Pentagon sees the writing on the wall for meeting the country's national security needs in the face of ongoing climate change.

Then there are previous military advisory board recommendations to reduce the military's dependence on oil as soon as possible.

Maybe Lockheed sees that direction coming and is talking up their product to keep the government money coming, though a real working unit is perhaps still that elusive 10-20 years away.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:02 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


The Compact Fusion page on Lockheed's own website looks weirdly like one of those ARGs they ran between seasons of Lost.
posted by theodolite at 1:03 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hey, we're still less than 20 years out from initial announcement, let's not get too upset.
posted by Artw at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2014


Aside from having a massive positive long term impact on climate change this kind of technology could also solve California's (and other places') drought problem short term... plants like this would be perfectly suited to power a whole series of desalination plants along the coast and enable the creation of steady localize water supplies.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm still holding out for the Polywell. They've done it in a proper manner.

Build a tiny one. Test. See where things go wrong. Figure out tweaks. Build a slightly bigger one. Test. See where things go wrong. Figure out more tweaks ... As of 2014, I believe they are on generation eight. It's quite slow-going because this sort of thing takes a lot of money and aeons of time to get right.
posted by adipocere at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Cut out the middleman and build your own Mr Fusion!
posted by sobarel at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


...and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.

So...Mobile death rays by 2025? I mean, this is a major defense contractor talking here...
posted by Thorzdad at 1:10 PM on October 15, 2014


Wake me up when they have a working thing. Between the non-working thing and the working ting is a chasm whose width nobody, but nobody, can tell in advance - except that it has always, but always, been far wider than anyone ever thinks at this stage.

Energy seems peculiarly susceptible to this sort of announcement. I have seen it for fusion more than once (and that's discounting scoundrels like Rossi, whose only exothermic property is that he makes me incandescent with rage whenever I see 'technical journalists' take him seriously). I have seen it with fission, I have seen it with battery technologies, and I have seen it with fuel cells. I have also seen it plenty of times for solid-state technologies, wireless and other fields, but there there's a higher strike rate of things making it through to production and a lower-than-that-but-still-higher-than-energy strike rate of being significant and successful.

And anyone who thinks the claims of a defence contractor have any greater chance of panning out than anyone else's claims, has not been paying attention. At all.
posted by Devonian at 1:12 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


The only major problem I see with this is the need to keep the superconducting coils cooled... if you're generating 100MW of heat, even 1% of that impinging on the magnets is going to cause them to quench and go conventional.

Of course, if it turns out that ultraconductors actually work (they take plastic, separate out polarons to make a topological superconductors)... then you only have to cool the coils with water, and the rest should work, on time and under budget.
posted by MikeWarot at 1:17 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have more faith in Nukie...

"Nukr" is funnier.


Nuk.io

FUND ME
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


From L-M's own website advertising this new contract-extraction mechanism:

"ENERGY CREATED THROUGH FUSION IS 3-4 TIMES MORE POWERFUL THAN THE ENERGY RELEASED BY FISSION."

This is accompanied by a stock photo of a vacuum chamber with a glowing alien starburst photoshopped in.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:21 PM on October 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


Oh, and from the Aviation Week article... I love that their plan to tackle the materials science challenges is that they'll all just work out eventually. This is really top-notch engineering work, guys.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Are we sure Lockheed's website wasn't just hacked?
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:24 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


a glowing alien starburst photoshopped in

No no, that's the dilithium crystal!
posted by sobarel at 1:26 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


*sigh*

Here's what I posted on twitter:
A fusion plant will finally allow LockMart to charge all those ultracapacitors they bought. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EEStor)

Seriously... claiming "breakthrough" when you don't even have a prototype?

Tom McGuire: if you're reading this, I will wager $10,000 that you're not going to have a prototype reactor generating net energy within the next five years. I'll even give you an extra year or two. I'll even give you odds. E-mail me.
posted by cgs06 at 1:27 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Aside from having a massive positive long term impact on climate change this kind of technology could also solve California's (and other places') drought problem short term... plants like this would be perfectly suited to power a whole series of desalination plants along the coast and enable the creation of steady localize water supplies.

You are thinking much, much too small. The reason these kinds of stories garner so much breathless, blue-sky enthusiasm is because abundant, clean, affordable energy generation (and complementarily, energy storage) would solve almost all of humanity's problems practically overnight. That said, whatever comes of this particular reactor design, tritium is neither abundant nor particularly cheap.

A thing I've always wondered about but haven't done the back-of-the-envelope on: When we're busy sucking up hydrogen (as whatever isotope) and turning it into helium, should we be concerned about the amount of matter we're allowing to just float away into space? Could we exhaust a significant amount of ocean water by meeting our maximum projected energy needs for the next, say, 10,000 years?
posted by WCWedin at 1:29 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I did it all for the Nukie.
posted by Wild_Eep at 1:29 PM on October 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Seeing as how 10 minutes of fusion (generating more power that pushed into the system) would make international news and probably Nobel prizes all around, this is a corporate push out something blah blah blah to get another grant than real science announcement.
posted by sammyo at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2014


Because what the world needs now is lots more truck-sized neutron sources.
posted by hank at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2014


Thank you, fusion, for your interest in creating a sustainable energy system. At this time, however, we are moving in a different direction that will not be able to take advantage of your skill set. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Solar & Wind
posted by No Robots at 1:34 PM on October 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Hey, I'd love a truck-sized stable neutron beam generator.

For, you know, reasons.
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


WCWedin, there is a mass of 1.87 * 10^17 kg of JUST deuterium in the ocean. In 10,000 years I expect (if we still exist as a species) we'll know how to fuse plain old hydrogen as well.
posted by WaylandSmith at 1:36 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


A thing I've always wondered about but haven't done the back-of-the-envelope on: When we're busy sucking up hydrogen (as whatever isotope) and turning it into helium, should we be concerned about the amount of matter we're allowing to just float away into space? Could we exhaust a significant amount of ocean water by meeting our maximum projected energy needs for the next, say, 10,000 years?

Physicists at UCSD did some of the math. It looks like the bottleneck is lithium (used to make tritium), not water:
We aren’t exactly swimming in lithium, so did we make a bad trade in picking this horse? Each lithium atom converted to tritium will end up yielding about 20 MeV of thermal energy, so that we need 1.3×1032 Li atoms annually to produce our world consumption of 4×1020 J. That’s about 1500 metric tons of lithium annually, or about 5% of current lithium production. Proven world reserves give us 9000 years, and estimated resources give us 22,000, according to the U.S.G.S. Mineral Commodities Summaries.

For fun, let’s look at how much water each person needs to supply each year to provide enough deuterium. The average American demands 10,000 W of continuous power, or 3×1011 J of energy per year. At 20 MeV per whack, each person needs 1023 reactions per year. In the D-D case (requiring twice the deuterium as D-T), this means we need 2×1023 deuterium atoms—coming from 2×1027 hydrogen atoms at a fractional abundance of 0.01%. Sounds like a lot, but it’s 3,300 moles—amounting to 60 kg of ordinary water. 60 liters is similar to the amount of water used in a typical American shower. It’s hard to emphasize enough the extent to which deuterium availability poses no problem: there is enough deuterium in the ocean to provide our current energy demand for billions of years.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


Never mind guys. Apple rejected it from the app store.
posted by srboisvert at 1:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


The design sounds a lot like the Tandem Mirror Experiment.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:42 PM on October 15, 2014


So, no iNuke?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:43 PM on October 15, 2014


Can someone tell me the downsides? What are the waste products, what is the environmental impact in making/running a fusion reactor? What do we have to extract, and how destructive is that likely to be (how does one mine lithium anyway?)
posted by emjaybee at 1:44 PM on October 15, 2014


"Nukr" is funnier.

nuke.io

So, no iNuke?


I think I can tell how up to date people are based on their joke-y names.

Nukr: 2005-2008
nuke.io: 2012
iNuke:2004 - 2012

2014 jokes names should be something like:  NUKE
posted by sideshow at 1:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't understand the motivation for publicizing it. Does lockheed need the money? Is there some senator they're trying to strong arm into signing a procurement contract?

I think Lockheed can figure out fusion if anyone can, I just don't understand why they'd publicize this and not all the other super-secret stuff they're working on.
posted by empath at 1:55 PM on October 15, 2014


Does lockheed need the money?

Lockheed always needs the money. That get the money and they have the money because their guiding principle is that they always need the money.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Because what the world needs now is lots more truck-sized neutron sources.

Well, this design is inherently safer than just about any other, with the push needing to be powered to cause reaction. Complete loss of power might cause a release of the Tritium, which wouldn't be great, but it's a really, really tiny amount of it, so that's something too.

The article says they need to involve materials specialists, not that they need new materials. I'm not an engineer, so I don't know, but that doesn't sound like a barrier.

Hopefully this will cause the ITER program to light a fire under there collective behinds.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:58 PM on October 15, 2014


Can someone tell me the downsides? What are the waste products, what is the environmental impact in making/running a fusion reactor? What do we have to extract, and how destructive is that likely to be (how does one mine lithium anyway?)

The main problem, from what i understand, is that the containment vessel becomes radioactive over time, and also degrades.
posted by empath at 1:59 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Lithium, like aluminum, is produced electrochemically. It's mined from salt flats in South America. There are other kinds of orebodies too.

Waste products from fusion are frequently glossed over, but it seems likely that at least side effect products like irradiated and thus radioactive shielding will need to be dealt with.
posted by bonehead at 1:59 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The article says they need to involve materials specialists, not that they need new materials. I'm not an engineer, so I don't know, but that doesn't sound like a barrier.

I am and it does. They don't even have materials specialists involved and they're going to build a working model next year? Yeah, right. The materials science challenges in nuclear engineering are significant.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:00 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think I can tell how up to date people are based on their joke-y names.

The new school is to use an unrelated noun you can trademark at random. So, "Haybale: the Social Nuclear Energy Reactor." Its logo will be a cartoon of an anthropomorphized bale of hay. On fire. Smiling sweetly on little thin legs.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:01 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


Skunk works = no real skunks involved.
posted by newdaddy at 2:03 PM on October 15, 2014


Why can't they just back-engineer the warp drive from the ufo they've got in hanger 18?
posted by marienbad at 2:04 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


They'd better hurry. Andrea Rossi's LENR E-Cat will be available any day now.
posted by jgaiser at 2:10 PM on October 15, 2014


Aside from having a massive positive long term impact on climate change...

I would like to be convinced that this was so obviously true.
posted by fairmettle at 2:12 PM on October 15, 2014


Timelines for fusion reactors are estimated using Zeno's Paradox. We're half-way done, therefore they will never arrive.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


When, not if, a corporation or government comes up with a viable fusion reactor or similar fossil fuel replacement it's going to kick off the largest and most rapid transfer of wealth the world has ever seen. It'll be fascinating and probably not peaceful. I'm sure all energy mega-corps have contingencies upon contingencies and I bet many of them aren't nice.
posted by fshgrl at 2:16 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


FFS, my dad worked on the failed nuclear-powered plane in the 1950s, continued with, shall we say, exotic military aerospace until he retired, and was at one of the Lockheed's major competitors with a similar concept most of his last career decade. He would be one of the 1st people asked to work on this project and he even lives in SoCal. This is about as close to realization as colonies on Venus.
posted by Dreidl at 2:18 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you build an test a compact reactor, is that not your prototype right there?

Not really. Prototypes are meant to go to production.

This is interesting, in the sense that this is Lockheed-Martin. They have a reputation of actually accomplishing things (over budget sometimes, sure.) This isn't J. Random Nobody claiming this.

The 5 year goal is actually "Ignition + 10 seconds steady state runtime after fuel injection shutoff." That's lab level work, but that's also a *huge* step if they accomplish it, triply so with β>1. If they manage to get to that point, I think that fusion power has gone from being a completely fantasy to at least possible in the real world. The second goal is 5 years from that, which is an initial production version, which implies steady state power in 7-8 years, workable prototypes in 9 years, and then production. Steady State power means fusion has going from 50 years in the future to months, and L-M is saying that's 7 years away. We'll see.

BTW, back of the truck is not "small 5KVA Honda Generator in a pickup", it's "back of a pair of semitrailers."

To me, it's still a dream, and it's not a very likely dream to come true, but the fact that L-M is willing to actually go this public with it? Maybe there is something here.

I would like to be convinced that this was so obviously true.

This particular version of fusion is completely no carbon, provided that the power source to get the deuterium refined from seawater is also zero carbon. If they make this work, that'll be the *first* thing that gets powered by the fusion plant. Even if it can't scale up to the grid scale, if it can scale out, it can replace every electrical power plant we have. That alone would be a huge improvement in our carbon output.

Seriously. If you can build 10,000 100MW D-T fusion units a year, that would be quite literally the single biggest change you or I will ever see. Don't get your hopes up yet, but fusion power has been the holy grail for a reason, and, well, I find it unusual that L-M is so insistent that they have this one licked.

If you want to bet money on this? Go long on Lockheed Martin and short on power/oil companies. If you want to be against, reverse that.
posted by eriko at 2:19 PM on October 15, 2014 [16 favorites]


The main problem, from what i understand, is that the containment vessel becomes radioactive over time, and also degrades.

The main problem, as far as I know, is that they've done a butt-ton of calculations but haven't actually built anything.

They are just letting us know that the math looks super-awesome(tm).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:28 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Considering Mr. Fusion is only a year away I'm not impressed.
posted by ckape at 2:29 PM on October 15, 2014


nu.ke

anyone know a Kenyan domain registrar?
posted by kokaku at 2:30 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can someone tell me the downsides?

When the government seizes this technology and uses it to power a bloody takeover of the rest of the world, because it's just too dangerous not to?
I mean, what if it "fell into the wrong hands?"
posted by demonic winged headgear at 2:30 PM on October 15, 2014


adipocere:
"I'm still holding out for the Polywell. They've done it in a proper manner.
Build a tiny one. Test. See where things go wrong. Figure out tweaks. Build a slightly bigger one. Test. See where things go wrong. Figure out more tweaks ... As of 2014, I believe they are on generation eight. It's quite slow-going because this sort of thing takes a lot of money and aeons of time to get right.
"
This sounds like a very similar approach to what a group of engineers has been doing at the University of Washington. Here's an article about their project that was published on Science Daily about a week ago:
"Right now, the UW's concept is about one-tenth the size and power output of a final product, which is still years away. The researchers have successfully tested the prototype's ability to sustain a plasma efficiently, and as they further develop and expand the size of the device they can ramp up to higher-temperature plasma and get significant fusion power output."
One of the focal points of the article was that the cost of building a power plant based on their designed was going to be cheaper than an equivalent coal based plant:
"The UW researchers factored the cost of building a fusion reactor power plant using their design and compared that with building a coal power plant. They used a metric called "overnight capital costs," which includes all costs, particularly startup infrastructure fees. A fusion power plant producing 1 gigawatt (1 billion watts) of power would cost $2.7 billion, while a coal plant of the same output would cost $2.8 billion, according to their analysis."
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:33 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


"ENERGY CREATED THROUGH FUSION IS 3-4 TIMES MORE POWERFUL THAN THE ENERGY RELEASED BY FISSION."

our fusion energy provides 3.6 joules per joule
posted by NMcCoy at 2:35 PM on October 15, 2014 [27 favorites]


A lot of the materials, waste and impact concerns depend on exactly how fusion power systems end up being built on commercial scale. It's very hard to predict today exactly what might happen.

I mean, I'm not sure that when people first started building wind-power turbines that they necessarily predicted it would have major geopolitical concerns in terms of access to certain "rare earth" elements used in the magnets. (And which are really not all that rare, but they're expensive to mine responsibly and so they tend to be mined in places with... relaxed attitudes towards resource extraction industries. One person's green power is someone else's environmental disaster. So it goes.)

One big question is whether deuterium-deuterium fusion, deuterium-tritium fusion, or some other variety of fusion end up being commercially viable. (D-D fusion is the easiest to accomplish but I've heard it argued that D-T fusion might be the easiest to achieve energy breakeven on.)

Deuterium (2H or D) is produced by separating heavy water, 2H2O, from normal water and then cracking it with electricity. There aren't any heavy water manufacturing plants around anymore that I'm aware of; they all sorta went out of business with the decline in nuclear-weapons production. (The Russians might still have one, who knows.)

Tritium (3H) is made industrially by separating 6Li from common lithium ore, of which it is a ~6% fraction or so, and then bombarding the 6Li with neutrons, yielding tritium and helium. You can also make it, though, by keeping deuterium (typically as heavy water) in a high-neutron-flux environment for a long time; occasionally a deuterium atom will absorb a neutron and become tritium. This is not really suited for large-scale production though.

Anyway, that's how you'd get your fuels. It's all stuff we know how to do, except that to date we've done it as part of weapons programs and they don't have the greatest environmental record. That isn't to say that the processes can't be done cleanly, just that they historically haven't been. But I wouldn't really want to live downwind or share the same water table with any part of that process if I could avoid it.

As far as waste products go, fusion is 'cleaner' than fission in the sense that it doesn't produce the middle-of-the-periodic-table isotopes, particularly ones that the human body loves to absorb. But the reactors would produce neutrons — in fact, you'd want them to, unless you wanted to keep a bunch of fission breeder reactors around to produce your tritium — and that raises some...issues. The materials comprising the reactor would be subject to the neutron flux and could over time (via neutron capture) become radioactive in varying ways. Assuming fusion plants worked like fission plants, and had coolant loops that produced steam to drive turbines, the innermost coolant loops would probably not be something you'd want to share freely with the environment once they'd been running a while. There's no meltdown risk per se, but you could still have some interesting industrial-scale fuckups.

And there's still a proliferation angle anytime you have a big source of neutrons, although I'm not really convinced that a lack of neutron sources is really the limiting factor in arms programs.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:37 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Lockheed Martin: More like fusion over-reactor.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:46 PM on October 15, 2014


The physics of fusion is fairly well known, containment is the issue, first and foremost. They want to stick a pair of superconducting coils into a vessel generating 100 Megawatts of heat. This is a big materials problem if you go with conventional superconductors which operate at liquid helium temperatures.

There are rumors of superconductors good to well above 200c... based on topological superconductors. If these do work, that's what the coils will be made of (along with a conventional conductor for a shell and to contain cooling water).

The outer shell should be made of something that can take a shit-ton of neutrons and not transmute into a gnarly mess of isotopes. Don't even think of using cobalt in the same facility as this thing, especially keep it out of the cooling water loop!

While certainly cynical that this is mostly about stock price and government contracts... I figure they have at least a 50% chance of pulling this off within 10 years.... 20% of doing it before 2020.
posted by MikeWarot at 2:58 PM on October 15, 2014


I WANT TO BELIEVE
posted by the painkiller at 3:03 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


There aren't any heavy water manufacturing plants around anymore that I'm aware of; they all sorta went out of business with the decline in nuclear-weapons production. (The Russians might still have one, who knows.)

Heavy water reactors are a civilian application that has a need for heavy water. India's still manufacturing heavy water. Canada stopped making it ten years ago but has a large stockpile to keep its reactors running; presumably they would start manufacturing again if they ever ran low.

It's not difficult engineering. If the world needed more heavy water we could start producing more in a hurry.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:14 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cool and all, but if this doesn't pan out someone's getting stuffed in a locker.
posted by echocollate at 3:16 PM on October 15, 2014


Snarkiest funniest comment on Slashdot:

The company says it has proved the feasibility of building a 100MW reactor measuring only 7 feet by 10 feet.

That's why it never worked before! Nobody thought about building a two-dimensional reactor!
posted by sammyo at 3:25 PM on October 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


If this is real, they could completely transform the world. A 100-megawatt fusion reactor small enough to fit on a truck? That blows any other power source out of the (heavy) water. No need to use coal anymore. You could power neighbourhoods with those things, or even build science fiction ideas like artificial islands that endlessly sail the seas and never have to resupply from land.

But that's if it's real. It's hard to believe that Tom McGuire and his small team came up with something more innovative in four years than the hundreds of physicists who have devoted lifetimes to the cause... But hey, who knows. It only takes one Archimedes. I hope it's real.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2014


This is accompanied by a stock photo of a vacuum chamber with a glowing alien starburst photoshopped in.

It looks kinda like they had a picture of a Farnsworth fusor and someone decided to jazz it up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2014


2014 jokes names should be something like:  NUKE

NUKE FOR A TBH <3
posted by nzero at 3:27 PM on October 15, 2014


All I can say is that the Polywell fusion reactor looks exactly the way I want it to look. EXACTLY.
posted by Freen at 3:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I totally get the kneejerk skepticism here, insert always 10 years away joke. But as pointed out, this is Lockheed Martin. They don't really have a track record of saying they can do things they can't. And the ramifications of promising this and failing to deliver could rebound on them pretty hard, I think?

Contradicting that, I'm somewhat bewildered as to why Skunkworks would search for outside help in such a public way. You'd think they have books laying around with all the contact information with The Smartest People In The World.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've been hurt by fusion's promise too many times in the past to be ready to trust her again.
posted by vorpal bunny at 3:56 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


GoogleNuke (Takes you from Google Earth to the outer reaches of Google Space via patented Google Wormhole Technology).
posted by misha at 4:14 PM on October 15, 2014


But as pointed out, this is Lockheed Martin. They don't really have a track record of saying they can do things they can't.

F-35
posted by indubitable at 4:19 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


As I understand it that project was (as usual) festooned with all sorts of Congressional crap that made success impossible? I could be wrong.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:22 PM on October 15, 2014


F-35

EZ-Pass
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:23 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


sammyo:
"The company says it has proved the feasibility of building a 100MW reactor measuring only 7 feet by 10 feet.

That's why it never worked before! Nobody thought about building a two-dimensional reactor!
"
Maybe it's got a tiny footprint but is like 1,700 feet tall.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


But as pointed out, this is Lockheed Martin. They don't really have a track record of saying they can do things they can't.

XF-90
X-33
The Mars Climate Orbiter. (Metric conversion fail!)
MULE

I could go on... I mean, this is a firm that does a lot of experimental work, but a lot of those experiments fail.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


XF-90
X-33
The Mars Climate Orbiter.
MULE

Only one of these is a Skunkworks project and that one was 55+ years ago
posted by Megafly at 4:56 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


press release = funding
posted by Muddler at 5:07 PM on October 15, 2014


Neutron bombardment, cooling those magnets, and those weird plasma end-caps that somehow solve the fundamental problem of containment -- they have a lot of hurdles to clear. But more power to them for trying.

Amusingly, the UW fusion guy -- last week's flavor -- turns up in the comments to the Aviation Week article linked above to trash talk the Lockheed proposal. I love the internet.
posted by chortly at 5:08 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


A power plant that fits on the back of a truck?

It seems at best they have a big hot water bottle. Where's the steam turbine, electrical generator, 100,000 gallon per hour water source, and 600-foot-tall cooling tower (unless they have also repealed the laws of thermodynamics) .
posted by JackFlash at 5:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Tom McGuire: if you're reading this, I will wager $10,000 that you're not going to have a prototype reactor generating net energy within the next five years. I'll even give you an extra year or two. I'll even give you odds. E-mail me.

If there's not already a prediction market for commercial fusion, I'm going to start one. THEN we'll all know how close it really is.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:50 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


All I can say is that the Polywell fusion reactor looks exactly the way I want it to look. EXACTLY.

It needs more. If you want to scale this up, it must spin.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:22 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


When Pons and Fleischmann thought they had generated enough fusion to barely heat a bowl of water noticeably the main reason everyone thought they were wrong was that they were still alive. A megawatt scale reactor will be like a neutron bomb going off every couple of minutes, the whole time it is operating. There is *no* shielding that can make such a thing safe and be the size of a truck.

I know there are a few supposedly aneutronic fusion reactions. In the fairy dust land of fusion power those are what fairy dust complain about being fairy dust.

Neutrons don't just kill people. They are also very bad for machines, knocking atoms out of position in crystalline lattices, changing them both into radioisotopes and different chemicals, inducing fission, and generally being a huge pain in the ass. They make metals weaker and brittle and quickly destroy semiconductor electronics. The problem with those superconducting magnets isn't the heat from the reaction, which can be handled if you pump enough liquid helium through them. It's the damn neutrons which will destroy them and from which it is completely impossible to shield them. Assuming you can make the reaction go, which is a big if, how can you control it if you can't keep sensors, actuators, the magnets, and even basic wiring intact due to the neutron flux?
posted by localroger at 6:55 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


3PR2 + 1yahoo = hype3

More energy out than in - that is fusion baby.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 7:08 PM on October 15, 2014


Water and hydrocarbons (oils, plastics) absorb neutrons and can be effective shields. Some borated compounds too. And concretes (hydrated silicates).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:23 PM on October 15, 2014


Neutrons don't just kill people. They are also very bad for machines, knocking atoms out of position in crystalline lattices, changing them both into radioisotopes and different chemicals, inducing fission, and generally being a huge pain in the ass.

This about the single best explanation as to why we don't have fusion already I've ever seen.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:35 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Water and hydrocarbons (oils, plastics) absorb neutrons and can be effective shields.

For a reaction on the scale the OP is claiming you would need meters of such materials. The reactor might be the size of a truck but the shielding can't be, and it can't shield the reactor components themselves from the flux of the reaction.

This (neutrons) about the single best explanation as to why we don't have fusion already I've ever seen.

Oh they haven't even GOTTEN to the neutron problem. The few projects that have champaigne waiting in the cooler are going to break it out when they solve the containment problem, e.g. just getting the reaction to go continuously and provide more energy than is required to maintain the conditions for sustaining it. THEN they will start seriously thinking about the neutron problem.

Really, it's only Pons and Fleischmann that got a lot of people thinking about the neutron problem because even the modest bit of fusion they claimed should have killed them. Until then nobody had really asked what would happen if you sustained an industrial scale power reaction continuously, and the answer isn't pretty.
posted by localroger at 7:57 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


One caveat: Due to the whole water absorbing neutrons thing one really good place to put a compact fusion reactor, if you can figure out how to build one, would be deep underwater. You don't usually see that proposed though because people haven't even been thinking about the neutrons, and it still doesn't help you with the neutron bombardment of the intricate machine that's sustaining the reaction.
posted by localroger at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2014


I think it would be great if Lockheed finally got off government welfare after all these years.
posted by JJ86 at 8:21 PM on October 15, 2014


To me, the best explanation for why we don't have fusion isn't "dangerous neutrons". We create all sorts of dangerous neutrons with fission reactors, and haven't had any problems have only killed a few thousand people or so (depending how you count). The point is that neutrons didn't keep us from doing it.

To me, the explanation for why we don't have fusion is that new problems show up when size and power density scales up (and they must in order to break even energy-wise). Everything looks great in the small prototypes. When you get bigger size and higher powers, instabilities and fluctuations show up and make the plasma sad.

This pattern seems true of all the big fusion projects.
posted by sarah_pdx at 8:24 PM on October 15, 2014


The point is that neutrons didn't keep us from doing it.

(Yet.)

The Wiki page on Aneutronic Fusion is a lot of nerd-fun, if you don't mind being depressed at the end of it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2014


I think it would be great if Lockheed finally got off government welfare after all these years.

Governments have a vested interest in alternative energy, because petroleum and coal are dead-ends, nuclear fission has shown to be unsafe when run either by public or private entities, and other forms are too localized to be expanded to meet current demand. The US, particularly, given its penchant for one failed colonial venture after another over the last 40 years, needs a different direction. I don't have much of a problem with corporate welfare if it is directed towards things that improve the common good in the long run, whether it is basic life sciences research that leads to drug discoveries 10-20 years down the road, or crapshoot fusion projects with little chance of success in the immediate 20-year timeframe. We'll learn a lot, in the meantime, and it puts smart people to work on projects that don't involve killing or enslaving people for their natural resources. To the extent that Lockheed can be transitioned away from single-purpose military projects, the better off everyone will be.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


nuklr
posted by sexyrobot at 9:31 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Don't we get our Mr.Fusions next year?

(On preview, asked and answered.)
posted by tresbizzare at 9:37 PM on October 15, 2014


Ok... how many neutrons can plastic take? Here's the patent of significance to ultraconductors. If the research does pan out, you can have superconductors that work to boiling water temperatures.

Which you need if you want to have the coils inside the reactor.
posted by MikeWarot at 9:42 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The neutron bombardment issue is probably the aspect of a fusion reactor that is closest to fission reactors and what we as a civilization have the most experience with. Studying the effects of neutron flux on various materials (metals, alloys, ceramics, plastics, whatever) has been a fairly big deal since the 1950s. That's the least part of the issue.

High temperature superconductors? Confinement? Making the whole thing net above break-even? Those are significant problems. Building a containment vessel or a coolant loop? Not easy, but that's definitely not the part of the problem that would make me unhurried to unload my fossil-energy stocks.

Still, if we ever come up with workable commercial-scale energy generation from D-D or D-T fusion, this is probably how it'll go: a big corporation with a direct line to a superpower's R&D budget, or a government research lab proper. Not some dude in a garage. Modern applied physics and industrial engineering is really goddamn expensive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 PM on October 15, 2014


I think I can tell how up to date people are based on their joke-y names.

No you can't. I'm totally up date on the hot trends here in two thousand and--
[looks at calendar]
OH SHIT.
posted by The Tensor at 10:41 PM on October 15, 2014


The neutrons you get from D-T fusion are 'fast' 14 MeV neutrons, quite different from the slower neutrons you get from fission (2 MeV and further moderated). The plasma-facing components in a fusion reactor are gonna see a massive flux of fast neutrons, which totally messes up material structure at the atomic level, leading to voiding and brittleness. People have talked about building a dedicated International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility with the right kind of neutron beam for some time now, but they keep pushing it back.

Of course you can try to be aneutronic from the get-go, but the temperatures required are so much higher that I've never been able to take those companies seriously.
posted by Standard Orange at 11:09 PM on October 15, 2014


It will be so expensive that the only entities that could afford it will be oil companies, and they will use it to power their new mega floating drilling rig islands, or refining tar sands to make oil.

Oy, my mood has been chronically bleak lately.
posted by dglynn at 11:35 PM on October 15, 2014


Like Erica, I want to believe. I want to believe that if anybodycould do it, the Skunkworks could do it. But damn it- anything regarding fuson is like believing that just this once, Lucy won't pull the football away. I just can't let myself get my hopes up, I can be strong. this time.
posted by happyroach at 11:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Drinky Die: If we can deploy fusion power within 10 years it will literally save human civilization as we know it from environmental catastrophe.
I too want to believe. I felt the same way until I remembered Exponential Economist Meets Finite Physicist. That brought to mind the timeless wisdom of Winston Wolf.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


✓NUKE
just do it
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:28 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Two things about the neutron flux: first, the solution I've seen proposed is to jacket the vessel with lithium, so you get a "free" tritium source. I don't know how thick it would have to be to make standing next to this L-M thingy safe, but that would be an interesting thing to know.

Second, how long are we talking about for a vessel like that proposed to stop working under the fast neutron flux it would produce? That must be knowable. If it's anything more than a few months, it's probably worth just building replacements every time, or replacing the most vulnerable parts. Of course, that involves designing the facility and core to make such a replacement feasible, but that's just engineering.
posted by regularfry at 1:32 AM on October 16, 2014


See the thing is, neutron flux, transmutation of materials, etc. are all minor problems, comparatively. There's multiple ways of dealing with that, starting with putting a good distance between the reactor and anything else. All these problems pale in comparison to compressing the plasma enough to actually fuse. If they solve THAT problem, the rest of the system is fairly trivial.

...Of course that's like saying "If I can survive the fall from 10,00p feet, the rest of the plane crash will be no problem."
posted by happyroach at 2:17 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


All these problems pale in comparison to compressing the plasma enough to actually fuse.

Weeeellll... getting some fusion is comparatively simple. Getting enough is the problem.
posted by regularfry at 3:44 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't help but think the fact that we're talking about it has Kelly Johnson spinning in his grave.
posted by Thistledown at 5:02 AM on October 16, 2014


this is the organization that designed the SR-71
  1. No, not really. Only in name.
  2. The SR-71 was hugely expensive to operate, very difficult to fly safely, and only made economic sense when compared to satellite launches
  3. And in any case, it's kind of not the same type of problem.
posted by lodurr at 7:08 AM on October 16, 2014


IANANE*, but Nuke Es in the past have told me that the waste problem with fusion is extremely non-trivial, and is not limited to the radioactivity of the containment vessel. But you need to get a real Nuke-E to explain more than that.


--
*...Nuke-E.
posted by lodurr at 7:15 AM on October 16, 2014


The point is that neutrons didn't keep us from doing it.

As Standard Orange points out D-T fusion neutrons are a lot faster and more damaging than fission neutrons. But there's also a hell of a lot more of them.

How many more? Well, in a typical hydrogen bomb, about 10% of the total energy output comes from the fission trigger, about 10% from the actual fusion reaction, and the remaining 80% from fast neutrons fissioning the depleted uranium tamper. That's how many neutrons you get from a fusion reaction -- enough to supply one neutron per U-238 and fission them to generate ten times the thermal energy of the fusion reaction.

This is also the reason those Nuke-E's told lodurr that the waste problem is hard; fast neutrons turn ordinary matter into toxic radioactive waste with great efficiency. While you could put the reactor in a remote desert or under the ocean, that doesn't stop the neutrons from affecting the structure of the reactor itself, and it's not possible to make the whole reactor out of the few elements that are relatively unaffected by fast neutrons.
posted by localroger at 7:35 AM on October 16, 2014


this is the organization that designed the SR-71
lodurr: No, not really. Only in name.
The SR-71 was hugely expensive to operate, very difficult to fly safely, and only made economic sense when compared to satellite launches
And in any case, it's kind of not the same type of problem.
So, it was a bargain, because "economic sense" is completely contextual. "Hugely expensive to operate, and operate safely" is also true of a LOT of new technologies, so that seems very analogous.

"Only in name", I assume, is because they originated the idea, but it was brought to fruition by others. OK. Valid. OTOH, it does suggest they can originate big ideas that come to fruition. (If you mean something different, please explain.)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:46 AM on October 16, 2014


No, only in name because in practical terms it's not the same organization: different people, different corporate structure, different reporting structure, different procedures....
posted by lodurr at 8:52 AM on October 16, 2014


Saying 'the same organization' is like saying that the BMW Mini is made by the same organization as the Mini Cooper.
posted by lodurr at 8:55 AM on October 16, 2014


As far as the cost of the SR-71: My point was precisely that, in that context, the hugely expensive, exotic and difficult to operate system made sense.

Fusion, by contrast, may not make economic sense, now that we're beginning to accept that there are sustainable and commercially viable alternatives.
posted by lodurr at 8:56 AM on October 16, 2014


lodurr: there are sustainable and commercially viable alternatives.
Not nearly proven to be true.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:06 AM on October 16, 2014


feloniousmonk: "this is the organization that designed the SR-71."

NOPE! It may have the same name, but it's NOT the same organization. The SR-71 was designed and built in the 60's. You might remember that era for things like manned spaceflight and lunar landings.

Today's Skunkworks is as fucked up and inept as any other current business. (Trust me) It's sad, but undeniable that we've been going backward for 30+ years.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom: Not nearly proven to be true.

So, what's the problem, here? Is it just that you're so bullish on fusion, or that you don't want to accept that it's possible to get commercially viable energy from other sources? Or do you need to see an energy source that will meet all current needs, without a requirement to reduce consumption overall? Or are you requiring that all needs be met by a single source?

From where I'm sitting, fusion is not likely to have very high margins of return for a very long time, it has huge risk factors associated with it, and its eternal promise serves as a major deterrent to finding energy solutions that can actually work for us in a shorter term and without so much centrally-controlled capital investment. If you want to make persuasive arguments against those concerns, I'm all ears.

The promise of fusion is one of the great memes of the 20th century. It's a great example of techno-positivism run amok. "We don't need to conserve because SOMEDAY FUSION." I'm not seeing anything in this story that convinces me that's changed.
posted by lodurr at 9:22 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is in fact strong evidence that renewables constitute an effective solution to the energy system's problems. That evidence is in the numbers:
The role of renewable sources in the global power mix continues to increase. On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source. As global renewable electricity generation expands in absolute terms, it is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016, becoming the second most important global electricity source, after coal. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018, up from 20% in 2011 and 19% in 2006. Driven by fast-growing generation from wind and solar photovoltaics (PV), the share of non-hydro renewable power is seen doubling, to 8% of gross generation in 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and 2% in 2006. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), non-hydro renewable power rises to 11% of OECD gross generation in 2018, up from 7% in 2012 and 3% in 2006.--Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report 2013 / International Energy Agency
While some continue to fantasize about nuclear solutions (while ignoring existing problems with waste disposal and exclusion zones), the rest of the world is busy building a bio-friendly system.
posted by No Robots at 9:22 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Governments have a vested interest in alternative energy...

As a citizen of several levels of government, I agree! And yet their behaviour often runs exactly counter to that expectation. (And that's only the Canadian example.)

Also I think you're underestimating the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex, of which Lockheed is a founding member. Giving up their commitment to profiting from the sale of pretty much everything in the service of the armed forces (never mind the international arms trade) would entail them also giving up a big chuck of political clout and a major role in the US economy. Sad to say, I'm not optimistic this will happen in the lifetime of my kids.
posted by sneebler at 9:26 AM on October 16, 2014


It's really hard to have a rational discussion about fission power. I have felt for a long time that there are tremendous problems with it, and I find the techno-optimism of fission-boosters like Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly to be really irritating. On the other hand, I was raised with fission, so to speak: my dad and eldest brother are both Nuke-Es with experience in reactor design (in my dad's case, decades of it). We often had pretty frank discussions about the risks. I used to support a nuclear engineering department at a major university, and typed an awful lot of papers about modeling on reactor accident scenarios. I know that from a technical perspective, waste disposal is a solved problem.

But I accept that politics is a reality, and I also accept that we may not have the luxury in the future of expecting highly centralized services to be properly run. And that's a big problem for an industry that needs to have a ridiculously good safety record.
posted by lodurr at 9:29 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know that he underestimates the influence of the military-industrial complex so much as that it wasn't really relevant to that particular point.
posted by lodurr at 9:30 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The promise of fusion is... a great example of techno-positivism run amok.

But, But, we'll need fusion to get to space!!

(Disclaimer: I don't think we're going to space anytime soon, if ever.)
posted by sneebler at 9:31 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. Anyhow I see both fusion-boosterism and the MIC as obstacles to a realistic & sustainable energy system based on renewables and conservation. I still believe in Peak Oil though.
posted by sneebler at 9:36 AM on October 16, 2014


Has anybody considered reversing the polarity of the neutron flux? That might be just the thing we need to get this reactor online!
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:42 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


good god, man, you wanna get us all killed?!
posted by lodurr at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Galaxor Nebulon: "Has anybody considered reversing the polarity of the neutron flux?"

Just reverse the tachyon beam and everything will be fine. Sheesh!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:17 PM on October 16, 2014


"2014 jokes names should be something like:  NUKE

ello.co/nuke
posted by klangklangston at 2:30 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Me, I'm holding out for fuchsia reactors.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:31 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


See the thing is, neutron flux, transmutation of materials, etc. are all minor problems, comparatively. There's multiple ways of dealing with that, starting with putting a good distance between the reactor and anything else.

The problem is the "first wall" material, the stuff closest to the fusion plasma. We can't put that far away because the huge magnets that confine the plasma have to be outside the chamber, and the further away the magnets are, the less effective they get. For typical power plant availability, we have no materials that fit the bill, and replacing components constantly is not cost effective. It's a major issue.
posted by Standard Orange at 9:18 PM on October 16, 2014


If anyone's still interested, here's a science summary.
posted by sneebler at 8:18 AM on October 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


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