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Fully Operational Nuclear Fusion Reactor Expected Within Next Five Years

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Aug 13, 2015 12:23 AM EDT
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A project for a fusion power reactor is described in a paper published in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design. The research is co-authored by professor Denis G. Whyte, Ph.D. candidate Brandon Sorbom and 11 others graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). The scientists working on the project have characterized the fusion reactor design as being  'affordable, robust, compact'.

We all know the fictional hero of the "Iron Man" movie franchise, Tony Stark, who saved his life and the planet by designing a compact power source called the "arc reactor." But within the decade something similar may become a reality.

The work on the fusion power reactor at M.I.T. began as a class project that originated from a Nuclear Science and Engineering graduate course.  The team of researchers has published their blueprint for an "ARC" fusion energy power plant at demonstration-scale. The acronym behind the "ARC" name stands up for "affordable, robust, compact" and their project could very well live up to the ambitious goals.

The MIT ARC team has received the funding for the project from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. The researchers are graduate students participating in a course at M.I.T. led by Whyte, a professor of nuclear science and engineering and the new director of the school's Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

The ambitious project of the MIT ARC team is a great example of academic integrating directly with innovation. There are also several other commercial efforts to build a fusion power reactor under way, including a Lockheed Martin reactor design. Bill Gates's Foundation has also plans for investment push on game-changing renewable and nuclear energy innovation. However, MIT ARC team's project is distinguished among all by being an academic model that can generate big breakthroughs.

The ARC fusion power plant could be a real breakthrough in the quest to fusion power. The reactor's design is just in the stage of a simple proposal for now, but the M.I.T. ARC team announced that it can be built with our actual technology in just a five-year timeframe.

Among other bigger scale projects, the one in France, costing $40 billion, was started in 2013 and it is expected to be completed in the year 2019. However, the project was started before the new superconductors to become available, therefore the MIT ARC project is based on more advanced technology.

The researchers at M.I.T. declared that "a full engineering design is beyond the scope of the ARC study." Their project is based on advances in magnet technology and it is a practical compact tokamak fusion reactor. If they will be able to really build their reactor we would enter a new the era of practical fusion power offering a nearly inexhaustible energy resource.

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