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Power Technology

Ask MIT Researchers About Fusion Power 318

Nuclear fusion power is the process of fusing light nuclei together to release energy, and ultimately, to put electricity on the grid. Today, we have six researchers from MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center here to answer your questions about fusion power, tokamaks, and public support and funding in the U.S. for this research. The Obama Administration's budget request for fiscal year 2013 is paying for the U.S. share of ITER construction out of the domestic program, starting with the closure of the MIT fusion lab. The interviewees are ready to answer technical and policy questions, so don't be shy! And, as always, please break unrelated questions into separate posts. Read on for information about the researchers who will answer your questions.
Dr. Martin Greenwald is a Senior Scientist and Associate Director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. His experimental work focuses on turbulence and transport, density limits, and pellet fueling of magnetically confined plasmas. More recently, Dr. Greenwald has been heavily involved with data management, computation, simulation, networks, and remote collaborations for fusion research.

Professor Ian Hutchinson is interested in plasma control in tokamaks, as well as spatially resolved measurements of the radiated power coming from the plasma. He is the author of the standard fusion textbook Principles of Plasma Diagnostics. Prof. Hutchinson also works on particle-in-cell simulations of astrophysical and laboratory plasmas.

Assistant Professor Anne White researches turbulence phenomena on the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, developing new diagnostics to resolve the small fluctuations which cause energy and particles to leak out. She is the recent recipient of the U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Award.

Professor Dennis Whyte pursues research into plasma–material interactions; that is, the way the hot plasma in a magnetic fusion reactor interacts with the surrounding solid materials walls. His team is also developing novel diagnostics for fusion nuclear science, which is critical as fusion reactors start producing power (and neutrons) over long periods of time.

Nathan Howard and Geoff Olynyk are Ph.D students on the Alcator C-Mod project. Nathan, who is in the final year of his studies, studies turbulent transport phenomena experimentally and through simulation. Geoff, in his fourth year, is working on disruption mitigation, which is a way to quickly and safely shut a tokamak plasma down in a few thousandths of a second.
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Ask MIT Researchers About Fusion Power

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  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:20AM (#39440835)

    I understand that long term, we would want fusion, but we face increasing energy problems over the next 50 years and severe energy problems before 2100. Wouldn't it make sense to allocate research and development resources to something that we know works?

  • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:23AM (#39440883)

    This has happened many times throughout history. I'm certain the stonemasons who toiled away on Europe's beautiful cathedrals must've worked away, knowing that despite their own obscurity, they were still leaving a legacy.

  • Re:Polywell fusion (Score:1, Insightful)

    by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:26AM (#39440955)

    At least polywell is complete bull. You often see these kind of things pop up. They make a bunch of claims on webpages, blogs, conferences and so on, but when it comes to peer reviewed journals they're very lacking. Sometimes they claim their results have been reproduced, but it's again almost impossible to get any details.

    How can I be so sure? Well, basically the polywell crowd is claiming they can arrange a magnetic field in such a way as to maintain a non-maxwellian velocity distribution without using energy to do so. This violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics. In addition the polywell concept was heavily debunked some years ago, by a scientists who showed that the energy needed to maintain a mono-energetic distribution was more than what fusion would produce. Instead of addressing these concerns the polywell supporters basically just accuse their critics of not understanding polywell, without giving any real explanation of how it works beyond vague descriptions of the general concept.

    I've seen enough of it to call it for what it is. It's a fraud intended to attract investors, and it will never produce anything useful.

  • by jank1887 ( 815982 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:26PM (#39441807)

    Fusion is one of those technologies that is always '50 years away', even 50 years ago, maybe even 50 years from now. So, looking at what's actually happened recently:

    What do we actually know now that we didn't know 10-15 years ago that gives support to the notion that we're making progress? Or, what are the 'big' things we know now?

    Similarly, what are the things we still don't know that we could reasonably expect to find answers for in the next 10-15 years?

    I'm assuming it's not that we've figured it all out and it's just a matter of engineering a working prototype.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.