A symposium on the Solved and Unsolved Problems in Plasma Physics was held in Princeton on March 28-30, 2016. It was to honor Prof. Nathaniel Fisch on his 65th birthday given the important advances he has made to the field of plasma physics. The meeting discussed the progress made in the last 40 years and focused on the still open issues.
April 2016 edition of Physics World has a focus issue devoted to nuclear energy: fission and fusion. It contains several interesting fusion articles including ITER, private fusion ventures and Wendelstein 7-X. Check it out here.
Twists and turns Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X stellarator will use a complex magnetic-field design to sustain a hydrogen plasma for about 30 min. (IPP/Wolfgang Filser )
It’s natural. In fact, it’s abundant throughout the universe. Stars – and there are billions and billions of them – produce energy by fusion of light atoms.
It’s safe. There are no dangerous byproducts. It produces some radioactive waste, but that requires only decades to decay, not thousands of years. Further, any byproducts are not suitable for production of nuclear weapons.
It’s environmentally friendly. Fusion can help slow climate change. There are no carbon emissions so fusion will not contribute to a concentration of greenhouse gases that heat the Earth. And it helps keep the air clean.
It’s conservation-friendly. Fusion helps conserve natural resources because it does not rely on traditional means of generating electricity, such as burning coal.
It’s international. Fusion can help reduce conflicts among countries vying for natural resources due to fuel supply imbalances.
It’s unlimited. Fusion fuel – deuterium and tritium – is available around the world. Deuterium can be readily extracted from ordinary water. Tritium can be produced from lithium, which is available from land deposits or from seawater.
It’s industrial scale. Fusion can power cities 24 hours a day regardless of weather.
It’s exciting. Fusion produces important scientific and engineering breakthroughs and spinoffs in its own and other fields.
It’s achievable. Fusion is produced in laboratories around the world and research is devoted to making it practicable.
It’s the Future. Fusion can transform the way the world produces energy.
A new kind of metal could make nuclear power plants more robust by resisting the damage that radiation does to traditional steel.
When neutrons from nuclear cores smack into surrounding structures, they can knock atoms out of place, which makes steel brittle. This means plants periodically require expensive and time-consuming repairs.
So Kai Nordlund, professor in Computational Materials Physics at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and his colleagues tested hybrid metals called high-entropy alloys, which have randomly placed atoms. They ran simulations to see which combinations might be toughest, then made thin discs of the winning metals and fired a beam of ions at them to simulate what might happen in a real nuclear reactor.