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Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor makes further progress

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Is nuclear fusion edging closer to becoming a reality? Despite being labelled as a technology that’s “always 30 years away”, the Wendelstein 7-X reactor in Germany has broken several records during its latest round of testing raising hopes that a nuclear fusion future mightn’t be too far away…
View inside the plasma vessel of the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device.
(View inside the plasma vessel of the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device. Image via IPP, Jan Michael Hosan).

Fusion reactors aim to replicate the reaction that takes place in the sun, using magnetic fields to suspend a heated stream of plasma long enough for atomic nuclei within it to fuse together, releasing enormous amounts of energy. To date, most efforts to achieve nuclear fusion have focused on using tokamak fusion reactors, which use a donut-like shape to suspend the plasma stream.

The Wendelstein 7-X reactor takes a different approach. Known as a Stellarator nuclear reactor type, the Wendelstein 7-X takes a highly complex form using 50 superconductive magnetic coils to hold plasma inside a containment field that twists and turns through an irregular loop. Scientists behind the design hope that it can help prevent the plasma streams drifting into the outer walls of the reactor and collapsing.

It seems like the design is working…

In the latest round of tests the Wendelstein 7-X managed to achieve long-lasting plasmas of more than 100 seconds for the first time- a record for this particular type of Stellarator. Not only that, but the reactor also achieved record energy yields- with plasma densities of up to 2 x 1020  particles per cubic metre- values that are sufficient for a future power station. At the same time, the ions and electrons of the hydrogen plasma reached an impressive temperature of 20 million degrees Celsius.
The record plasma with an energy content of over one megajoule
(The record plasma with an energy content of over one megajoule. Image via IPP, Wigner RCP).

These record results were achieved thanks to a series of upgrades to the Wendelstein 7-X including fitting the plasma vessel with graphite tiles on the inner cladding which allow for higher internal temperatures and longer plasma discharges. Another upgrade was the installation of a ‘divertor’ which is used to regulate the purity and density of the plasma. In ten broad strips on the wall of the plasma vessel, the divertor tiles follow the contour of the plasma edge. Specifically, they cover the wall areas on which the particles from the edge of the plasma are diverted in a targeted way.

The news of the record-breaking achievements was greeted by Germany’s Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek, who said:

“Congratulations to the Wendelstein 7-X team on the new world record. The approach is the right one- in this way, important new findings have been made for the future use of fusion power stations. Alongside renewables, fusion energy could be THE energy source of the future. The researchers in Greifswald have taken an important step in this direction with their work. I wish the team every success with their future work”.

A further series of upgrades are set to begin on the reactor over the coming months- with the aim of eventually achieving plasmas that last for 30 minutes or longer.

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Then progress it with Fircroft. Since the early 1990s Fircroft has been recruiting technical and engineering professionals to work on cutting-edge nuclear projects across the UK and Europe such as ITER. Explore our current Nuclear job vacancies now.
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Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor makes further progress - Time to read 3 min
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