Scientists start Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor first

Dec

12

2015

The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator is first turned on. The German fusion reactor did on December 10 for the first time to produce a helium plasma. This is a new phase after nearly twenty years designing and building the fusion reactor.

It says the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik in the German Greifswald. The Wendelstein 7-X is the largest fusion reactor in the form of a Stellarator in the world. The corkscrew-device research into the usefulness of such reactors for possible future power plants. By a short pulse of microwaves of 1.8 megawatts was created with one milligram of helium gas to the first plasma. Different measuring instruments and cameras in the device names where the plasma. Only next year began experiments with hydrogen to form with a plasma here. This is because it is easier to obtain a stable plasma with helium. The plasma consisted of a tenth of a second and reached a temperature of more than a million degrees centigrade.

Wendelstein 7-X with and without plasma
Wendelstein 7-X with and without plasma
Wendelstein 7-X with and without plasma

The Wendelstein 7-X without plasma or plasma. The color is colored black and white.

The purpose of this reactor is doing research into nuclear fusion in a Stellarator and to learn whether it is actually possible to produce energy with a Stellarator-reactor. The Wendelstein 7-X should clarify whether a stellarator indeed better maintain the balance of the plasma than a tokamak reactor. The latter is better known as fusion reactor and has a donut shape. The problem of a tokamak is that no plasma can hold for a long time, because the plasma with a lot of effort must be taken into the donut shape by a huge amount of power. Therefore pulsing a tokamak plasma, and there can be no continuous existence.

Stellarator this problem, because as a stellarator is so devised that the plasma can take its natural form, a kind of twisted Wokkel. There is then no need for electric current which passes through the plasma in order to keep it in the right place, though there is still a lot of power is needed to operate all. For this to work a stellarator, there must first be a plasma formed from more than 100 million degrees Celsius, about seven times, the temperature of the core of the sun. It thus makes it impossible to use the gas in a normal container. The plasma is held in place by magnetism. Very strong electromagnets form as it were a cage to the plasma back and thus ensure that the wall of the reactor is not touched. In a tokamak, there is an imbalance, causing the particles to the wall. To prevent this, the shape of the stellarator is so bizarre and twisted his electromagnets placed below all kinds of odd angles.

Wendelstein 7-X design and construction
Wendelstein 7-X design and construction
Wendelstein 7-X design and construction
Wendelstein 7-X design and construction
Wendelstein 7-X design and construction

Wendelstein 7-X: location electromagnets, location plasma within electromagnets design with human size, photo inside and outside. Source: IPP

The Wendelstein 7-X is not the first stellarator, but the largest. The vessel has an outer diameter of eleven meters and could not be conceived without the help of super computers. The computers that were necessary, only became available in the eighties of the twentieth century. All components must be made with extreme precision and be put together. The actual construction of the Wendelstein 7-X began in April 2005 after already some problems had arisen around financing and construction of the superconducting magnets. Actually, the device had to be completed in 2006 and it should have cost some 550 million euros. That was so ten years later and the cost is estimated at 1.06 billion euros.

It consists of a ring of superconducting magnets fifty and twenty magnets for fine-tuning. The magnets, some of which are 3.5 meters high, sitting in a vacuum, and liquid helium are cooled to near absolute zero, and be as close as possible to the plasma. The whole is surrounded by a steel outer wall. The plasma which is held in check, has a volume of thirty cubic meters. On the outside are 254 access holes for maintenance and diagnostics.

Another major project on nuclear fusion in Europe ITER. This reactor is a global collaboration project and makes use of a tokamak. Originally should have run it in 2016. This is postponed for years. Currently, the project seems increasingly succumbing to bureaucratic pressure. Now they are gone for the first plasma in 2020 and the first experiments in 2027.

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