Angela Merkel to attend test in which team will heat hydrogen until it becomes plasma in bid for clean nuclear power
Scientists in Germany are poised to conduct a nuclear fusion experiment they hope will advance the quest for a clean and safe form of nuclear powe
In a test expected to be attended by Angela Merkel, the chancellor, researchers will inject a tiny amount of hydrogen into a special device and heat it until it becomes a super-hot gas known as plasma – mimicking conditions inside the sun.
The experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald, north-east Germany, is part of a worldwide effort to harness nuclear fusion – a process in which atoms join at extremely high temperatures and release large amounts of energy.
Advocates of nuclear fusion acknowledge the technology is probably decades away but argue that it could replace fossil fuels and conventional nuclear fission reactors.
While critics have said the pursuit of nuclear fusion is a waste of money that could be better spent on other projects, Germany has forged ahead in funding the project, which in the past 20 years has cost €1.06bn if staff salaries are included.
Over the coming years, W7-X, which isn’t designed to produce any energy itself, will test many of the extreme conditions such devices will be subjected to if they are ever to generate power, said John Jelonnek, a physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany.
Jelonnek’s team is responsible for a key component of the device, the massive microwave ovens that will turn hydrogen into plasma, eventually reaching 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit).
Compared with nuclear fission, which produces huge amounts of radioactive material that will be around for thousands of years, the waste from nuclear fusion would be negligible, he said.
“It’s a very clean source of power, the cleanest you could possibly wish for. We’re not doing this for us but for our children and grandchildren.”
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