Fusion Diary: From Submarines To Fusion Reactors

(MENAFN- Asia Times) This is the sixth installment in Asia Times Science Editor Jonathan Tennenbaum's series“Fusion Diary.” Read a series introduction , part 1 , part 2 , part 3 , part 4 . and Part 5 . Part 6 is the conclusion of an interview with Paul Methven, director of Great Britain's Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) program .

In Parts 4 and 5 Methven describes the challenges of the decision-making needed to make STEP a reality. This installment concludes with a fascinating analogy between STEP and two of the most complex scientific and engineering projects in post-World War II history: the creation of the first nuclear-powered submarine, led by US Admiral Rickover, and the Apollo Program, which landed astronauts on the Moon.

Jonathan Tennenbaum : What about the physics? Do you have a sufficient scientific basis, at this point, to be confident of success? And how will you be able to react to advances that might occur midway in your project, such as the discovery of more favorable plasma modes?

Computer simulation of neutron generation in a future demonstration fusion reactor. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Paul Methven : From the standpoint of physics it's based on all the experience with these sorts of machines. It is not speculative. There are uncertainties, though. I think most fusion engineers and scientists would describe it as a nonlinear problem.

We're building on knowledge gained on machines like MAST Upgrade, but there's a lot of modeling. Through modeling, we have to demonstrate in particular that the plasma behavior is broadly what we expected it to be.


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