Promising step in nuclear fusion research
A layer of liquid metal may be the anwer to the temperature problem of nuclear fusion. An important obstacle which had to be solved is that the reactor wall is resistant to extremely high temperatures released during power generation.
In Nature Communications, Dutch scientists published a breakthrough for this problem. They discovered that the wall of a reactor can be protected with a thin layer of liquid metal.
For the future of nuclear fusion, it is very important to find a material that can withstand extreem temperatures that are comparable to those on the surface of the sun. During the fusion process, light atomic nuclei of hydrogen are ‘fused’ in an annular barrel with magnetic fields which resolves in a ‘bombardment of enormous heat and particles in the reactor’s divertor.
That’s why the divertor in the experimental fusion reactor in Iter (France) consists a wall of tungsten: a metal that is especially known for the filament in incandescent lamps. There is uncertainty about the lifetime of the tungsten reactor wall. The question is this material will hold when a reactor is operational and runs permanently and at higher temperatures than Iter.
That’s why the physicist Stein van Eden and his colleges have been searching for an alternative which can be used for plants that will be built after Iter. They developed a wall for the divertor in which a layer of liquid tin is caught in a sponge-like holder of tungsten.
This wall appeared to remain cooler and is capable of repairing itself constantly. An important step.
Van Elden: “The liquid metal can collect and dilute energy outbursts from the reactor before it reaches the wall. In front of the liquid reactor wall, a tin gas cloud acts as a kind of shield. That tiny cloud catches the energy and emittes it to all edges.”
According to Marco van Baar, Head of the Differ research, this discovery is a promising new step that can lead to a final solution to the problem of wall materials. The liquid wall may be included in the design of the experimental fusion center Demo, the intended fusion plant after Iter. This new plant should generate electricity by 2050.
This discovery is important
Tony Donne, Director of the European Cooperation Group for Merger Research Eurofusion in a reaction:
“The liquid metal solution is one of the alternatives. In about five or six years, we will decide which method will be applied to the new Demo plant. This method is a good candidate. The discovery is important.”
In the French city Cadarache the development of the Iter complex is in progress. The project has been delayed, but the experiments are scheduled to start in 2025. By 2030, the plant should be operational, supplying 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts of electricity.
Video by MIT and the Royal Society
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