MIT researchers make great discovery regarding nuclear fusion

Element Community by Cabe Atwell | Oct 24, 2016

MIT researchers make great strides to nuclear fusion produced energy on the Alcator C-Mod tokamak’s final day of operation. The Alcator C-Mod tokamak reactor has been running for 23 years. (Photo from MIT)

With a society now highly conscious of what it puts into the environment, clean energy is more vital than ever. The solution has been in front of us for a long time, nuclear fusion. It’s the ideal source because it’s clean, carbon free, and has the potential to produce unlimited amount of energy. So what’s the problem? It’s not easy to simulate conditions. It needs a mass of plasma to be still as it churns more than 50 million degrees in a chamber that’s about as big as your living room. The process is also costly, which is why we’re close yet so far from nuclear fusion energy. But a team of researchers at MIT have made a breakthrough that can get us one step closer.

The team raised the pressure of the plasma housed in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak nuclear fusion reactor to 2.05 atmospheres, which is 15 percent higher than previously achieved with prior experiments. This is a critical step; raising the pressure and temperature is the key to creating a sustainable nuclear fusion power plant; the higher the pressure the more energy the reactor produces than uses up.

Here’s the kicker, this discovery was made on the Alcator C-Mod tokamak’s final day of operation. It’s been in use for 23 years, but had to be shut down by budget limitations to favor building new facilities. Why did it take so long to make this discovery? We’ll probably never know. There’s a good chance the team decided to go for it since the reactor was closing in the first place. Still, it’s quite a record and one that puts us closer to nuclear fusion produced energy. Many are predicting the record will stay in place at least until the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) opens in the south of France in 2032. Perhaps the new facility will be able to produce even better results. But we won’t know until it opens for business.

Though this is great news, it’s also kind of disappointing. You begin to wonder why this wasn’t previously tested. Imagine the possibility of heaving clean air for years. But no amount and questioning and frustration will bring on any answers. If anything the possibility of actually having nuclear fusion produced energy is better than not having it at all.