Last year, scientists started up a new type of massive nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, known as a stellarator.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald, Germany, injected a tiny amount of hydrogen and heated it until it became plasma, effectively mimicking conditions inside the sun.
But since then scientists have been asking whether the ambitious device – named Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) – works as it is supposed to, producing the right magnetic fields.
Now a research paper has shown tests over the past few months have proven the complex design is working as expected.
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HOW DOES FUSION POWER WORK?
Fusion involves placing hydrogen atoms under high heat and pressure until they fuse into helium atoms.
When deuterium and tritium nuclei – which can be found in hydrogen – fuse, they form a helium nucleus, a neutron and a lot of energy.
This is down by heating the fuel to temperatures in excess of 150 million°C, forming a hot plasma.
Strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the walls so that it doesn’t cool down and lost it energy potential.
These are produced by superconducting coils surrounding the vessel, and by an electrical current driven through the plasma.
For energy production. plasma has to be confined for a sufficiently long period for fusion to occur.
The experiment 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 acknowledge the technology is likely many decades away, but argue that, once achieved, it could replace fossil fuels and conventional nuclear fission reactors.
Two of the main contenders for nuclear reactors of the future are called tokamaks and stellarators.
Instead of trying to control plasma with just a 2D magnetic field, which is the approach used by the more common tokamak reactors, the stellerator works by generating twisted, 3D magnetic fields.