Scientists in Germany fired up a doughnut-shaped reactor to heat hydrogen to the point of becoming plasma, which lasted for just a split second. The successful “Wendelstein 7-X” stellarator experiment brings us one step closer to harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, a potential source of clean energy which works much like the center of the Sun.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald, Germany were pleased with the favorable outcome of Wednesday’s experiment. A senior scientist associated with the project, Robert Wolf said in a statement, “Everything went well today. With a system as complex as this you have to make sure everything works perfectly and there’s always a risk.” There to initiate the experiment with the institute’s staff was German chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a doctorate in physics and pressed the button herself.
The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator was first fired up in December, when researchers used more easily heated helium to create a plasma. The goal is to reach the point in which the machine can keep plasma heated and stable for a full 30 minutes. Scientists hope to work out possible kinks that could happen to any future device that would actually generate power. The road may be long, yet Wolf says, “If we manage 2025, that’s good. Earlier is even better.”
Currently there are roughly a dozen different stellarators performing experiments around the world, yet the Wendelstein 7-X scientists proudly hold the claim as the first to achieve what “tokamak” reactors can. Stellarators are said to be more easy to operate and more reliable when it comes to keeping plasma stable for long periods of time. The race toward nuclear fusion is on and Germany, for now, has the lead.
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