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Dream of Achieving Fusion Hits 2 Milestones

One team in France and another at MIT have super-powerful magnets
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 9, 2021 1:14 PM CDT
Updated Sep 9, 2021 1:30 PM CDT
Dream of Achieving Fusion Hits 2 Milestones
Workers secure a central solenoid magnet for the ITER project as it departs from Berre-l'Etang in southern France, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.   (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

(Newser) – Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to tap an energy source key to the fight against climate change: They’ve each produced very impressive magnets, per the AP.

  • In France: On Thursday, scientists at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France took delivery of the first part of a massive magnet so strong its American manufacturer claims it can lift an aircraft carrier. Almost 60 feet tall and 14 feet in diameter when fully assembled, the magnet is a crucial component in the attempt by 35 nations to master nuclear fusion.

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  • At MIT: Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists and a private company announced separately this week that they, too, have hit a milestone with the successful test of the world’s strongest high temperature superconducting magnet that may allow the team to leapfrog ITER in the race to build a "sun on earth."
  • The challenge: Unlike existing fission reactors that produce radioactive waste and sometimes catastrophic meltdowns, proponents of fusion say it offers a clean and virtually limitless supply of energy. But achieving fusion requires unimaginable amounts of heat and pressure. One approach is to turn hydrogen into an electrically charged gas, or plasma, which is then controlled in a donut-shaped vacuum chamber. This is done with the help of powerful superconducting magnets.

  • Dates to watch: Scientists say ITER is now 75% complete; they aim to fire up the reactor by early 2026 and provide proof that fusion technology is viable. Among those hoping to beat them to the prize is the team in Massachusetts, which said it has managed to create a magnetic field twice that of ITER's with a magnet about 40 times smaller. The scientists from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems said they may have a device ready for everyday use in the early 2030s.
(Read more nuclear fusion stories.)

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