Apparently there’s a problem with tokamak-style fusion reactors, which is known as “chirping” or, more specifically, Alfvén mode chirping. Funny, but that’s not the kind of chirping I’m used to (fair warning – language!)
Now some physicists may have found a way to deal with this problem in fusion reactors. Excerpt:
Researchers with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) of the Department of Energy have released a new paper documenting a way to help enable nuclear fusion reactors. They describe the scientific reasons for a phenomenon within tokamak reactors called Alfvén mode chirping.
Let’s race through some terms here. A tokamak is the donut-shaped great hope of nuclear fusion. (Its cousin, the stellarator, has great potential, but is less developed so far.) Inside, a stream of unfathomably hot plasma—as hot as or even far hotter than our sun—is contained by a powerful magnetic field that must be totally effective for the reactor to stay at productive fusion temperatures.
There’s a constant push-pull between the stream of plasma and the magnetic field, and the nature of burning hot matter means the plasma is swirling and circulating even within the stream. This is where and why “chirping” occurs. Researcher Vinicius Duarte explains it in a PPPL statement:
“For any fusion device to work, you need to make sure that the highly energetic particles within it are very well confined within the plasma core. If those particles drift to the edge of the plasma, you can’t sustain the steady-state burning plasma needed to make fusion-powered electricity a reality.”
So, we’re now what, thirty years away from having practical nuclear fusion reactors? Just like we were thirty years ago? Just like we will be thirty years from now?
Look, True Believers, I’d dearly love to see practical fusion reactors become a reality. It would be revolutionary; clean, cheap energy, and an almost unlimited supply of it. But aside from the technical challenges, I’m afraid the political challenges will be insurmountable. Look at hard it is now to pursue the one avenue of clean, cheap, abundant energy that’s already available to us now – nuclear fission.
Instead, we have a “Green” movement who thinks that a modern technological society can be powered by pixie dust and unicorn farts.
I hope these technical problems can actually be worked out. This advance is one step in the right direction, and what remains of my personal optimism makes me think that one day we will have practical fusion for energy production.
But the political side? I’m not optimistic enough to think we’ll overcome that. Not in a nation that is day-by-day sliding further into insanity. As of today, this early morning, I’m more inclined to think my grandchildren will end up burning stove wood to keep their homes warm, like my great-grandparents did in the late nineteenth century.