• Germany's news in English

German scientists make big stride towards fusion

AFP · 11 Dec 2015, 12:15

Published: 11 Dec 2015 12:15 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Nuclear fusion entails fusing atoms together to generate energy – a process similar to that in the Sun - as opposed to nuclear fission, where atoms are split, which entails worries over safety and long-term waste.

After spending a billion euros and nine years' construction work, physicists working on a German project called the "stellarator" said they had briefly generated a super-heated helium plasma inside a vessel – a key point in the experimental process.

"We're very satisfied," said Hans-Stephan Bosch at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald.

"Everything went according to plan."

For all its promise, nuclear fusion has proven elusive and highly costly to achieve.

The idea is to heat atoms to temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius (212 million degrees Fahrenheit) so that their nuclei fuse.

The fusion would take place in a special vacuum chamber where the atoms, in a hot ionised gas called a plasma, are held floating in place by superconducting magnets so that they do not touch the vessel's cold sides.

A glimpse at the innards of the Wendelstein 7-X test machine. Photo: DPA

The German experiment, using a machine called Wendelstein 7-X, was aimed at seeing whether it was possible to heat helium atoms with a microwave laser and to briefly contain the plasma within the vessel.

The first plasma in the 16-metre-wide (52-foot-wide) machine, from one milligram of helium gas heated by a 1.8-megawatt laser pulse, lasted one-tenth of a second and reached a temperature of around one million Celsius, the Institute said in a press release.

The fusion reactor race

The team will next try to extend the duration of the plasma and to find out the best way of producing it. Next year, it hopes to switch over to hydrogen, the actual target of the study, as opposed to helium.

Several countries are in the race to build a fusion reactor, including a multinational effort called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

Story continues below…

Headquartered in southern France, ITER is building a doughnut-shaped containment vessel called a tokamak.

But plagued by technical problems and cost issues, it has yet to carry out its first experiment almost a decade after the project began.

Other far smaller experimental reactors are also being developed in the United States, but funding has been a problem.
The Wendelstein 7-X will not produce energy.

Instead scientists hope to use it to sustain a plasma for 30 minutes, deemed to be proof that its technology can operate continuously, whereas a tokamak can only run in pulses without auxiliary equipment.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd