German scientists report nuclear-fusion milestone

Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics | Courtesy of
A report from said late last week that scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany were successful in generating superheated helium plasma in a vacuum, putting them a step closer to controlled nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is the process of generating energy by fusing atoms, a process the sun and other stars use to generate energy -- the opposite of nuclear fission, or the splitting of atoms to create energy, which is used in commercial nuclear reactors worldwide. The website also said fusion is theoretically safer and would be cheaper to produce once the capability to do so is established.

German scientists working on the "stellarator" project -- financed with approximately $1.1 billion -- were able to generate superheated plasma from helium inside a vacuum vessel for a period of approximately one-tenth of a second. For researchers, the next phase is to generate plasma for a longer period of time and to use hydrogen atoms.

Currently, many countries and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) are currently researching and potentially developing nuclear fusion technology.

The process of fusion requires that atoms are heated to approximately 100 million degrees Celsius or 180 million degrees Fahrenheit so that each nucleus fuses together. The chamber in which this occurs utilizes superconducting magnets to keep the materials from coming into contact with the surfaces inside the vessel.

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Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics Boltzmannstraße 2 Garching bei München, BY D-85748

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