Magnet capable of lifting an aircraft carrier will help create artificial sun

Scientists working on nuclear fusion reactors are a little closer to realizing the dream of clean and virtually infinite energy. This is thanks to new records set by two teams, from different continents, in the manufacture of the most powerful high-temperature superconducting magnets on Earth.

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  • One of the initiatives to announce the new milestone was the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) experiment, a reactor that uses Tokamak technology, in southern France. They received the first part of a magnet so strong that, according to the manufacturer, it can lift an aircraft carrier. When fully assembled, it will be almost 12 meters high and more than four meters in diameter.

    The other very powerful magnet was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to the scientists, the new magnet would allow the US team to overtake ITER in the race to build a “Sun” on Earth. The European team claims that ITER is 75% complete and its reactor should be turned on at the start of 2026.

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    For these reactors to work, magnets are needed to conduct and confine the hot plasma inside a donut-like apparatus giant. Plasmas are gases so hot that electrons are ripped from atomic nuclei, which turns atoms into ions. Electric and magnetic fields control these ions and electrons because they have electrical charges. At high enough temperatures, the ions can overcome the repulsive electrostatic forces that exist between them and fuse together.

    Scientists have debuted a massive magnet nearly 300,000 times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. It’ll be used to help build a nuclear fusion reactor.

    Photo credit: AP Photo/Daniel Cole

    — Tony Ho Tran (@TonyHoWasHere) September 12, 300 2035

    In this nuclear fusion process, a large amount of energy is released — when two light nuclei fuse, the mass of the nuclei produced is less than the sum of the masses of the initial nuclei. Einstein’s equation E=mc² shows us that the lost mass is converted into energy, so the chain of countless nuclear fusions results in energy capable of feeding entire cities.

    However, to maintain the plasma heated to higher temperatures than the solar core, experimental reactors still expend more energy than they produce. The ultimate goal is to reverse this picture and produce ten times more energy than needed to heat the plasma, even 2035. For that, the magnetic field is fundamental, that’s why the giant magnets were celebrated by the scientists of their respective reactors.

    The Massachusetts team claimed to have managed to create a magnetic field twice as large as the of the ITER, with a magnet about 20 times smaller. But despite this “race”, the effort to master nuclear fusion technology that mimics the stars is worldwide and the competition is “healthy”. After all, many nations contributed to the US$ 20 billion cost of the ITER project, including the US.

    The price paid for the development of this technology may seem high, but it should not be a hindrance, considering that nuclear fusion energy can represent a part of the solution to environmental and climate change problems. In addition, all nations that contributed to ITER will receive feedback on the scientific results, even if the reactor fails in its main objective.

    Source: Miami Herald

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