Low-budget fusion power plant could be on the way

A fusion power plant might not be as far off as you think. General Fusion has figured out a way to create a "low budget" fusion reactor for less than $1 billion. They're saying they can get this beast online in less than a decade, because it's not using incredibly expensive superconducting magnets or spectacularly powerful lasers to create that long-sought controlled fusion reaction.

This is where it gets strange. The prototype reactor is a sphere that's about 10 feet in diameter, with liquid lithium and lead inside. When that liquid is spun around fast enough, a vortex is created in the center, and that's where two doughnut-shaped plasma rings create a target for the fusion reaction between deuterium and tritium to take place.

At precisely the same time, the banging starts. On the outside of that sphere, there are 220 pneumatic pistons, functioning like giant hammers, banging on that sphere so hard that they create an acoustic wave that turns into a shockwave so powerful it's able to smack together those atoms of deuterium and tritium hovering in the center.

Insert miracle here?

Then, boom! A burst of energy is released in a short-lived fusion reaction, and half the heat extracted is used to create a turbine-spinning head of steam that generates electric power. The other half of the heat energy is used to power up those hammers for their next banging, which will happen about a second later.

The scientists still have some tricky details to work out, such as creating that target at the precise instant that the banging starts, but now that they have $13.5 million in startup funding, they're saying they can start working on a prototype that could be ready within five years, and four years after that, a 100-megawatt fusion reactor for $500 million.

Via Technology Review