Muon over, large-scale nuclear fusion, for fast electrons

Anthony Capkun
September 25, 2015
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September 25, 2015 - According to research conducted by the universities of Gothenburg and Iceland, fusion energy—from fuel found in water—may soon be used in small-scale power stations, and that both heating generators and generators for electricity could be developed within a few years.

Nuclear fusion is a process whereby atomic nuclei melt together and release energy. A collaboration between researchers has been studying a new type of nuclear fusion process—based on reactions in heavy hydrogen (deuterium)—that produces almost no neutrons but rather fast, heavy electrons (muons).

“This is a considerable advantage compared to other nuclear fusion processes which are under development at other research facilities, since the neutrons produced by such processes can cause dangerous flash burns,” said prof. Leif Holmlid.

Heavy hydrogen is found in large quantities in ordinary water and is easy to extract, explain researchers, adding that the handling of radioactive heavy hydrogen (tritium)—which would “most likely be needed for operating large-scale fusion reactors with a magnetic enclosure in the future”—is unnecessary.

“These neutrons are high-energy and very damaging to living organisms, whereas the fast, heavy electrons are considerably less dangerous.”

Neutrons are difficult to slow down or stop and require reactor enclosures that are several metres thick, researchers point out, whereas muons decay very quickly into ordinary electrons and similar particles.

The new process can take place in relatively small, laser-fired fusion reactors fuelled by deuterium and, according to the researchers, it has already shown to produce more energy than is needed to start it.

The researchers say their work shows that smaller and simpler fusion reactors can be built. The next step is to create a generator that produces instant electrical energy.

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