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Power Technology

Inside Piston-Powered Nuclear Fusion Company General Fusion 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the miles-per-rod dept.
quax writes "Slashdot first reported on the Canadian start-up company that is attempting piston powered nuclear fusion back in 2009. This new blog post takes a look at where they are now, and gives some additional behind the scene info. For instance, a massive experimental rig for magnetized target fusion in the US is currently underutilized, because ITER's increasing costs absorb all the public fusion research funding. Because this Shiva Star device is located in an Air Force base, security restrictions prevent any meaningful cooperation with a non-U.S. companies. Even if U.S. researchers would love to rent this out to advance the science of magnetized target fusion, restrictions make this is a no go."
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Inside Piston-Powered Nuclear Fusion Company General Fusion

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  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wiggles (30088) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:24AM (#45818545)

    That summary made no sense.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That summary made no sense.

      You were expecting somebody with the job title of "editor" to actually act like an editor. On this site?? Oh. Yes I suppose you are disappointed. If I performed my job as incompetently as Slashdot's "editors", I would be fired. So would you and so would anyone who reads this (except the pissypants editor who uses his infinite mod points to mod it down).

      Slashdot "editors" are editors the same way the garbage truck driver is a "sanitation engineer". In this job market, Dice Holdings Inc. could hire b

      • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

        by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:10PM (#45818895)

        Slashdot "editors" are editors the same way the garbage truck driver is a "sanitation engineer".

        Sanitation engineering is a real thing (different from driving a truck). Real sanitation engineers are civil engineers who design landfills, wastewater treatment plants and recycling facilities.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Real engineers drive trains (at least that's what people think when I tell them I'm an engineer). So it's logical that driving a sanitation truck would make you a sanitation engineer.
        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          Sanitation engineering is a real thing (different from driving a truck).
          Real sanitation engineers are civil engineers who design landfills, wastewater treatment plants and recycling facilities.

          Don't forget about the guy who designs the garbage truck!
          It's a rather unique beast, since no other industry needs a design that's even remotely related.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ok, lets try it in English then.

      There are some Canuks trying a specific type of nuclear fusion. Two other groups seem to be doing similar research, but one has been effectively denied funding because of a different project getting headlines, and the other is a military research so it has no headlines until the USAF decides to get some mass-produced.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by i kan reed (749298) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:07PM (#45818861) Homepage Journal

      Here's a new summary for you:

      Tiny fusion project that's functionally pretty cheap wants more money, and publishes some promising, but uncertain results.

      I could use that same summary for several different projects today.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      TFA is complaining that the ITER, an expensive experimental fusion reactor, is getting most of the fusion research money. This compares with the Canadian startup, and the Shiva Star, which don't receieve enough money to proceed as fast as they could.

      Personally I don't think TFA's tone is useful. Sure, ITER is funded, but it should be funded; torus reactors (ITER is a torus reactor) are a well established line of research and it is important to follow that line of research until the end.

      What should happen of

  • Awesome (Score:1, Interesting)

    It is my layman's barely informed opinion that this scheme has the highest chance at success in the next 10 years at achieving practical electrical output from nuclear fusion reactions.
    • How is my opinion "over-rated"? I think GF has the most practical approach and isn't working on dead-ends or defense-type research reactors. They are progressing and are quietly moving along. I also like the fact they are Canadian, like me! And maybe there is some hope that Canada can still produce something besides sand.
    • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Informative)

      by Immerman (2627577) on Monday December 30, 2013 @02:06PM (#45820059)

      Better than Polywell fusion? They're still under a publishing embargo, but if the Navy progress report is to be believed they have managed to demonstrate p-B fusion last year which is practically the holy grail of fusion for electrical-generating purposes - no neutron flux from the primary reaction, no clunky inefficient heat engine necessary to generate electricity, and the main researchers seem to have mostly all jumped ship to found an energy-related company.

      • Yes. The biggest problem of all the other fusion power approaches are the output part: how do you get electricity from fusion? Believe it or not, unlike Star Trek, we'll be using steam and turbines to spin a generator. Tokamak reactors need a complex thermal blanket on top of the complex plasma containment. GF has cleverly bypassed this by making the reaction occur in the thermal blanket.

        Again, this is my opinion so it will be modded down.

        • by HiThere (15173)

          That's probably the best approach, but there are a few others. MHD might work.

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          Not necessarily - using a turbine or other heat engine is only necessary it the energy has been thermalized - which yes, to the limits of current scientific understanding is necessary for any fusion reaction that releases the bulk of it's energy as fast neutrons, and may be the most practical route for reactions that release most of their energy as gamma radiation as well, at least until we develop high-efficiency gamma-radiation "solar cells" (gamma-voltaics?).

          But p-B fusion is something special, it doesn'

          • by quax (19371)

            This is not much to go on but slide 13 has a bit on the vortex development:

            http://fire.pppl.gov/FPA12_Richardson_GF.pdf [pppl.gov]

            This thesis though should hit the sweet spot:

            http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~jgregson/images/JamesGregsonMAScThesis.pdf [cs.ubc.ca]

            • by Immerman (2627577)

              Ooh, I like it. Eminently simple in principle, even if the piston synchronization looks to be a nightmare. Still, with enough high-speed adaptive control circuity I could see it potentially being kept within acceptable tolerances.

              Thank you, you've opened my eyes to a new and promising fusion technology to keep an optimistic eye on.

  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:51AM (#45818747)

    Because this Shiva Star device is located in an Air Force base, security restrictions prevent any meaningful cooperation with a non-U.S. companies.

    We have a problem with Canadians because of security restrictions? WTF - NORAD is a joint US-Canadian operation. The 2nd in command is always Canadian. If that's not giving Canadians access to important military operations (specifically USAF no less) then I don't know what is.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:57AM (#45818791) Homepage

      Apparently you don't know what "access" is, in a government-secret sense.

      We've built up a program as a joint effort. That's fine for that program. That does not mean there's a blanket trust for Canadians to access all programs at all locations. Military secrecy is handled on a need-to-know basis, and outside of NORAD, the Canadians do not need to know.

      • Nobody is talking about giving them access to nuclear weapon or stealth research. Shiva Star hasn't been used for military research in almost 20 years. It's been re-purposed for civilian research, and happens to be located on an AFB for historical reasons. If this is anything like other civilian research in the US, it involves many foreign nationals whose allegiances are far more questionable than Canadians.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          It doesn't matter much what Shiva Star is used for. It's still on an Air Force base. What else is on that base that the foreigner can get to more easily because of his access to Shiva Star?

          • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:35PM (#45819051) Homepage

            What else is on that base that the foreigner can get to more easily because of his access to Shiva Star?

            Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Mini Wal Marts and other hallmarks of American 'culture'. You want to be careful letting these things out in the world - they can cause amazing damage in the wrong hands.

          • It's still on an Air Force base.

            There are plenty of US military bases that just about any civilian can enter. I've done it myself on a number of occasions. Access is compartmentalized. Getting to the PX is a lot easier than getting to the nuclear weapons storage.

            Ever visit the USAF museum? Anyone can go there, and it's sitting right on Wright-Patterson AFB, where lots of highly classified work is done.

            • by Sarten-X (1102295)
              ...And which compartment is Shiva Star in? The anybody-can-access public space?
              • If it's not in a separate security zone than weapons (nuclear or otherwise) or other purely military activities (e.g. intel) then they're got a serious security problem. There are loads of civilians on any military R&D project that are not authorized to come near purely military operations.

                • by Sarten-X (1102295)

                  ...American civilians? Or foreigners? Even without a security clearance, American civilians are allowed to work on export-controlled materials that foreigners aren't allowed to see. Some of that work is indeed done on military bases, regardless of whether or not there's an immediate military application.

                  • American civilians are allowed to work on export-controlled materials that foreigners aren't allowed to see.

                    Who said this was export controlled? As I mentioned, this hasn't been used for military research in almost 20 years. Also, if we're so concerned about sensitive things that should be export controlled, then why the hell are we letting GE teach China how to build better jet engines? At least Canada is an ally.

        • by jeff13 (255285)

          Dude, it's the Pentagon. The Pentagon considers the US a foreign country. ;p

    • by ddd0004 (1984672)
      You can't let them in here. They'll see everything. They'll see the big board.
      • Thank you Gen. Turgidson. That only applies to Russkies though - Canucks already get to see the big board at NORAD. They still haven't let us see their top secret battle moose battalions though.

    • by vandamme (1893204)

      This post about "access" is complete bullshit. I've worked at the Air Force Research Lab since 1968 (slacked off a bit lately), and worked alongside visiting Canadian Forces officers. You people have watched too many movies about how the military works. That said, I got no idea what the real story is. And neither does the OP.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:53AM (#45818765)
    MIT Prof Peter Hagelstein, one of the rare true believers in battery-type cold fusion is teaching his cold fusion seminar [mit.edu] again. Just about everyone else in academia does not believe him. Peter has done brilliant work in other subjects such as Xray lasers, so MIT tolerates him.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just because you went to MIT or teach there doesn't mean your smart. The most successful fusion researchers came from Madison WI.

      There will never ever be cold fusion. Over coming the Coulomb barrier is an inherently thermal process.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The most successful fusion researchers came from Madison WI.

        Are you talking about D.T. Anderson, or someone else? I had him for undergrad electromagnetics, and he is an excellent professor. I still remember the two dumbed-down lectures he gave on his quasi helically-symmetric stellerator.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There will never ever be cold fusion. Over coming the Coulomb barrier is an inherently thermal process.

        Oh really? This does not seem to be a problem for muon catalyzed fusion.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That is still thermal. It just lowers the barrier but the barrier still exists.

        • I overheard this being put to a very senior researcher at the Joint European Torus since time ago.

          He said that they've cracked the heating problem, and have done so for years. Also, muons are very expensive to produce.

          Tokamaks work well. All the required technologies have been tested in isolation and have been shown to work. The issues now are engineering an economical, scaled up, integrated prototype. That's ITER.

      • by TeknoHog (164938) on Monday December 30, 2013 @01:31PM (#45819643) Homepage Journal

        There will never ever be cold fusion.

        Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.

        • The laws of physics are a lot more friendly to flying machines than contained and controlled fusion.

          Fusion researches have told us that they were 10 years away from a huge breakthrough for 40 years. Is it possible that my home will be powered by a fusion reactor in my lifetime? Sure. But I would not bet a dollar on it.

          • The laws of physics are a lot more friendly to flying machines than contained and controlled fusion.

            That's easy to say on this side of it. The path to controlled fusion was a lot more clear in 1980 than the path to controlled flight in 1880. See this graph [imgur.com] and this story [slashdot.org] for an understanding of why fusion is taking so long.

  • by cruff (171569) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:09PM (#45818873) Homepage
    For what ever reason, "piston powered nuclear fusion" sounds like it belongs in a Steampunk novel or movie!
  • "piston powered nuclear fusion" sounds an awful lot like a technical description of an internal combustion engine.

  • Soon to be acquired by... Apple, Google or Facebook?

  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Monday December 30, 2013 @01:05PM (#45819333)
    Slashdot has finally found a way to force people to read the article before posting.

    In all seriousness, it's nice to see new approaches to the problem of creating a fusion reaction that produces more usable energy than it consumes. Between the National Ignition Facility (which unfortunately was largely but not entirely dedicated to military research at the first sign of success), going massive with ITER, and this piston powered approach, I believe we will one day get there. We may try and fail and try and fail, but ultimately there is no stopping humanity.
  • "Canadian technology!" is going down the tubes now that Blackberry has failed. But this can put Canada back in the lead as the global technology powerhouse.

    Don't look to the Americans. All they care about is making a quick buck. Their best and brightest minds are busy at work trying to figure out how to get more people to click on website ads, or how to make portable electronic gadgets a "magical experience".

  • Even a small chance of this leading to nuclear fusion piston-powered P-51 NukeMustangs must be supported!

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