German scientists have ten years to create that artificial sun


Based on a helical plasma, fusion reactor could exceed the performance of other experiments in this field, such as ITER in Cadarache.

The craft’s monstrous and looks like a huge bagel metal. But it is perhaps the energy future for humanity. Nothing less. Indeed, the “Wendelstein 7-X”(W7X) – that’s his name – is a nuclear fusion reactor of a new type which could overtake all other achievements in this area. It took ten years of work at the Max Planck Institute of Greifswald (Germany) to build, with a total budget of EUR 1.06 billion. Yesterday, Thursday, December 10, he was put into operation for the first time, setting up within the famous plasma – a gas composed of ions and electrons heated to 100 million degrees – in which the particles will be able to merge and generating energy.

What makes the specificity of W7X is its shape, which is much more complex than the type of reactor “Tokamak”, which are currently the most common systems (such as the ITER at Cadarache). In a tokamak, the plasma is confined using powerful coils that encircle the huge metal core (bagel).Unfortunately, it is not possible to rotate the plasma stupidly in circles, because the particles then tend to create turbulence.

To stabilize, engineers add to their helical movement component. This is generated by a transverse electric current within the plasma. But this electric current is very difficult to create and can cause disruptions, which explains why Tokamak have very short operating cycles, under six minutes. After that containment is lost and must be repeated. So far, the yield was always negative: there is less energy that comes out of energy returned.

A propeller to stabilize the particles

The advantage of W7X, is that there is no need to create the cross-flow in the plasma. The spiral movement is created through special magnetic coils. Their very specific shape creates a containment space that looks like a big screw that closes on itself.

“Stellarator”. But due to the implementation of difficulty, they have never been at the top of nuclear fusion projects. Only Japan was established in 1998 an experimental reactor of this type. With W7X, researchers at the Max Planck Institute believe they can now go further and reach thirty minute cycles of operation. Enough, perhaps, to finally create the energy we all need.