back to article Scientists skeptical of Lockheed Martin's truck-sized FUSION reactor breakthrough boast

Lockheed Martin has caused quite a stir with its announcement that it will ship fusion reactors the size of a truck within the next decade. Lockheed Martin's compact fusion reactor "Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent …

Re: 10 years

Nuclear fusion has always been 50 years away not 10. The reason isn't so much science though as politics. There have been funding issues and politicians spent years just arguing about where they were going to build the test reactor. 50 years until commercial reactors are online as long as the project is sufficiently funded and committed to.

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Coat

Re: 10 years

In the year 2525

if Lockheed can survive...

In the year 3535

If Fusion does arrive...

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Re: 10 years

"It pains me that we as a species spend more money on spectator sports every year than we do on something that can profoundly change human civilization for the better."

Keeping the plebs in bread and circuses is more important than solving mankind's energy needs.

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Re: 10 years

do NOT make that assumption. The E-Cat is no more legit than it was before the latest "test".

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Childcatcher

Re: 10 years

It might change everything...

As recently alluded to here on El Reg concerning artificial lighting, I suspect that people will use whatever their current energy budget would buy at the new price point. As a race, we tend to take incremental steps in the development of new tech, but we are really good at finding ways to use resources as fast as they become available.

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FAIL

Re: 10 years

It's looks like a scam. The "publication" of theirs (by some academics) was very poor. They must do better to be taken seriously...

P.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 10 years

When I was at school in the 1950s, fusion power was 20 years away.

The last detailed survey I read was in Scientific American around 2010, when a workable plant was about 40 years away.

10 years from now I expect it to either be 50 years away, or abandoned.

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Re: 10 years

I for one would like to see more research put into fusion power. If and when it can be made to work, it's a civilization-wide game-changer.

Which will stir the vested interests to stop this as quickly as they can. Nothing provokes action in a sloth-like (energy) oligopoly than an upstart who invented a better mouse trap. Wait for the vested interests to start their FUD campaigns.

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Alien

Re: 10 years

"It might change everything"

First, most of the oil companies go bust (a few will survive. We use crude oil for a lot more than "just" fuel). Next,the solar/wind companies go bust. Everyone in the electric car supply chain make out like bandits. The financial markets are in upheaval as everyone tries to sell fossil fuel shares and buy anything else. I suspect an initial financial crash, worldwide, which will take a few years to recover from.

The biggest problem is that all the above would happen more or less overnight while the fabled cheap fusion is only just starting to come off the production line.

I reckon all the naysayers are wrong. Everyone knows that Lockheed Martin, the Skunkworks in particular, has links to Area 51. :-)

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Re: 10 years

Actually, back in the 70's and 80's, the saying was that fusion power was always 50 years into the future.

That'd be in ten years time now.

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Re: 10 years

Alternative theory: the big oil companies see which way the wind is blowing and have a bidding war over the fusion startups. I think it's unlikely they will just fall over no matter how much that would be emotionally satisfying for us not-obscenely-rich people.

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JLV
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Re: 10 years

>as a species spend more money on spectator sports

True, that.

Some years back there was a critical article in a business magazine about the latest round of cap in hand from the ITER folks. Same magazine that usually flags global warming concerns.

I think that the amount of $ ITER was asking was about 3 weeks worth of global oil consumption back then. Granted, spending it on ITER by no means guarantees a favorable outcome, but with fusion such a potentially elegant escape from emission concerns that it behooves us not to be overly stingy with it.

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Re: 10 years

I don't think Big Oil could afford a bidding war over the fusion startups; a lot of their value is tied up in the company's core business being viable. If fusion genuinely becomes a realistic thing Oil companies will go from multinational money machines to debt laden liabilities sitting on obsolete kit they paid billions for in a very short span of time.

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Re: 10 years

E-CAT is a scam. Just read some of their reports - tons of standard textbook heat-transfer calculations to look "math-y" and gloss over the fact that they are not doing a calorimeter measurement, nor indeed an controlled experiment (in the scientific sense -Rossi controls the experiments pretty well).

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Re: 10 years

If it breaks the money supply to the Saudi terrorist regime - I want the change!

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Re: Try hunting down that NASA quote

Also this piece from early this month quotes NASA's Michael Nelson as saying:

I was impressed with the work that was done to insure the measurements claiming a 3.2 to 3.6 COP were accurate.

That explains why Challenger blew up right there! "The work" is garbage; An bunch of 8'th grade students doing a physics report like that would fail, deservedly too.

However, the quote is coming from some crackpot website and not from NASA themselves, so they probably just made it up directly, like the rest of the text: Uppsala University are NOT part of this effort either, it is a private venture by some retired people from Uppsala University, who obviously like Bologna and the wine there!

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Re: 10 years

Whilst they may indeed nett more output than input, there's still the minor problem of turning that excess energy into useful work.

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I Want To Believe

On the one hand the LM Skunk Works are not an unmitigated bunch of vapourware merchants. On the other hand, the most knowledgeable physics dudes I know tell me that practical fusion energy is for physicists what a real AI* is for programmers - tantalisingly close but always a bit beyond our reach.

* The kind that can pass a Turing test.

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Re: I Want To Believe

I think that belief is indeed part of the equation. When they say: " we’ve been able to make an inherently stable configuration." it sounds like they "made" something, whereas in fact they haven't even finished designing it. Those kinds of word choices, conscious or subconscious, are meaningful. Yes, they want you to believe.

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Facepalm

Re: I Want To Believe

I too want to believe but...

As the man said, "An extraordinary claim without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence"

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Re: The kind that can pass a Turing test.

The problem is the Turing test is too difficult to pass. In fact if you applied the Turing test to 100 randomly selected people, I'm sure at least 25% would fail it.

Full disclosure: this thought did not originate with me, but I have no clue where I first read it. Probably somewhere here on El Reg.

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Re: I Want To Believe

Hasn't Watson, in a limited sense passed the Turing Test?

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Re: I Want To Believe

"Hasn't Watson, in a limited sense passed the Turing Test?"

Limiting the scope of the test rather defeats the intent of the test. A wasp could pass a *sufficiently* limited form of the Turing test.

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Re: I Want To Believe

"Yes, they want you to believe."

Every time a Physicist says "I don't believe it", a fusion fairy dies.

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Materials

The rest of it is stock. So it's going to come down to the selection of materials, where from, and especially who holds the patents. I can think of two right off the bat that I've had my eye on and I sure as heck wouldn't give advance warning. The financial capital and fiduciary duty to shareholders could be sticking points as well. Very entertaining.

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Patents

I think your right about this being a patent scam, but there are lots of things to patent. Pretend Lockheed get a pile of investors to fund a prototype-mini-tokamak-for-aircraft subsidiary. A decade from now, the subsidiary goes bankrupt, but in the mean time it has hire Lockheed to make all the parts needed for a fusion reactor (not just the tokamak), and Lockheed has got all that experience for free.

They will need big superconducting magnets, and the cryogenics to cool them.

The easiest fusion reaction is deuterium + tritium. Tritium has a half life of 8 days, so you have to make it yourself. The obvious way to make tritium is to use the neutron flux from a tokamak to break up lithium. A complete fusion reactor includes a lithium jacket and all the machinery required to separate tritium from lithium.

While we are at it, a fusion reactor creates helium, which you want to get out of the reactor before it cools things down. One of the many complicated bits of ITER is getting some of the fuel/helium mixture out, separating out the helium and pumping the fuel back in again.

Getting the fuel it is fun too. Freeze it solid and shoot in pellets of fuel with a gas gun.

Even if Lockheed has a magic tokamak design that fits on an aeroplane, all the extras needed to make it go would not fit on an aircraft carrier. Lockheed should not be comparing their device with ITER anyway. ITER is a huge steam factory to investigate the technology. The prototype for a commercial electricity generating reactor is the gigantic (fictional) DEMO.

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Re: Patents

Tritium has a half life of 12.32 years.

8 days is close, but only in geological terms.

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Re: Patents

Isn't half life affected by relativistic effects?

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Re: Patents

"Isn't half life affected by relativistic effects?"

Sorry, don't understand the context ?

Tritium has a half-life of ~12 years, it's often incorporated into drugs/ligands for studying biological mechanisms and these have a useful working life.

If you send it up to close to the speed of light it's 1/2 life will increase to multiples of 12 years depending on the velocity but I don't know what that's got to do with this topic.

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Re: Patents

It's NOT a Tokamak, that's the point

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General Atomics fail

A spokesman for General Atomics said it was the they had heard of this development?

Then he or she is a lazy dummy, as I read and watched a video about this in 2011 or 12

I am skeptical they keep asking for investment mind you!!

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Boffin

That said, being asked for your job title and saying, "I'm a spokesman for General Atomics" is pretty cool.

In a 1950s This Island Earth kind of way.

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More than the core

This reactor will be small, but it's only one part of a practical power generation system. It appears that the 100MW "power" the article mentions is the heat output - not mains electricity coming out that ordinary people could use.

Apart from this component, a usable generator would still need all the paraphernalia that every power station requires: generation plant, a means to dissipate all the waste heat (even with electricity generation at 50% efficiency, this reactor/generator would have to dump 50MW), safety and control equipment as well as a source of neutrons.

So while this device will be (note the tense!) small-ish at 7m x 10m, it will be still about the same size as the reactors currently fitted in nuclear submarines. The big development is not so much the size of the power plant, but that it doesn't produce weaponisable waste products - though you have to wonder what all those neutrons will do to the heat-conductors inside the thermal blanket and what they'll produce - depending what the blanket is made of.

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FAIL

Re: More than the core

heat output - not mains electricity coming out that ordinary people could use.

Are you for real? The heat output of any boiler or reactor is the means of making electricity. They don't stick a blue wire and a brown wire into the reactor with a plug socket on the other end...

Dummies guide to generating electricity:

Water is heated to create steam, which drives a turbine, to which a generator is attached.

If you had looked at the graphic in the main article you could have figured that out.

The bit that says "blanket absorbs neutrons to breed fuel and transfer heat to turbines" kinda tells you what you need to know.

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Re: More than the core Transfer heat to turbines

If you was in a plane wouldn't you want to just transfer the energy to directly drive the damn thing?

One thing though - if we are smart enough to contain a violently dynamic fusion reaction surly we should be able to contain a simple combustion plasma in some form of magnetic resonator and extract the energy from that. That way we could burn coal at near 100% efficiency and have an almost pure stream of the CO2 and other noxious gasses straight for underground disposal?

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Re: More than the core

The nuclear submarine size suggests the USN will be putting some money in already, which is very Skunk-Works. And they do seem to be better than most at running fission reactors. But, while I wouldn't quite call it a stock-market scam, that's a very plausible angle too.

It might be real. There might be a limit on how much LM is willing to bet. It's something longer-term than the markets are comfortable with. But if you bought LM stock last week, you might have a nice profit next week.

This could be big. But is it a big invention, or just big compared to Enron?

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Re: More than the core

> Are you for real? The heat output of any boiler or reactor is the means of making electricity

When you look at how reactors (and the associated power generation) is specified, they usually quote two values: MWt and MWe - one for thermal and one for electrical output.

The 100MW quoted for this (theoretical) device appears to be the thermal output.

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Re: More than the core

I think the previous comment was more clarification that the 100MW stated was merely the heat output from the reactor which is then user to drive a turbine to make electricity, rather than suggesting that the net output from this construction (reactor + turbine + pipework and gubbins) would be 100MW of generated electricity.

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electricity too cheap to meter.

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just like water

Oh, wait, they meter that now, don't they.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: just like water

You know, you are welcome to collect your own water. And treat it for cryptospiridum, e coli, heavy metals, VOCs...

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Re: just like water

quote: "You know, you are welcome to collect your own water. And treat it for cryptospiridum, e coli, heavy metals, VOCs..."

They make straws for that now ;)

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Re: just like water

They make straws for that now

Nifty, but doesn't solve the problem of water contaminated with non-particulate contaminants, such as (the quoted) heavy metals and VOCs, as well as toxic semi-metals like arsenic, that are a major problem with groundwater in some parts of the world.

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Coat

Re: just like water

Or Ebola...(smallest dimension 0.08um - the straw 0.2um)

P.

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Re: just like water

Nope. We get "taxed" on water collection. A water company owns the basin/collecting area, which covers the entire surface of the land. Including any rain water customers collect.

They pay for the "privileged" to charge for water provision and transportation in the area. Even if it's nature doing the job for them.

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Coat

Governement fusion programmes. The worlds largest natural source

of Plasma Physics PhDs energy?

Note for those interested there are probably 3-4 small, barely funded fusion power start ups in the US.

The problem is this thing does not seem different enough from big lab fusion programs to be any different.

I recommend Dr Bussards talks on Youtube for reasons why the conventional TOKAMAK design is such a monumental PITA to get working (if indeed it will ever be made to work).

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Re: Governement fusion programmes. The worlds largest natural source

The previous, (1-2 years ago), video from LM said they specifically went far away from the Tokamak and instead for eliptical sphere design, as it was much easier to keep the plasma away from the vessel wall

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R69

Well I for one hope it works...

...but im also a realist!

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Meh

fusion power is just a fleisch in the pons.

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Paris Hilton

some easy-to-obtain fuel: hydrogen

Actually you need deuterium and tritium. The first may be had by sifting through lots of hydrogen, the second I think comes from irradiating Litihium?

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