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 …

  1. corestore

    To the skeptics...

    To the sceptics, consider where this is coming from. This is the **Lockheed Martin Skunk Works**. They don't DO hype. They scarcely do publicity. If you don't understand who they are, and the significance of a public statement from them, do some research! If it was anyone else, I'd have very considerable reservation - but these guys have credibility. This ain't cold fusion.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: To the skeptics...

      They also haven't ever asked for outside investment either. I thought that was really weird when I read it, and seems weirder the more I think about it.

      1. JLV Silver badge

        Re: To the skeptics...

        Yeah, I agree with the healthy dose of skepticism.

        But maybe the investment is to spread the risk? Considering how many $B are going into the ITER fusion project, even a large corporate parent might balk at taking a fraction of that type of risk solo.

        And, if they did strike gold, I wouldn't be surprised if the public and politicians claimed that the tech was too beneficial to belong to any one corporation and belonged to humanity as a whole. Spreading the ownership pie might help there too.

        Still, I remain quite skeptical of the whole thing.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: To the skeptics...

        They do ask for outside investment, usually it is done by saying to the Euro leaders (and other morons) "the Russians for sure are coming again, please send us *all* your money"

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: To the skeptics...

      "To the sceptics, consider where this is coming from. This is the **Lockheed Martin Skunk Works**. They don't DO hype."

      Wrong.

      They didn't do hype.

      Back in the days when R&D labs were cost centres, and not expected to be profit centres.

      Read up on SR 72

    3. Martin Taylor 1

      Re: To the skeptics...

      I would find a public statement from e.g. the Culham laboratory in the UK to be considerably more significant.

    4. Psyx

      Re: To the skeptics...

      "To the sceptics, consider where this is coming from. This is the **Lockheed Martin Skunk Works**. They don't DO hype."

      No, but they do deception.

      1. Adam 1 Silver badge

        Re: To the skeptics...

        >No, but they do deception.

        True, but fusion power 10 years away isn't exactly an unusual claim.

        1. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: To the skeptics...

          "fusion power 10 years away isn't exactly an unusual claim."

          True enough. It's been 10 years away for at least 50 years already.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: To the skeptics...

          It will always be 10 years away...

    5. ZSn

      Re: To the skeptics...

      The main problem is the startling lack of detail they provide - however that diagram has one major flaw. The end of the 'bottle' are, as far as I can see, magnetic mirrors. They suffer from the fact that high energy partiicles escape from them cooling the overall plasma and drasticallyt reducing the temperature. As a technology it was obsolete thirty years ago. The neutral beam injetors, well they are quite inefficient and I'm not sure how far it takes to stop the beam (depends on the density of the plasma - again not stated) but that superficially looks too short.

      Thermonucear fusion is hard to do, but the required parameters have been around for a *long* time. A Tokomak at least as big as DEMO. It takes time and money and in the 1990s petrol was too cheap and that killed the last big international attempt (particularly the Americans - they did their best to kill it off).

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: To the skeptics...

        "and that killed the last big international attempt"

        Uh, isn't the ITER project still going on? Pretty big, and international.

        1. ZSn

          Re: To the skeptics...

          Ok, not the current one, the previous one that was meant to start in the mid 1990s, twenty years wasted with the Americans playing around with intertial confinement.

          For those not experienced with American big research projects, they usually have a dual use (or are pitched as such to the government) the current confinement system is not going to work, and they seem to be steering it to materials work (such as refining models of the states of matter in highly compressed plasma - guess what for).

      2. ZSn

        Re: To the skeptics...

        Interesting to see the upvotes and downvotes here. Where people starting trying to pick the physics apart there are lots of downvotes, where fatuous comments on how clever skunkworks are, or how electricity will be too cheap to meter/40 years etc lots of upvotes. My, my, tin-foil hats all around...

    6. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Physics 101

      100 Megawatts emitted as *heat* from a medium-sized thing. Calculate temperatures involved *at the interface* where the heat is extracted.

      Yes, we know that the plasma is bloody hot; that's not the point. What temperature is required to shove 100MW though a given surface area, out where the power meets the plumbing?

      By way of clarifying your thoughts, imagine 100MW being emitted as *heat* from an object with a volume of 1cc. Calculate temperature.

      Even if the physics of the nuclear reactor is all good, they might well run into basic plumbing problems in moving that much power out of that small an object. That said, perhaps the world could be changed in 10MW steps instead of 100MW steps.

      1. Rustident Spaceniak

        Re: Physics 101

        100MW is a lot, but these guys are used to dealing with jet engines, which tend to generate that sort of power. Granted, most of that is produced as kinetic energy, but it does start as heat; so if they can produce the power in the first place, I'm reasonably confident they'll find a way to use it.

        Then again, those containment walls are frightfully thick, so to get much power through, they'd probably have to be full of cooling channels. Not sure what that'll do to the design, but I'm fairly confident the Lockheed guys have given it some thought. I've only been thinking about it for as many minutes as they have years, after all.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: Physics 101

          The walls have to be thick if they are going to absorb the ~14.1 MeV of kinetic energy from the neutons as that indicates they are stepping out rather vigorously. Also consider that, assuming they capture the full 17.6 MeV of each reaction, the 10 second run is going to use a little less than 3 mg of fuel which means that if it could run continuously it would use less than a gram per hour while putting out 100 MW. If it works, and I really hope it does, the phrase "this changes everything" won't be that much of an overstatement.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Physics 101

          You can get an industrial Trent generator setup from Siemens but this seems to top out at somewhere around 83MW and you would need a really big truck to fit it in ....

          power generation package (engine) weighs 208 tonnes and mechanical drive weighs 105 tonnes. Length around 30m and height around 18m .....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Physics 101

        "By way of clarifying your thoughts, imagine 100MW being emitted as *heat* from an object with a volume of 1cc. Calculate temperature."

        What's its surface area ?

        Thermal conductivity ?

        Is it in a vacuum, still air, gale , cold water or liquid sodium ?

        Unless you can provide those details we can't calculate its temperature !

        BTW why volume and why just 1cc

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Physics 101

          "What's its surface area ?"

          You may assume the 1 cc object is made from carbonized coconut, and has a surface area that is vast (Wales sized) on the microscopic scale, if you think it'll help. The area at the macro scale is on the order of 6 cm^2 (if we assume a cube for simplicity).

          "Thermal conductivity ?"

          Feel free to browse the Periodic Table. Help yourself.

          "...in a vacuum ... or liquid sodium ?"

          Help yourself. Anything you want. Your goal it bring the temperature down to, heck, 4 digits would be a major accomplishment.

          The point of the 1 cc Thought Experiment is to assist those with poor conceptualizing skills to catch-on to the fact that moving power as heat implies temperature. 100MW is a lot of power. Size matters. It cannot be made arbitrarily small with practical materials.

          Back to the LM example, at some point in the future the Steam Turbine folks are going to knock on the reactor room door, with their 1m diameter 100MW class steam pipe in tow, and everyone will be left wondering where they're supposed to connect the 1m diameter pipe to the wee cute little 100MW reactor.

          I can sense some problems with the plumbing. It's because I tend to pay attention to numbers, such as (for example) 100,000,000 joule per second.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Physics 101

            "ou may assume the 1 cc object is made from carbonized coconut, and has a surface area that is vast (Wales sized) on the microscopic scale, if you think it'll help"

            I know you're trying to be helpful but the surface area matters as that is what the heat has to be conducted through. That's why a sphere is more efficient to heat than a cube, thats why people put fins on a heatsink, The conductivity matters for the same reason (copper is better than asbestos). The final heat sink and its properties matter for the same reason.

            Choosing 1cc object was also fairly unhelpful as the device is supposed to be the size of a jet engine. If you are going to model at least try and get the closest starting point.

            For example : a fast breeder reactor has a core ~~ 1 m^3 and needs liquid metal cooling and generates ~ the power in question.

            1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Physics 101

              AC: "fast breeder reactor has a core ~~ 1 m^3 ... ~ the power in question."

              A bit disingenuous.

              1) You're comparing FB core to LM entire reactor vessel (the fusion core being a plasma).

              2) You've ignored the difference in the geometry of a pressure vessel (surface area vice flow thru).

              3) You've inserted more than the allowed number of "~" into your argument.

              Anyway, the point has been made. How do you shove 100MW of heat through the walls of a vessel. 100MW from a little box becomes a major plumbing problem. Perhaps liquid metal cooling is the way forward. Hopefully the liquid metal in question is not their vessel walls having melted. I trust they'll be thinking of this (they're clever), but I suspect that the optimum solution might settle down to a bit less than the "100MW on the back of a truck" headline.

      3. tengage

        Re: Physics 101

        Molten ceramic and a metric shit-ton of water? - http://www.google.com/patents/US5651925. I have to agree though; aside from just the heat transfer what is the shelf-life of ANY material heated to those temperatures...single-use?

      4. This post has been deleted by its author

      5. Peter Fairbrother 1

        Re: Physics 101

        Just to put some rough numbers on it, the main cylindrical part of the device seems to be about 2 meters in diameter and 5 meters long; which would fit into a shipping container with a bit of space for other systems. That's a surface area of about 35 square meters, and a heat flux density of about 2.8 MW per square meter.

        Sunlight is about 1 kw/m^2 at the equator at noon, so that's 2,800 times more power per unit area than sunlight. It is equivalent to a black body radiative temperature of about 2,400C, or 4,300F, about as hot as the filament in an old-fashioned light bulb.

        But the reactor casing doesn't need to be that hot, indeed it can be quite cool.

        The highest steady-state fluid-cooling heat flux density I know of in engineering occurs in regeneratively cooled rocket engines, which typically cool at about 10-20 MW/m^2, though there are examples going up to about 160 MW/m^2 - many times more than needed here.

        So removing 100MW of heat from the device is not that great a problem, and certainly not an insoluble one.

        What you then do with that heat, well that's not going to fit into a shipping container ... but just the reactor might, indeed would, if it works as advertised.

    7. Wzrd1

      Re: To the skeptics...

      Lockheed-Martin hasn't asked for external finances since the Almighty was young.

      That is already a warning.

      A second warning is their diagram, where anything that does not fuse ends up slamming into the containment vessel.

      A third warning was no mention of mitigation neutron embrittlement.

      Finally, they're talking magic. Useful energy from something the size of a jet engine. OK, nice source, the collateral equipment necessary to make the damned thing work *and* cool and make work is a hell of a lot bigger.

      Now, add in the fact that deuterium isn't cheap by far and tritium is royally expensive...

      Finally, despite what our intrepid author has said, fusion is trivial to achieve. People all over this planet, even on Old Blighty have produced fusion devices. Neutron generators are available for sale, the more hazardous requiring various regulatory hurdles to overcome. The overwhelming majority of those are fusion units. Every hydrogen bomb on the planet and most fission bombs today have a neutron source that is a fusion unit.

      But, for those, energy input is much higher than the output.

      The former examples are curiosities, the latter, neutron sources.

      Sorry folks, I call bullshit.

      If asked to invest, I'd invest in cold fusion. Just for the comedic results.*

      *I have many other objections, some are based upon things covered under various NDA's, some of which could put me in prison. So, no. I'll not discuss some other objections. Anyone who knows collegiate physics will know where I'm thinking, mostly.

      1. MarkkuJ

        Re: To the skeptics...

        One thing that strikes my nerve is the closeness of this to the Rossi's E-Cat "verification" annoucement. Could this be the hoax and they are trying to keep Rossi from getting funding.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: To the skeptics...

          "Could this be the hoax and they are trying to keep Rossi from getting funding."

          I wouldn't worry too much about that, Rossi's funding problems have more to do with the fact that the institutions issuing grants have realized he's a con artist (which admittedly should have been evident from the start since LENR is just rebranded cold fusion).

  2. Howard Hanek Bronze badge

    Is it possible that Lockheed isn't divulging details because, (cough) they are IN BUSINESS to make money? Just a thought but, call me crazy, they expect to sell these things faster than iPhones and for a LOT more money.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      If they're in business to raise money, why are they looking for outside investment for this? If Apple developed a revolutionary new device that would rival the iPhone in sales, would you expect them to ask for investors and share the profit with them, or fund it themselves and keep 100% of the profit?

      1. Tom 13

        Re: why are they looking for outside investment for this?

        There's a great deal of detail missing from the article. If the new production line would cost $10bn to ramp up, even $2.9bn/yr in profits isn't enough to fund it. Even if it pretty much guarantees $6bn/yr after the line is up and running. So you look for investors.

        The catch on that is that there is a great deal of detail missing from the article. So they could be selling a perpetual motion machine under another name.

        1. ian 22

          Re: why are they looking for outside investment for this?

          But can I use it to make bacon sarnies?

    2. Psyx

      If they're in business to make money and have not only solved the world's energy crisis, but done it in a transportable form, then why are they publicly asking for a handout?

    3. fajensen Silver badge

      Maybe, Just Maybe - Lockheed is a bit slow on the uptake like most corporates are and they are now IN BUSINESS to TAKE money, like, pretty much everyone did all the way through the 'naughties?

      The confinement system they propose is simply not going to work in steady state* - unless, perhaps, they can somehow manage to compress the plasma magnetically to a density *much higher* than seen before and then hit it with neutral beams in the right moment and spot.

      If they miss, the 16-20 MW or so of neutral beams will make a fine dent in the vacuum chamber. Even if they don't miss, neutral beams are terribly inefficent; one wonder why they do not simply shoot charged beams through the magnetic axis of the thing - the ends will be pretty "leaky" anyway to a high-energy beam. (The power supplies, vacuum systems, bending magnets and cooling pipes for the neutral beams will be a building in itself; I would say 30 x 50 x 10 meter).

      This confinement system is not a new invention. Many, Many people have attempted this.

      We don't have "abominations" like ITER, JET and Wendelstein because some researchers made a bet on who could make the most complicated machine with the biggest budget overrun. We have them because all "the easy" ways did not work with the physics involved.

      *) Charged particles are going to spiral around the magnetic field lines, then get "reflected" at the ends if the field is strong enough; but all this bending of the particle paths mean lots of Synchrotron radiation and the plasma density increases "Bremsstrahlung" - so the steady- state losses will be huge and they have to pulse the machine.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beware

    Undocumented magic boxes...however large.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Beware

      Add to that: Investors wanted. Cash only. There's more to that part then meets they eye. Spin-off? Too much investment for Lockheed to spend? Maybe a spin-off as they feel they make enough money from military and space products?

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        When was the last time a billionaire declared that he had enough billions ?

        1. Nick L

          Didn't Mr Gates do just that and start giving his billions away?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Nah - Bill Gates wanted to beat Ted Turner :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beware

      Especially if they use 'neutral beams'.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Beware

        Especially if they use 'neutral beams'.

        Yeah, that's a red flag too. When there's a problem, how will the chief engineer reverse the polarity?

  4. Dr Scrum Master
    Mushroom

    10 years

    20 years ago nuclear fusion was 10 years away.

    10 years ago nuclear fusion was 10 years away.

    This year nuclear fusion is 10 years away.

    10 years from now?

    1. Franklin

      Re: 10 years

      Despite the naysayers, fusion power has made considerable progress. It hasn't progressed as fast as we would like, but sometimes new technology works that way.

      For example, Lawrence Livermore and MIT have both produced fusion reactions that net more energy output than energy input. They don't do it for long, but they do do it, which shows it is possible.

      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. A lot of political, social, economic, and resource problems turn out to be power problems, when you have copious amounts of cheap power. (For instance, much of the developing world, and more recently the developed world, struggles with water shortages; cheap and plentiful power make desalination easy.)

      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.

      1. ToddR

        Re: 10 years

        Sounds like the beginnings of a Bob Dylan song

      2. Anomalous Cowshed

        Re: 10 years

        I'm not sure that everyone having access to their own private 100 Mw reactor in their 1-bed flat or in their backyard would be beneficial for humanity. This kind of thing needs to be thought over a little. What impact would near limitless energy have on our lives and surroundings? It might change everything, and we might not want everything to change, not so fast anyway. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that the technology is taking a long time to develop, Lockheed or no Lockheed.

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          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.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          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. :-)

          1. fearnothing

            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.

            1. auburnman

              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.

        3. fajensen Silver badge

          Re: 10 years

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

      3. Psyx

        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.

      4. Fatman Silver badge

        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.

      5. JLV Silver badge

        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.

      6. Black Betty

        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.

    2. xperroni

      Re: 10 years

      10 years from now?

      They'd better run, the E-Cat guys have a working prototype now*, where will they be in 10 years?

      * Assuming it all isn't a scam, but some NASA people seem to think it's not, which is better recognition than LM got.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Try hunting down that NASA quote

        I did ages ago. It was something like "If it works, it would be great". No-one from NASA has said "It is not a scam", which leads me to ask: Why do the E-Cat guys need to publicise a miss-quote?

        The E-Cat demonstration could be faked by any competent chemist. If there was a working prototype, it would be making money by itself without investors.

        1. annodomini2
          Stop

          Re: Try hunting down that NASA quote

          There are photo's of E-Cat's test setup, it's vapourware.

        2. xperroni

          Re: Try hunting down that NASA quote

          I did [look for the NASA quote on E-Cat] ages ago. It was something like "If it works, it would be great". No-one from NASA has said "It is not a scam", which leads me to ask: Why do the E-Cat guys need to publicise a miss-quote?

          Uh, NASA was publishing designs created on the assumption that E-Cat works as late as this year.

          Low Energy Nuclear Reaction Aircraft

          http://nari.arc.nasa.gov/node/259

          The objective of this project was to explore the use of LENR as an energy source for aircraft. This report includes descriptions of different LENR propulsion or energy conversion systems, synergistic missions, and some aircraft concepts. Brief discussions of constraints that are removed by LENR and new constraints that arise are also included. This report concludes with potential research areas to infuse LENR aircraft into NASA research.

          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. Aside from the fact that this could not have been produced from any known chemical reaction, the most significant finding to me is the evidence of isotopic shifts in lithium and nickel. Understanding this could possibly be the beginning of a whole new era in both material transmutations and energy for the planet and for space exploration. This is an exciting time to live in and this is an exciting technology to witness come about.

          Unless the quote was mis-attributed and/or made up through-and-through, I'd say it's quite hard to misread it.

          Mind you, I'm just as skeptical as anyone. But some people not usually taken for fools seem to think this might be the real deal, so perhaps we should give it the benefit of the doubt? After the latest report it is expected that the E-Cat team will apply for a patent for their method, and then we'd be able to get more details on it.

          1. fajensen Silver badge

            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!

      2. Pet Peeve

        Re: 10 years

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

      3. phil dude
        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.

      4. fajensen Silver badge

        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).

    3. mmiied

      Re: 10 years

      "we have found plenty of ways it dosen't work"

    4. Jonathan 29

      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.

    5. Cipher
      Coat

      Re: 10 years

      In the year 2525

      if Lockheed can survive...

      In the year 3535

      If Fusion does arrive...

    6. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    7. Vociferous

      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.

  5. silent_count

    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.

    1. Ole Juul

      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.

      1. Kharkov
        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"

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        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.

    2. Tom 13

      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.

    3. Jes.e

      Re: I Want To Believe

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

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        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.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      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.

      1. Pypes

        Re: Patents

        Tritium has a half life of 12.32 years.

        8 days is close, but only in geological terms.

        1. Robert E A Harvey

          Re: Patents

          Isn't half life affected by relativistic effects?

          1. Chemist

            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.

      2. ToddR

        Re: Patents

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

  7. ToddR

    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!!

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      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.

  8. Pete 2

    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.

    1. Ross K Silver badge
      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.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        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?

      2. Pete 2

        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.

      3. AIBailey Silver badge

        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.

    2. Dave Bell

      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?

  9. cantankerousswineherd

    electricity too cheap to meter.

    1. nagyeger

      just like water

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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...

        1. NumptyScrub

          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 ;)

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            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.

          2. phil dude
            Coat

            Re: just like water

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

            P.

        2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          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.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    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).

    1. ToddR

      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

  11. R69

    Well I for one hope it works...

    ...but im also a realist!

  12. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Meh

    fusion power is just a fleisch in the pons.

  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    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?

  14. Detective Emil
    Mushroom

    Breeding dissent

    Hazily recalling Leonard de Vries' Book of the Atom (1960), I find it difficult to reconcile these two statements:

    "the tech could be exported around the world without fears over nuclear proliferation"

    "blanket absorbs neutrons to breed fuel and transfer heat to turbines"

    They probably mean breeding tritium from heavy water, but the neutron flux could also breed plutonium from uranium (although "only" plutonium 238, unless there are sufficiently fast deuterons around).

  15. Christoph Silver badge

    Have they got it working?

    If they have not got it actually working and producing excess power (or something very close to that) then they cannot know whether it will ever work. So all their fancy predictions of when it will be available are nonsense.

    1. Nick L

      Re: Have they got it working?

      I think they're 5 generations away from a working prototype that'll run for a few seconds. They're aimng for a prototype every year... So that's "no".

  16. naive

    Game changer

    Not being an expert, it seems too good to be true. The Lawrence Livermore facility needs a football field full of equipment to get fusion started, see https://lasers.llnl.gov/ , if it can also be done with reactors the size of a jet engine, then it would be a game changer for the world. With every new energy cycle, from wood to coals, from coals to oil, the world saw a long period of prosperity and progress.

    For over 150 years all the life changing major innovations came from America, it is magic how this nation keeps improving the world and makes the rest of the world look incapable and backwards.

    1. annodomini2

      Re: Game changer

      Creating fusion with a small reactor has been performed since the '50s, creating a net reaction has been the problem.

      Again they make no claims to this, so they've either done it and are keeping very quiet (why would Lockheed want investment (shared liability) in something they know works) or it's a money grabbing scam.

    2. CADmonkey

      Re: Game changer

      It wasn't magic when Churchill gave them everything the Brits had in terms of tech research into computers, jets, etc. just so that the Yanks would get their asses/arses over the pond in the name of freedom.

    3. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Game changer

      "For over 150 years all the life changing major innovations came from America"

      So wrong I suspect you are trolling. But one thing U.S. did exceedingly well is putting ideas from elsewhere into practice. E.g. the first automobiles with an internal combustion engine were made in Germany, but Ford in the U.S. turned them into an affordable product.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Game changer

        You might find some of the main modern car innovations came from here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panhard

    4. Ted 3
      Thumb Down

      Naive is certainly an appropriate name for you

      "For over 150 years all the life changing major innovations came from America, it is magic how this nation keeps improving the world and makes the rest of the world look incapable and backwards."

      You *can't* be serious.

      I mean from dynamite to electrocardiograms to relativity to penicillin to quantum mechanics to insulin to x-rays to helicobacter to the discovery of DNA...all major life changing innovations of the 150 years NOT from America.

      I could come up with many other examples but I have real work to do.

      1. tom dial Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Naive is certainly an appropriate name for you

        But we developed the iPhone!

        Surely that should make up for all the rest.

    5. Gobuchul

      Re: Game changer

      Seriously! Incapable and backwards? Your name is rather apt sir.

      America have their fair share of inventions but no more than many others. Not that it really matters. They are probably the best at inventing new ways to kill people however. The internet is the best thing America has ever done for the world. Although of international conception they certainly made it a reality.

      Hardly social trail-blazers either. There are third world countries with better social polices, paid maternity leave is a prime example.

      Now the Scots, they pretty much invented the world.

    6. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Game changer

      For over 150 years all the life changing major innovations came from America,

      Like the method by which you are publishing your inane comment?

    7. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Game changer

      Never before has a comment been posted that so perfectly matches the handle of its poster.

    8. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Game changer

      For over 150 years all the life changing major innovations came from America

      Ahahaha

      hahahaha

      hahah

      ha...

      ...Nurse! My pills...

  17. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Boffin

    Clean ?????

    > The process creates helium-4, freeing neutrons that carry the released energy kinetically through the confining magnetic fields.

    > Compact fusion reactors of this type would solve the world's energy needs at a stroke, slash carbon emissions, and ensure reliable, clean power anywhere in the world with some easy-to-obtain fuel: hydrogen.

    You need a process that creates helium-6 for it to be clean, just saying. El'Reg, ask the professor, he will confirm.

    So they'll have a prototype in 10 years ? ITER claims they will have one next year ... not that it will be energy-positive, mind, nor operate longer than 10 seconds, with days of "planned downtime" before they turn it on again for 10 seconds. At ITER they built a fission reactor in the building next door so they need not care about "energy-positivity".

    Oh, and the self-appointed fusion experts on here know where the downvote button is, don't they.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Clean ?????

      "You need a process that creates helium-6 for it to be clean,"

      Would you care to elaborate on this ?

      AFAIK He-6 has a 1/2 life of <1 sec and decays by both beta and alpha emission.

      He-4 is stable and the extra neutron released to form it is the one required to make more Tritium

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Clean ?????

        "AFAIK He-6 has a 1/2 life of <1 sec and decays by both beta and alpha emission."

        In fairness, for both decay modes the products are nbon-radioactive and because the half-life is so short you could safely spew Helium-6 into the atmosphere and it would be safe by the time it left your chimney. On the other hand, I'm not sure you could fairly (as in, completely) describe any process as "producing" Helium-6. It *produces* Deuterium, Helium-4 and Lithium-6.

    2. lampbus

      Re: Clean ?????

      Hmm...ITER will not be next year....(there is a schedule on the ITER website.)

      ITER will run pulses for a lot longer than 10 seconds : http://www.iter.org/newsline/122/182

      ITER has no fission reactor in it's plan. (power to site arrives over the French grid...so will have come from a fission plant somewhere, and from renewables. it is not intending to export any power. the site will not have any turbines or generators on it. (except as emergency site backup power).

      I don't need to downvote...I just google for accurate information.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Investment is key to fusion research

    It's sobering to think that the *entire* US budget for fusion research over the last 60 years is equivalent to the cost of fighting just 72 days of the pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    http://focusfusion.org/index.php/site/reframe/wasteful/

  19. Xamol
    WTF?

    Size

    Did I read it wrong because 7x13 meters doesn't sound business-jet engine size. More like business-jet size.

    One day, one of these announcements will prove true despite the negative, sceptical reaction it gets. Whether it's this time or not, if it's business-jet or business-jet engine size; it will still be an amazing acheivement.

    1. Candy
      Headmaster

      Re: Size

      "Did I read it wrong?" Yes, I think so. They are talking about "fusion reactors the size of a truck" where the reaction is "contained in a vessel the size of a business-jet engine". The one within the other.

      1. Xamol

        Re: Size

        @Candy - Thanks.

        7x13 is a big truck but it's still small enough to have as many mobile or fixed installations as you need placed around a town/city so long as you have the required water source available.

        Should help reduce electicity generation and transmission costs.

        1. Dave 42

          Re: Size

          Well, 7x13 meters is pretty big - but it's the third dimension that they don't mention - it could be huge

    2. harmjschoonhoven
      Boffin

      Re: Size

      The substantial problems with the stabiltity of a magnetised plasma decrease with increasing scale. There is a reason why ITER is the largest experiment for controlled nuclear fusion up to this day.

      A mass of 2*10^30 kg hydrogen by itself is sufficient to initiate a stable fusion reaction and solve all our energy requirements.

      1. ToddR

        Re: Size

        Its big but doesn't work for long and still massively energy negative. Mind you it employs more people in France.

        Maybe the problem is the Tokamak as stated by LM

      2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
        Happy

        A mass of 2*10^30 kg hydrogen by itself is sufficient to initiate a stable fusion reaction

        Where would we find something like that?

        /me looks up.

        Oh....

        1. Terje
          Happy

          Re: A mass of 2*10^30 kg hydrogen by itself is sufficient to initiate a stable fusion reaction

          Now we just needs to build a smallish water tank to put it in to generate steam for our turbines!

      3. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Size

        A mass of 2*10^30 kg hydrogen by itself

        To be pedantic, about a quarter of that mass was helium at the time; now about half of it is.

    3. Jonski

      Re: Size

      Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 as seen on B787's:

      Length: 4.738 m; Diameter: 2.85 m; Dry weight: 5,765 kg

      This is less than a quarter of the volume of a 7x13 m reactor, and I'd hate to think what the mass of the reactor would be- I'm guessing 200+ tonnes?

      So it may have roughly equivalent power output to today's engines (which are only getting more efficient), but I can't see its power:weight or thrust:weight ratios allowing for it to be used in aviation any time ever.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Plentiful cheap energy? Never going to happen

    Because if this system becomes available and it is as clean as fusion potentially promises (ie low grade radioactive casing at end of life to dispose of) then this is not going to be cheap.

    It will end up being sold at the same price, or just slightly less, (perhaps after government subsidy like wind) as whatever other options are out there.

    The benefit is that it breaks our dependency on fossil fuels, ignore the carbon discussion and everything similar, the simple fact is we are burning dead dinosaurs and their contemporary plant life. There are no more dinosaurs so we are not getting additional supplies any time soon.

    1. A Twig

      Re: Plentiful cheap energy? Never going to happen

      But, it opens up the possibility for local community generation.

      With this, when the Energy Company price hikes become to much to bear, it is no longer inconceivable that towns/villages could decide to fund their own community energy supplier - in the way we are starting to see with fibre optic broadband?

      Not suggesting this is necessarily the way forward or that it will happen, but the consequences of it are an interesting thought experiment.

    2. ToddR

      Re: Plentiful cheap energy? Never going to happen

      No the benefit is its also cheap. NB cheap is not free, but compared to Fission reactors it should be virtually free.

  21. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Rats!

    Pushes DeLorean back into the garage.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    Given the state of the US economy

    Is Barack Obama asking the prof for a loan that unlikely?

  23. herman Silver badge

    Well, if anyone could make it work, it would be the likes of Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics and the first use will likely be in a military ship or a submarine, not an aircraft or any commercial system.

    1. ToddR

      No the first use is as a district wide energy plant, i.e small - medium sized town.

      The spin on jet engines is at the moment you have to use an oil based fuel and the current order books for both Boeing and Airbus are gangbusters, so looks interesting to Mr Wallstreet

    2. Hurn

      If the 1950s are any guide, the first use will actually take the form of a prototype land-based plant which is a mock-up of the proposed sea going ones.

      In addition to testing the new tech, said location would be key to writing the "Reactor Plant Manuals" which would contain Operating Instructions (startup / shutdown) and Casualty Procedures (what to do if <insert_problem_here> happens). No doubt said facilities would be built to be run for 50 years or more, serving to train generations of engineering personnel who will run and maintain the plants.

  24. SoaG

    Heh

    "That's like Barack Obama asking me for a loan."

    With US federal debt an unfunded liabilities closing in on $125T I found that quote amusing.

    Still, while I'm skeptical overall, there is some merit to the argument that LHM may want investors because they're looking at a spinoff as it would be very much non-core business. They'll just hold onto the patents for any custom materials developed.

  25. DropBear Silver badge
    Boffin

    ...test out the Z-pinch theory of fusion generation, which eventually proved fruitless.

    I wouldn't quite give up on pinch fusion that fast (whether or not it's properly "Z"...) - the guys over at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics seem to be onto something with their aneutronic approach...

  26. harmjschoonhoven
    Holmes

    Tool use at Lockheed-Martin

    At 41 seconds in the video you can see that the open end of a combination wrench is used to tighten a nut, how unprofessional.

    1. swarfega

      Re: Tool use at Lockheed-Martin

      It's ok as long as they don't intend to turn it really tight more than once and retain the outer shape of the nut ;) Were you hoping they would bang it with the handle end not the open end? :P

  27. hi_robb

    I've said it once and I'll say it again...

    Sounds like con fusion to me.

  28. A Twig

    Just saying - the video is more a hype video to get research funding, that an announcement of a break through. It's basically a fluff piece to tell the world that they are starting an R & D program - with the usual LockMart bullish confidence about delivering the earth.

    Based on their more recent track record for OTD - I'd say we'll get something that sort of works in 50 years, and it will be 8 times the size, and cost at least 70x as much as originally projected...

  29. Nigel 11

    I really hope this works, but ...

    McGuire claimed such a fusion system could give aircraft unlimited range and endurance

    ... this triggered my BS detectors. Even if it does work as clained, it's not going to be powering any plane with human passengers or biological cargo. That's because it'll be spitting out vast numbers of neutrons, and any plane carrying enough mass to provide sufficient shielding is never going to get off the ground. (That's never: you just couldn't build a strong enough wing with any known or theoretically postulated material).

    If it sits on the ground and works and makes cheap enough energy, you could make jet fuel out of CO2 from the atmosphere. That's how to do carbon-neutral aeroplanes.

    1. Hurn

      Re: I really hope this works, but ...

      An airship, on the other hand, would work quite well.

      Place the reactor in the middle of a huge bag of Helium and very few neutrons will escape the outer envelope. And, hey, what's the waste product of the reactor? Helium. (1)

      As far as reducing weight, it'd be nice if there was a way to get electricity directly from the plasma itself (perhaps via MHD (2) ?) rather than have all the weight of a heat exchanger / turbine / condenser / feed pump cycle.

      (1) Yes, the reactor output volume of Helium will be orders of magnitude smaller than the volume of gas required for lift.

      (2) Magneto Hydro Dynamics - electricity can be generated based off the magnetic field generated by moving ions within the plasma. It'd be difficult to get the MHD generator to not interfere with the containment magnetic field, however.

  30. hi_robb

    Now the serious comment.

    the last comment was obviously a joke, before anyone takes offence.

    Being that it came from Lockheed's Skunk works who are one of the most respected engineering design and problem solving teams in the world, this announcement should be treated with a bit less scepticism as the cold fusion one made by one man some time ago.

    Anyone interested in this should have a look at the wiki page which has a little bit more info (not much) on it and it's designer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_beta_fusion_reactor

  31. Steve Graham

    1950s technology

    The lovingly-rendered image looks a lot like the magnetic mirror designs which originated in the Soviet Union in the fifties, and were taken up by the USA, where decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in trying to get them to work.

    The last big project, the Mirror Fusion Test Facility, was cancelled when almost complete in 1986.

    Plasma confinement is really, really hard. I don't see anything in this new story that suggests they have a solution.

  32. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  33. Yugguy

    Daft article

    You can't say "they didn't manage it in the 50s so it can't be done."

    1. Alien8n Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Daft article

      You can if you believe in conspiracy theories.

      "Well they didn't get a man on the moon in the 50's so it can't be done, so that proves the moon landings were faked"

    2. David Pollard

      Re: Daft article

      In one of the comments just a short way back there's a chap who's putting his DeLorean into the garage. Maybe that's the way to have done it.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a theory...

    This is just Lockheed's plan to bankrupt Boeing. Lockheed know this will never work, but they figure Boeing will spend billions trying to get it to work and be the first to market, but will just bankrupt themselves in trying.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thorium

      Thorium reactors LFTRs do all these things except on a larger scale. All the qualities are there. This is a great lecture on the importance of continued development of these reactors in the west.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgKfS74hVvQ

      1. ToddR

        Re: Thorium

        Thorium reactors should be in production now for Hinckley Point instead of a 40 year old PWR design form Areva.

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: Thorium

          Thorium reactors have their fair share of problems too. For example, it needs to be used in conjunction with another metal such as plutonium. However, the typical Sloshdat basement dweller don't want to know about this and always spouts 'Thorium!, Thorium!' as if it is a magic bullet.

          1. Tom Paine Silver badge

            Re: Thorium

            Ten years ago it was "Pebble bed! Pebble bed!" Seen it all before.

    2. Psyx
      Happy

      Re: I have a theory...

      That's not the way it works any more.

      Why pay billions in parallel development when you can pay hackers a few tens of thousands for the data?

      Hell: It's not like US aerospace companies haven't been robbed blind electronically before!

  35. Evoflash

    Until it makes 1.21GW....

    I'm not interested.

    Regards,

    Scott Great

  36. bjr

    Just in time for a time machine

    Doc Brown brought back a Mr Fusion home reactor from the year 2015 so this annoucement is just in time. However they need to boost the power to 1.21GW and reduce the size so that it can fit in the backseat of a Delorean, but maybe they can do that by the end of next year.

  37. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    On the economic side

    "That's like Barack Obama asking me for a loan."

    I take it he hasn't purchased any T-Bills, or doesn't remember doing so.

  38. sisk Silver badge

    Polywell

    Whatever happened to Bussard's Polywell research? From what I read he was startlingly close to a practical fusion power plant when his funding ran out.

    1. ZSn

      Re: Polywell

      Sorry to say - no he wasn't.

  39. The Bobster

    Last time LockMart got some traction with this idea, the timescales quoted were 2017 prototype, 2022 full vewrsion. So it looks as if timescales have slipped by 2/3 years. Maybe their breakthrough is more akin to reducing the "fusion is always 30 years away" to "fusion is always 10 years away".

    OTOH it would be really, really neat if they made it work.

    1. ToddR

      Only 2 years out aren't they?

  40. Minor league tech player

    The Skunkworks guys are good but not as brilliant as they used to be sadly (see the failure of the X-33 programme - great concept, but they couldn't build it). And their core competence is building prototypes of high-performance military aircraft, rather than revolutionary energy production systems.

    So I am sceptical. I want them to be right but they don't provide details of how far they have got, so I have to assume they are being more than a little optimistic and don't have enough physicists in-house to challenge this guy (who may also have a great concept which is unbuildable, too). As someone else has said, containing plasma at those temps is really, really hard (someone once compared it to caging a hypersonic serpent hotter than the sun - that gives a sense of the challenge) and a lot of very very smart people have been trying to solve this problem for decades. It may be this guy is on to something but I'm afraid I find it more than a little unlikely.

    I hope they release more details because although JET and at some point ITER have and will succeed through the brute force of throwing huge sums of money at the problem - as well as time, I am not convinced that the TOKOMAK design is ever going to be economically attractive, even if it proves to be viable.

    I suspect in the end we will find that the best source of our future energy needs is output of the closest fusion reactor we have available: the sun (the star, not the paper).

    1. ZSn

      Have seen some of the costings done for the predecessor of ITER - the total cost of a fusion plant per Gigawatt (adding all the externals) is about the same as that for a coal plant. The difference is it is non-poluting and the supplies of lithium that are currently available are predicted to last about 1000 years (assuming no new finds and no really big increases in power requirements!).

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Suspicious date

    Isn't it odd that this announcement was made when all the people who really know about the subject are gathered together in St. Petersburg and otherwise occupied?

    That to me is the huge smell around the announcement at this time.

  42. Minor league tech player

    Wishing it were true, but doubtful...

    The Skunkworks guys are good but not as brilliant as they used to be sadly (see the failure of the X-33 programme - great concept, but they couldn't build it). And their core competence is building prototypes of high-performance military aircraft, rather than revolutionary energy production systems.

    So I am sceptical. I want them to be right but they don't provide details of how far they have got, so I have to assume they are being more than a little optimistic and don't have enough physicists in-house to challenge this guy (who may also have a great concept which is unbuildable, too). As someone else has said, containing plasma at those temps is really, really hard (someone once compared it to caging a hypersonic serpent hotter than the sun - that gives a sense of the challenge) and a lot of very very smart people have been trying to solve this problem for decades. It may be this guy is on to something but I'm afraid I find it more than a little unlikely.

    I hope they release more details because although JET and at some point ITER have and will succeed through the brute force of throwing huge sums of money at the problem - as well as time, I am not convinced that the TOKOMAK design is ever going to be economically attractive, even if it proves to be viable.

    I suspect in the end we will find that the best source of our future energy needs is output of the closest fusion reactor we have available: the sun (the star, not the paper).

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Wishing it were true, but doubtful...

      "see the failure of the X-33 programme - great concept, but they couldn't build it). "

      Wrong. It succeeded brilliantly.

      LM wanted to kill any serious attempt at SSTO to protect their investment in the EELV programme.

      It worked perfectly.

      it was the worst option to carry out the programmes stated goal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wishing it were true, but doubtful...

      The way we're going to get fusion power is by throwing so much money at it that a rotating black hole is created, and then we put a big coil round the rotating black hole.

      But yes, solar power. If the money spent so far on fusion (including fusion bombs and decontamination of the mess made in producing them) had been spent on PV or solar thermal R&D, plus infrastructure, we'd probably already be piping large amounts of electricity across the Med from Africa to Europe. PV and solar thermal are in reality almost as interesting technologically as fusion, the difference is we know for certain that they can work.

  43. Rick Brasche

    kids these days, so impatient!

    why in my day, every vapor announcement was "20 years from now"...thanks to short attention span yoof, everything is announced "only 10 years" nowadays,

    now get offa mah lawn!

  44. Simon Brady
    Coat

    Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

    Interesting that out of all the potential applications they chose to highlight powering aircraft. With the level of scepticism they must have expected, surely the last thing they need is to remind people of the 1950s atomic-power-will-solve-everything optimism that fuelled the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion programme. Then again, if they could demo this puppy in a B-36 I for one would buy tickets to watch.

    (Mine's the one with the lead lining.)

  45. ecofeco Silver badge

    We'll just have to wait and see

    They are either telling the truth or they aren't. We'll know in about a year.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    net gain

    It is needed net energy gain confirmed because some fusion reactions are easy to occur but surpassing the break-even point is that the real trouble to be still solved. http://youtu.be/u8n7j5k-_G8

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back to the cutaway

    Looks more like a "gravity ampllifier" to me - and if that is the case the two super-conducting rings will be contra-rotating metallic plasma fast enough for "relativistic effects" to kick in. Size quoted is a bit big - I'd say 1/10th that in linear dimensions more likely. Wear sunscreen and stand well back. Ooh look a shiny thing!

  48. tom dial Silver badge

    Three comments

    1. The announcement, for some reason, reminded me of Fleischmann, Pons, adn electrochemical cold fusion claims.

    2. We already have a fusion reactor at our disposal. The problem is that it's 93 million miles distant and we need to find a way to collect its energy with decent efficiency.

    3. On the other hand, it really will be nice if isn't BS.

  49. roger stillick
    Happy

    hi_robb has Wiki ref for this article...

    Ref= Wiki, High beta fusion reactor...

    IMHO= looking at thw Wiki article, Dr. Thomas MCGuire has described a jet engine sized device that has RF Magnetic power output which using circulator / isolator components remove rf power FROM the device to external AC power conversion equipment for mains standard 3 phase power or power to a ducted fan aircraft propulsion moter...

    from an ancient 1960's book (Atomic Age Physics by Semat and White) neutrons can be captured / blocked / converted by simple inorganic chemicals... Or, on a plane wing ?? sure, why not.

    caveiat= i am a Buddhist tecno historian, hopefully this article isn't all SCi-Fi nonsense...RS.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds interesting

    Could this by any chance be based on the infamous mercury rotating plasma allegedly used on the TR-3B?

    If so then it *might* work, although it would be fairly dangerous to be around.

    Also curious, this looks a lot like the descriptions of the superconducting ring generators used by Dr Martin Tajmar and indeed rapidly rotating superconductors do generate axial fields at high intensities.

    Sort of like a homopolar motor but no sliding contacts

  51. Sirius Lee

    A b-ITER disappointment

    Hype/no hype but let's hope it's true. 3 years ago while taking a break on the coast just outside Marseilles I the family and I took a trip a few miles north to the ITER site fascinated to learn about the progress being made and the prospects for this huge (expensive) international collaboration.

    What a disappointment.

    At the time the site was being prepared for the creation of the reactors. I learned during the presentation that they don't like using the word 'reactor' - too many negative connotations. So the site was being prepared but, perhaps no surprise, the accommodation for 650 civil servants (yes 650) were already built and occupied. No Nissan hut for these civil servants. Instead they got to occupy a state-of-the-art building.

    But the icing on the cake was to learn that the grand plan is to, maybe, have a working prototype by 2040. At that time the site will be abandoned. 2040. A prototype. That's what billon/years buys you.

    So that's the state of fusion research when done by a group sponsored by the tax payer. Very uninspiring. Though on the bright side, they are unlikely to disappoint anyone. But the French have much needed employment for 650 people for the next 30 years so that's good.

    Given this background, maybe it's no surprise Lockheed Martin's skunk works project is making noises. They probably realise the ITER project looks like a massive, publicly funded white elephant and that a pitch to Congress might just net them some of the cash that would otherwise go to support French employment statistics.

    EDF must also have been given some money because the place had all the electrical infrastructure in place both to power the research and absorb any of the energy they, maybe, one day, hope to produce.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A b-ITER disappointment

      I am pleased you made it to the actual site, However ....

      The French have a habit of calling absolutely *anybody* who works for government (theirs, or town council, or from some other country) a "civil servant". Whether engineers, physicists, etc.

      In fact ITER France has staff from from 35 different countries, speaking 40 different languages, and very many took their families with them to France. They do not have 600 French Sir Humphreys in one building, thankfully.

      Additionally, yes, 3 years ago maybe there would have not been much to see. However, they are starting to put components into buildings right now and are building other parts, in Japan and so on.

  52. John Savard Silver badge

    Nice to have details

    Saw the image on the Aviation Week page during a search about alternatives to the Tokamak geometry.

    Among other things turned up in a previous search was a suggestion that since curving the linear path into a circle causes instabilities, why not just have a really long straight-line plasma, so that the leakage from the ends is small? And to reduce the length from 2 km to 600 metres, they suggested putting lithium deuteride plugs at the end, so using a blanket is an idea that's been around for other forms of fusion reactor.

    And I see that the Stellarator is another alternative idea that still has life; today's more powerful computers make it possible to design them, it is said.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fiddlesticks and horse apples!

    We have been working on controlled fusion since 1953. So far, there has not been a fusion reactor design that produced enough excess energy to light up a single LED. There is good reason for this. Fusion, unlike every other reaction we obtain energy from is not a self-sustaining chain reaction. It's main selling point is its mos serious weakness. No, a fusion reactor could never runaway and overheat the way a fission reactor would, but just getting the damned thing to start is a major problem in and of itself.

    Still, this is Lockheed's Skunkworks we are discussing here so I will take a wait and see approach, but I am not going to hold my breath. So far, the one design I have seen with any real promise can be found here:

    http://www.talk-polywell.org/bb/index.php

  54. smithpd

    Seems implausible without further detail

    Lack of detail is a big problem in understanding this. At first glance, some thing don't seem right:

    1. Superconducting magnets immersed in the fusing plasma. I do not see sufficient thickness for vacuum vessel and blanket components around the immersed coils.

    2. Blanket components must remove the heat and provide shielding for the magnets. They must be a certain thickness to perform these functions. A much smaller reactor does not necessarily mean a much thinner blanket.

    3. With such high power density and low volume to surface ratio, I wonder how the heat would be removed in a power version of this device, considering how difficult heat transfer already is in a large machine such as ITER, which has lower power density and more favorable heat flux.

    4. The geometry, with its cusp ends, seems to be that of a mirror machine. Previous experiments with mirror machines, ending in the 1980s, have shown mirrors to be inferior to tokamaks for confinement. What makes this one different?

    5. Neutral beams injectors must have accelerators and neutralizers. Where do they fit on the truck?

    6. Considering power supplies, cryogenic plant, tritium purification plant, heat removal system / connections to power plant, controls, etc., it is hard to imagine all this being placed on the bed of a truck. With a tokamak, for example, the machine itself occupies a small fraction of the total area, including supporting equipment.

    My initial reaction to the picture is that this looks like a few-shot proof of principle device, not a power plant. The claim of a truck mounted power reactor seems implausible unless the truck is sitting in the midst of a large amount of supporting equipment..

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Steampunk Future

    "These neutrons heat the reactor wall which, through conventional heat exchangers, can then be used to drive turbine generators."

    Humanity seems to be hell bent on spending mental amounts of money on effectively building a bloody fancy steam engine.

    Surely there must be a better way to generate electricity than driving turbines?

  56. ElectricRook
    Holmes

    Another Glomar Explorer

    Me thinks they are building another Glomar Explorer. This is a cover story for something else, perhaps a time machine . . . working google car . . . warp drive?

    Oh yeah they expect to lose their a$$es at it too.

  57. CaptSmeg

    Two years on.. any more info?

    I'm curious. Anyone know any more about this? Mr google isn't helping.

  58. Tom Paine Silver badge

    The goal is a 100MW reactor that's 23 by 43 feet [...] All this is expected to be contained in a vessel the size of a business-jet engine.

    Well, which is it? It'd be a bloody big business jet that was powered by 43 foot long engines...

    WRT the story as a whole: coughBOLLOCKScough. If they can produce as functioning fusion reactor that produces more power than it consumes, I'll eat my hat. And yes, I do actually have a hat, a 99p straw one from Tesco that I use for gardening when it's sunny.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Future, meet past

    "These neutrons heat the reactor wall which, through conventional heat exchangers, can then be used to drive turbine generators."

    So, to get this straight, we're still in the dark ages of producing energy using steam from glorified kettles to make big copper coils spin in a magnetic field.

    Surely there must be a better way of efficiently inducing an electrical current?

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