Scientists have been working on tapping nuclear fusion as an energy source for over 60 years and now, after 1.1 million hours of construction, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics has taken has huge leap towards achieving that with the completion of the world’s largest nuclear fusion machine called the W7-X, and are set to turn it on for the first time before the end of November. A nuclear fusion reactor of this type, called stellarators, are incredibly difficult to build; the W7-X in particular took 19 years to complete and was designed by a supercomputer.
Stellarators are a different kind of nuclear fusion reactor compared to the more common tokamak reactors. Nuclear reactors generate power by confining and controlling plasma that’s been heated to over 180 million degrees Fahrenheit, ripping apart its atoms and forming ions. This process happens in a super-chilled magnetic coil that generate magnetic fields powerful enough to contain and control the heated plasma. The longer this control is maintained, the more power is generated. Stellarators are suspected to be able to maintain control of its plasma for at least 30 minutes at a time. Tokamaks are only able sustain their pulses by no more than 7 minutes, which leads to them to consuming more energy than they produce. A successful run of the W7-X would mark the first time that a nuclear fusion reactor has been able to generate more power than it consumed.