August 28, 2008

Inertial electrostatic confinement completes WB7 test, results are under review

The Bussard fusion design, also known as inertial electrostatic confinement or Polywell fusion, has completed the WB7 test which was a replication of the promising WB6 test which was showing a breakthrough in low-cost fusion power.

The results of the first-phase test are now being reviewed by the funders and experts in the fusion energy field. The lead researcher Dr Nebel said “we have had some success" in the effort to reproduce the promising results reported by the late physicist Robert Bussard. "It's kind of a mix," he said.

A couple of months ago, Nebel told Alan Boyle that he'd love to ramp up the size of the machine to generate 100 megawatts of electric power. If the technology could actually produce power on that scale, it could offer a quicker route to commercially viable fusion reactors, as well as new propulsion systems for space travel.

When Alan Boyle talked with Nebel last week, Nebel would say only that his team has "a plan to go forward." It's up to the review panel and the funders to give the go-ahead, however. "We don't know whether that's going to happen or not," he told me.

Whether or not the Navy funds the next phase, the past year's effort has been worth it, Nebel said. "We're generally happy with what we've been getting out of it, and we've learned a tremendous amount," he said.

All that learning won't go away. "Regardless of what happens to it, we're going to get this thing well written up and documented," Nebel said.


Getting the experiment's findings down on paper will help the EMC2 team - or future teams of fusion researchers - advance the legacy left behind by Bussard.

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