On February 4, 2015, AAAP was treated to a tour of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, our local DOE national laboratory and soon-to-be the world’s most powerful spherical fusion facility. John DeLopper, Head of Best Practices and Outreach conducted the two-hour tour of the facility.
Mr. DeLopper began the tour with a brief orientation and entertaining video about fusion energy: http://phdcomics.com/tv/#061. We moved on to the control room where he explained in detail how PPPL researchers and collaborators run experiments on the reactor.
Unfortunately, we could not see the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) reactor because it is in the final stage of a $94 million upgrade to double its magnetic field and heating power, and increase its pulse length five times Instead, we saw the partially completed National Compact Stellarator Experiment (NCSX) reaction vessel.
In contrast, we saw one of the first fusion reactors, the Stellarator, created by Lyman Spitzer of Princeton University on display at PPPL, which shows that in the early years fusion research was done on the lab bench.
One of the important lessons learned from the tour is that fusion research should be high priority, perhaps higher than space exploration. While reaching for the stars may help us create refuges for mankind on other planets and moons, fusion has the potential to provide unlimited clean energy, eliminate carbon emissions and arrest climate change. The US government’s lack of resolve to adequately fund scientific research at levels needed to advance this country’s knowledge and maintain our scientific workforce is particularly detrimental to US fusion research at a time when it is most needed. Fortunately, the European Union is not so shortsighted and is leading the international effort to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. ITER aims to produce more energy from the fusion process than is used to start it, thereby making the transition from experimental studies to full-scale electricity-producing fusion power plants.
For more information on this exciting research in our own backyard: