Although the nuclear energy is a really controversial argument. Even though it’s potentially a weapon able to destroy the life on the planet and as much as it is unthinkable to switch on something that no one knows how to switch off, it remains anyway an incredible invention that changed the world. If everything goes right the nuclear fusion it is the clearest energy of the world.
But its implications might be essential in the programs of space explorations, but to make it possible we first need to find a way to miniaturize it. Mini nuclear power plants might give energy to the first martian colonies. The nuclear energy should be essential even in the engines of the future spaceships. Two mini nuclear power plants can give enough energy to pass the light’s speed.
Fission and fusion
Firstly we need to make a distinction between nuclear fission and fusion. They are two reactions of the atoms at the exact opposite ways, but both of them produce nuclear energy.
While the nuclear fission, the one used in the nuclear power plants all over the world, produces radioactive wastes, the fusion is completely clean and potentially unlimited. Therefore the second one is based on the hydrogen isotopes, so it can easily work with the only and simple usage of the water.
The patent of Lockheed Martin
The peculiarity of the mini nuclear fusion power plant of Lockheed Martin is its really small size. The reactor, infact, is so small to be used on an airplane or, likely, on the spaceships for the future long distance travels.
The patent presented by the Lockheed Martin dates back to more or less a year ago. The prototype, which is now of the size of a container, should be able to give energy to 80 thousand houses or to the biggest aircraft carrier ship of the world.
The small implant contains, with magnetic fields, atoms of hydrogen in a reduced space, they combined themselves to obtain atoms of helium. This process creates a huge quantity of energy.
But the Lockheed Martin claimed since the beginning that its purpose is the one to realize models much more smaller than the first prototype. So small to give energy to a fighter jet. Furthermore, already last year, it predicted to present the first working models in five years. Today, one year later here you have the first results.
The nuclear fusion by Lockheed Martin
It’s called CFR (Compact Fusion Reactor) the compact nuclear fusion reactor by Lockheed Martin. In the Skunk Works Team in California it’s starting the second phase of the project: the building of a reactor more powerful than the prototype.
“The way followed until now it’s the right one”, said Jeff Babione, director of the project.
By the way we will have to way many years before to reach the really small size hoped. The prototype should have a diameter of 7 meters. Which is still too much to be placed on a figther jet, but maybe it’s enough small to be used on a spaceship. Let’s just think that another nuclear fusion reactor, the ITER, in France, has 100 meters of diameter.
The problems of the nuclear fusion
The main problem of the nuclear fusion reactors is right the size. And it is there that Lockheed Martin is focusing all of its efforts.
The way took by Lockheed Martin is the one of the magnetic confinement, system used even by the ITER. This system doesn’t need only to reduce the sizes, but even to avoid that the plasma, brought to really high temperatures during the process, arrives to touch the walls of the implant.
The second problem is, right, the high temperatures. To arrive to the state of plasma we have to reach pression as strong as the ones of a star. Which is impossible on the Earth. To avoid the problem we need to turn up the heat to hundreds of millions of degrees.
The nuclear fusion reactors in the world
We already mentioned the reactor ITER, whose flaw is the huge size (100 meters of diameter). Then there are the american NIF and the japanese experimental reactor JT-60SA.
But the most ambitious project is the one of the Lockheed Martin, even if we have to wait many years before to find out if it will be able to bring the reactor to the size of a normal engine.
This post is also available in: Italiano