Homemade Nuclear Reactor Built in NYC for $35,000

Posted: June 25, 2010 in COOL STUFF, NEWS, TECHNOLOGY

 

Don’t look now, but your neighbor might be building a fusion reactor, and it’s perfectly legal. Check out this story by Matthew Danzico writing for the BBC. It’s got to be one of the craziest and coolest pieces I’ve read in a while.

A gentleman by the name of Mark Suppes, a 32-year-old software developer, spent $35,000 on parts he bought legally on eBay and is building a fusion reactor in a warehouse in Brooklyn.

Now, let’s just pause here a moment to remind ourselves the difference between nuclear fusion and fission. Fission is the splitting apart of atoms. City-annihilating bombs are based on the technology as are nuclear power plants — both of which produce radioactive waste.

Fusion is the joining of atoms to produce energy (it’s how the sun works) and so far, no one’s really figured out how to do it efficiently. Oh, many-a scientist have tried, and for good reason. Fusion energy is not made with nuclear materials, such as uranium or plutonium, it does not produce CO2 or other emissions and it could make virtually unlimited energy relatively inexpensive.  

 

But success remains elusive.

The author of this piece on Gizmodo about Suppes sums up nicely.

The problem with fusion has always been that we don’t know how to get more energy out of it than we put into it. We know the energy is there. We know effective fusion is likely to take a lot of energy to jumpstart, but we don’t know how (or if) we can ever get fusion going well enough to capture as much energy out as we put into it — the elusive break even point. We can’t control how the energy likes to leave the reaction, and it’s in forms we can’t use. We can’t keep the reaction self-sustaining like it is in the sun, since we don’t have gravity on our side. Also, we’re talking about plasma, the star-hot fourth state of matter. It tends to destroy the equipment.

Enter Suppes and other amateur physicists like him, who call themselves “fusioneers.” They have a website, Fusor.net, an open-source research consortium, where people gather to share experiences and swap techniques. What Suppes is trying to do is build a Bussard Polywell fusion reactor, named after Robert W. Bussard, a physicist from Los Alamos.

Whether they have a shot at it or not is a big question, since millions of dollars is already being spent to fund fusion research in different labs around the world, not to mention ITER, the large-scale scientific experiment being built to demonstrate that producing energy from fusion is possible. And these efforts have yet to turn out a commercially viable technique that produces more energy than it uses.

But visit the Fusor website, and immediately its inspirational and motivational tone makes you believe that you can.

It says that building a reactor based on one invented in the 1950s by a Philo T. Farnsworth is “relatively simple” and employs “all the multidisciplinary techniques that fusion requires: vacuum pumping, stainless steel machining, power supply management, etc. Believe it or not, some of these devices, which really do produce fusion reactions, have been built for ‘less than the cost of a set of used golf-clubs.'”

It goes on to say: “Who knows, perhaps one of the people who visit this site will learn a thing or two and go on to do what ‘the experts’ have been unable to accomplish.”

Perhaps that person will be Suppes. Perhaps that person will be you.

 

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