Lockheed Martin’s fusion energy reactor design is drawing some heat from other scientists, although heat is said to be precisely the problem. But the Skunk Works team is not alone in receiving criticism since other U.S. fusion energy plans are being considering “unsatisfactory” by a meeting of peers.
In a related report by The Inquisitr, Lockheed Martin claims the final version of their fusion energy reactor could potentially fit on a truck yet power something mammoth in size. If Skunk Works can make these predictions about their nuclear fusion reactor come true, it’s possible the world could see clean energy in less than a decade.
Apparently, everyone in the fusion energy scientific community is talking about 10 year plans right about now. Skunk Works hopes to have their design functioning within that time frame. A 23-person government advisory panel comprised of U.S. fusion scientists was also hoping to map out a plan for the next 10 years.
How is that process going? According to Martin Greenwald of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Plasma Science and Fusion Center in Cambridge, the “whole process was unsatisfactory.” The biggest fusion project at the moment is the ITER tokamak design in France, but no fusion energy reactor has ever produced more energy than it consumes. The 10 year plan currently calls for more research into controlling plasma while not allowing for any budget increases. The scientists also believe the United States should try and build a new fusion reactor called the Fusion Nuclear Science Facility (FNSF) at the end of 10 years.
In the end, the differences of opinion over the issues caused the Department of Energy (DOE) to recuse 14 out of 23 scientists “if they had connections to a lab with a major fusion facility, or a lab that might benefit from the report’s recommendations.” Greenwald claims there is little enthusiasm for the current plan and believes “we need a road map to something attractive.”
The amount of enthusiasm for Lockheed Martin’s fusion energy reactor also seems to be rather muted, as well. The main difference between previous efforts is the plasma containment vessel. The ITER is a tokamak, which resembles a hollowed out doughnut, while Lockheed is calling their effort a Compact Fusion Reactor (CFR). But Tom Jarboe, a researcher with the University of Washington’s nuclear fusion experiment, believes the design isn’t feasible.
“The nuclear engineering clearly fails to be cost effective,” said Jarboe according to Business Insider. “This design has two doughnuts and a shell so it will be more than four times as bad as a tokamak. Our concept [at the University of Washington] has no coils surrounded by plasma and solves the problem.”
Other scientists like Swadesh M. Mahajan, a thermonuclear plasma physicist at the University of Texas, believes the CFR design could not handle the heat generated by fusion energy.
Not everyone is immediately criticizing the design. For example, Michael Zarnstorff, Deputy Director for Research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, is cautiously optimistic that Skunk Works may have a winner.
“It’s really great that Lockheed has taken an interest in this important challenge of providing carbon-free energy to the world,” Zarnstorff said. “We haven’t seen any results from the Lockheed experiments but the design is an interesting concept and it looks like they are at a very early stage of exploring this configuration.”