Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fusion Nuclear Reactors

When I attended the Naval Academy many many years ago, there were no electives, only selection of a language. Nuclear engineering was just coming into being.. There was one course and it really consisted of atomic structure because very little else was known..
Didn't pay too much attention to its progress until 1958, when I became employed by Sylvania Corning Nuclear that I became interested in nuclear engineering again. At that time I was hired by the Research Laboratory to work on refractory metal alloys and beryllium that would be part of the first nuclear reactor that would propel an airplane. The feature was that the plane would never have to land, and there would be merely an exchange of crews and supplies. Good idea, except no one considered the weight. When they did and found the idea impractical, I now believed that I was out of a job. Therefore I found employment in the beryllium industry that was also heavily involved in the growing nuclear industry. Not sure that all has been declassified so am not going there.
It was not long after that the concept for a fusion nuclear reactor was conceived. As I recall, Princeton University was active and still is a key player.In a simple sense the concept was to concentrate and accelerate neutrons within a field shaped by super conducting magnets to collide, react and create electrical energy for public consumption. This is a simplistic explanation because I am far from being a nuclear physicist. However I am interested in materials and they have been stumbling blocks to its development.
 I previously discussed Generation IV reactors, which are conceived for introduction between 2020 to 2030. Fusion nuclear reactors are still not conceived to come on stream until 2050.
Reasons for this still evolve around material development. Superconducting magnets are still not advanced as desired to concentrate and accelerate the neutrons.In addition, alloys that stand the elevated temperatures and neutron wall loading are still in the infant stage of development.
MagnaTech believes that we have little to contribute to the development of super conducting magnets. However, we do believe that we can assist in improvement of structural materials required to sustain the harsh environment and conditions imposed by reactions occurring at the walls. The environment consists of complex combinations of high temperature , high stresses, reactive coolants and extensive radiation damage.What this means is that alloys that have strength sufficient at operation at temperatures as high as 500 C at stress levels imposed in a highly reactive corrosive environment are needed. Candidate materials for the structural components include reduced activation ferritic martensitic steels that can be joined to form complex structures.In addition the surface must be resistant to corrosion attack from possible liquid coolants and from radiation degradation. A tall order, but MagnaTech believes that we have technology available that can resolve some of these anticipated problems. Therefore MagnaTech is seeking opportunities to partner with others to advance our concepts to resolve some of the material problems resisting the development of these advanced fusion nuclear reactors. MagnaTech would therefore be delighted to engage in dialogue with other companies that would be interested in advancing this technology.

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