Long the domain of science fiction writers, fusion energy has been given a serious research boost with the opening of the Australian Plasma Fusion Research Facility at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.
Attached to the Research School of Physics and Engineering at ANU, the facility will continue the search for viable fusion power. A fusion generator would replicate the behaviour of the Sun in fusing two atom nuclei in order to create a single heavier one, releasing large of amount of energy in the process.
If the process can made be viable, it could potentially provide limitless amounts of environmentally safe power.
The centrepiece of the new facility is the recently upgraded H1 Heliac - a "toroidal stellarator" that can now heat fusion experiments to temperatures greater than the core of the Sun. (In layman's terms it's a very hot, magnetic doughnut).
Another new machine for the facility is the MagPIE -- the Magnetised Plasma Interaction Device - which is primarily used to study plasma interactions. The ANU is saying that the MagPIE will "accelerate research into extreme materials to be used in future experiments involving even higher temperatures and radiation levels."
The H1 and the MagPIE are both helping inform the next generation of large scale fusion experiments, ITER, currently under development in France.
ITER -- International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor -- will have a volume ten times larger than any current magnetic fusion experiment.
"ITER's design hinges on experiments being carried out in experiments around the world, such as the Plasma Fusion Research Facility at ANU," said the Director General of ITER, Osamu Motojima in a media statement.
"Power plant fusion plasmas present an extreme materials challenge. This facility helps us to test whether prototype new materials can withstand the heat flux damage inflicted by a fusion plasma," said Dr Adi Paterson, CEO of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).