US Dept of Energy injects more particles of cash into tokamak fusion reactors

The funding will continue, until the atoms fuse

The US Department of Energy is handing out more fusion power funding, this time doling out $47 million to 38 projects that are exploring the feasibility of tokamak reactors. 

Tokamaks use powerful magnetic fields to force plasma into either a torus or a more spherical shape, depending on the type of design used. The ultimate goal being to fuse together atoms and generate more power from this reaction than is put into the thing to sustain it, so that the excess energy can be harnessed to, say, produce electricity.

Tokamaks have been seen as a promising path to useful fusion, though one of several.

In this case, the Dept of Energy is awarding cash to researchers working to "close gaps in the science and technology basis for the tokamak approach to fusion energy." 

Uncle Sam won't have to wait too long for results, the department's acting associate director of science for fusion energy sciences Harriet Kung says. "These activities [PDF] will make optimal use of existing tokamak facilities and provide productive engagements with leading fusion institutes, moving us closer to fusion energy as a clean and abundant energy source."

2022: The year of fusion funding

This $47 million is just a small sprinkling of public cash compared to the larger bucket of money allocated to the DoE for fusion research by the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

The initial earmarking included a $713 million reserve for the DoE's Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, part of which funded a different $50 million award given last month to companies trying to develop workable fusion power plants by the end of the 2030s. 

That overly ambitious goal makes no prescriptions for the type of equipment that would fill a theoretical fusion power plant, leaving the door open to tokamaks as well as alternative methods, such as shooting deuterium fuel capsules with tungsten bullets to start a reaction. 

Tokamaks are still untested at large scale. However, scientists in Korea recently managed to sustain plasma gas in a tokamak at 100 million kelvin for 20 seconds, an important first step toward fusion energy. There's also the tokamak-based Joint European Torus, which produced 59 megajoules during a five second pulse at the end of last year, and is still ticking along. No doubt there are other experimental systems out there being worked on.

"Fusion offers a potential long-term energy source that uses abundant fuel supplies and does not produce greenhouse gasses or long-lived radioactive waste," the DoE argues. The Biden administration has previously said it considers fusion a potential solution for fossil-fuel driven climate change that will "bolster American leadership, strengthen energy security, and enable sustained energy independence." ®

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