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A Fusion Reactor In The Living Room

Are working nuclear-fusion reactors just over the horizon? Doubtful. Right now the most ambitious attempt is a $15-billion experimental reactor in Cadarache, France, which won't be ready for at least decade, and, anyway, will only determine whether fusion power can be done—they're not building an actual commercial plant. But if that doesn't sound promising enough, then, as The Wall Street Journal reports today, you can always keep an eye on the growing band of amateur "fusioneers" who are working hard to create little fusion reactors in their living rooms:

Called fusors and based on a 1960s design first developed by Philo T. Farnsworth, an inventor of television, the reactors are typically small steel spheres with wires and tubes sticking out and a glass window for looking inside. But they won't be powering homes anytime soon—for now, fusors use far more energy than they produce.

A working fusion power plant would, suffice to say, be pretty sweet, creating a paltry amount of pollution and running on hydrogen isotopes that are more than abundant in nature. But before everyone rushes off to tinker with a fusion reactor of their own, fair warning:

Though fusors don't produce any significant amount of radioactive waste, fusioneers say there is a danger of electrocution. The reactors use extremely high voltage—often more than 10,000 volts of electricity running through a hollow wire sphere—to pull ions of deuterium toward the center of the device, where some of them collide and fuse into new atoms. They require special equipment to deliver that voltage, but because fusors run at a very low amperage, amateur devices can draw less power from the wall than a big plasma TV. The process does produce x-rays and, when fusion actually occurs, neutrons—both of which are dangerous at sufficient dosages.

Still, as a hobby, it probably beats stamp collecting (not that there's anything wrong with stamp collecting...)

--Bradford Plumer