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Power Science

Thermonuclear Reactor To Use Coconut Shells 251

Posted by samzenpus
from the Gilligan-approved dept.
destinyland writes "A key component of a $10 billion nuclear fusion plant is vintage 2002 Indonesian coconut-shell charcoal. After a 20-year search, German researchers discovered that the coconut-shell charcoal is the best medium for 'adsorbing' waste byproducts sucked out of the thermonuclear reactor's vacuum chamber. In what will be the first fusion power facility that's commercially viable, magnetic fields will heat hydrogen isotopes to over 150 million degrees Centigrade. (Essentially, the super-hot plasma creates artificial stars.) As the article points out, 'It's not quite a Starship warp drive, but it does harness the power of the sun.'"
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Thermonuclear Reactor To Use Coconut Shells

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  • by syrinx (106469) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:06AM (#29910633) Homepage

    The head of the project, a former professor, was heard mumbling "Gilligan won't mess it up this time."

  • by thomasdz (178114) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:07AM (#29910659)

    I remember this one. The professor made the Thermonuclear reactor with a bunch of coconuts, financed, of course, by the Howell's... but then Gilligan saw Ginger...got all flustered and tripped over the whole thing causing a meltdown and the Skipper's hair to glow... yeah, that's a classic episode indeed

  • by johndiii (229824) * on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:09AM (#29910695) Journal

    It's a fusion reaction. Just say that. No stars here, no power from the sun. Nuclear fusion.

    • by Plunky (929104)

      It's a fusion reaction. Just say that. No stars here, no power from the sun. Nuclear fusion.

      necessary spin is necessary

      .. Nuclear ..

      "fear"

      .. power of the sun ..

      "safe"

      • by Gerafix (1028986)
        Tell that to someone who has skin cancer from sun exposure! Sol is anything but safe, even if it is rather convenient.
    • by batquux (323697) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:30AM (#29911031)

      Fusion reactor? You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' em together!

  • Yea so? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:13AM (#29910749) Homepage Journal

    Coconut shell charcoal is one of the best available for making filters. Charcoal filters are nothing new folks most fish tanks use them as do most water purifiers and even gas masks. And this "May" be a practical fusion reactor but they have been saying that since the 1950s but I am staying hopeful.
    Yet another light and fluffy pop science story with a funny little twist because it has coconuts in it... Yawn.....

    • Light and fluffy to the tune of 10 billion dollars this time though.
      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        The story is light and fluffy the reactor is interesting but the story was written at a lower level than I would expect from Slashdot. It is a big test fusion reactor that uses activated charcoal and may work really well. The reactor is the cool. The story was dull and uninformative.

    • LOL, I said the same thing [slashdot.org] (but I didn't notice your comment because you didn't mention activated carbon).

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Yea I can see it now.
        Sea World uses activated carbon to save whales!
        Coconuts can protect you from poison gas!

        It is being used for a stinking filter folks just like charcoal has been used for decades if not centuries.

    • by Sporkinum (655143)

      It's a cocotokamak!

    • "We thought fusion power would save us after the oil ran out in 2023, but no-one predicted the coconut harvest failure of 2029 that threw the World's fusion reactors into darkness...."

  • My understanding is that this doesn't produce any nuclear waste at all, is that right?

    It says the fuel is deutrium and tritium, how hazardous are those?

    And it seems like there is basically zero risk of a "meltdown" as the reaction would presumably stop as soon as the power is cut off.

    So worst-case scenario appears to be that they damage the reactor and everything shuts down.

    Right?

    • by Absolut187 (816431) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:19AM (#29910853) Homepage

      Since the by-product is helium, a reactor leak would only mean that any nearby residents would talk like Mickey Mouse for a little while. Which is better than radiation sickness.

      • Since the by-product is helium, a reactor leak would only mean that any nearby residents would talk like Mickey Mouse for a little while. Which is better than radiation sickness.

        Until you get sued by Disney for trademark infringement...

      • by Thanshin (1188877)

        Hmm...

        Mutations, cancer, and eventually, death.

        On the other hand. Being sued by Disney for eighteen billion dollars in damages, ruining your entire family, city and, possibly, state.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by maxume (22995)

      Over time, the containment vessel will eventually become radioactive. The ratio of energy to waste should be pretty excellent though.

    • by drerwk (695572)
      Most fusion paths generate neutrons. The neutrons will make the walls of the reactor slightly radioactive for some value of slightly. Until we can do neutron free fusion there will still be a minor issue of waste.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zenaku (821866)

      It says the fuel is deuterium and tritium, how hazardous are those?

      Oh, EXTREMELY hazardous. Both substances have similar properties to a highly volatile chemical that has in past resulted in some spectacular explosions. OH THE HUMANITY! ;)

    • deuterium is common in sea water. Tritium is somewhat active and has a half-life of 10 years, through beta decay. It's used, sealed in phosphor coated glass vials, for "self powered" illumination in watch dials, exit signs, gun sights, and so on.
    • Right and wrong (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kupfernigk (1190345)
      Fusion proponents carefully don't mention the effects of the fusion by-products on the reactor itself. It's the same with conventional thermal plants: the radioactive waste from the fuel rods isn't so bad, but the radiation converts some of the steel in the containment to radioactives (including the steel rods in the reinforced concrete.)

      The solution of the Sun and other stars - spray the crap all over the Universe - is perhaps not the most environmentally friendly, but it's why we're here at all. We're bas

    • by dmatos (232892)

      Deuterium is a stable isotope of hydrogen, and often used in small doses as a tracer in human medical applications.

      Tritium is a beta-emitter, with a half-life of over 12 years. The beta particles can cause cellular & DNA damage in living tissue, but it can be stopped by a few millimetres of aluminum.

    • My understanding is that this doesn't produce any nuclear waste at all, is that right?

      No. It produces neutrons, so the material of the reactor will gradually become radioactive.

      In addition, things will become more brittle, and thus more prone to crack under stress.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by Anomalyst (742352)

        things will become more brittle, and thus more prone to crack under stress

        Kinda like Microsoft software.

    • by Megane (129182)

      After many years of use, the lining of a Tokamak core is supposed to get mildly radioactive. And there is no risk of a meltdown because it's hard enough just to keep the thing going in the first place.

      But right now, there isn't much nuclear waste being produced by fusion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sjames (1099)

      Deuterium isn't much of a hazard at all. In the form of heavy water it starts to be a problem only if 25% of your total water is replaced by it and isn't lethal until around 50%. Essentially you'd have to drink only heavy water for about a week. The toxicity is due to deuterium inhibiting cell division. In it's gaseous form, it will simply dissipate harmlessly.

      It might or might not make a good diluent for breathing gas for deep diving except that it's way too expensive for that so has never been tried.

      Even

      • But, in the original Batman, when the thugs were rehydrated with heavy water, they vanished when struck! It's the end of us all! AAAAAAHHHHHaaaaaa.a.aaa.aa. mmm thorazine......
  • by Spykk (823586) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:16AM (#29910795)
    My vintage Casio calculator harnessed the power of the sun. This, not so much.
  • by sh00z (206503) <sh00z@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:17AM (#29910829) Journal
    Any editor discussing technology who still feels the need to put the word adsorb into quotes, as though it's not a legitimate English term, should be fired. If you're afraid your audience won't understand, then insert a sidebar on the mechanics of adsorption; don't act as though it's a term out of sci-fi.
    • by noidentity (188756) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:49AM (#29911319)

      If you're afraid your audience won't understand, then insert a sidebar on the mechanics of adsorption [wikipedia.org]

      Behold the power of the web; no need for a sidebar!

      BTW, I thought they quoted the word as an alternate form of [sic] [wikipedia.org].

    • It was a direct quote lifted from TFA. You're lucky they even converted the double quotes to single quotes.

  • What (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sexconker (1179573)

    We have commercially viable fusion reactors now, yet the "news" is that it involves coconuts?

    In what will be the first fusion power facility that's commercially viable...

    Oh. I see. 3-5 years out then, just like LHC, battery breakthroughs, etc.

  • In other words, because it was funded by outside sources from around the world, rather than the people of the region where it will provide power, it will be able to compete against alternatives in the region. Of course, that would also be true of anything else.

    I've got some excellent windmills I'd like to sell you for 50 cents each - I just need to get global funding to the tune of $10B first.
    • by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:47AM (#29911279)

      Oh, I don't know. To be commercially viable it also has to produce substantially more power than it consumes on an ongoing basis. A fusion reactor that can do that would actually be a pretty big deal regardless of how it were funded...

      • by brian0918 (638904)

        Oh, I don't know. To be commercially viable it also has to produce substantially more power than it consumes on an ongoing basis.

        Well, obviously that's a given, but I'm talking about being capable of competing against alternative sources of energy on the open market. If, to make an energy source competitive on the market, the government must subsidize the industry with billions of dollars, it's only giving the illusion of competitiveness. In reality, everyone is paying thousands per person into one industry to have that industry be a viable choice against alternative industries. The question is, why?

        • by mea37 (1201159)

          Yeah, but that's just it - in the case of fusion, being able to do that is not a given. If it were, we'd have commercial fusion reactors on the grid. As I said, if they can be commercially viable excluding start-up costs, that's a huge deal even if it takes massive subsidies to get there.

          Why would you provide huge subsidies to fusion plants? Because, if they can be made commercially viable they will return more value than the initial investment. Many things you depend on daily would not be commercially

    • by TimMann (98520) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:56AM (#29911437) Homepage

      That's just confusion by the writer of the story. This reactor is a scientific experiment, intended only to be the first to demonstrate getting more energy out of a fusion reactor than you have to put into it, not to be a commercially viable power plant. So it's just one step towards the long hoped-for goal of commercially viable fusion.

  • by sunking2 (521698)
    If that were the case they'd be popping up all over. This place will never operate in the black. Not saying it isn't a starting point and shouldn't be done, but lets not sell it for something it isn't.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dpilot (134227)

      I'm sure it'll be producing cheap, abundant power.... in about 20 years.

      Just ignore the fact that we've been 20 years away from cheap, abundant fusion power for the last 50 years.

  • by martas (1439879) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:28AM (#29911011)
    It's so freaking cool that there's going to be something man-made that will reach temperatures similar to the core of the sun. It's just... too cool. Hold on to your hat, god, 'cause here we come!

    Ok, now back to mind-numbingly boring and disappointing reality...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kyouteki (835576)
      Cool is, perhaps, the wrong word.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Scrameustache (459504)

      It's so freaking cool that there's going to be something man-made that will reach temperatures similar to the core of the sun. It's just... too cool.

      Oh, the irony.

  • by cinnamon colbert (732724) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:35AM (#29911107) Journal

    without knowing anything else, highly sceptical - thought commercially viable fusion years away

    PS: all you guys jerking off over how "safe" fusion is - what do you know about the neutron flux, and radioactive embrittlement of the containment shell ?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:55AM (#29911429)

      The 'containment shell' you are speaking of is called the thermal shield, and it is 10 inches of solid carbon steel (usually A36). First, the inside few inches may undergo embrittlement over the course of decades. There is still plenty of ductile material left to hold things together. Second, there will be literally no mechanical stresses in the thermal shield other than gravity... seems like 10 inches of steel ought to be able to hold itself up. It will see thermal stresses, but it is designed with expansion joints so that these to not convert into mechanical stresses. Finally, if these reactors follow any sort of conventional fission reactor design (they will), there will then be 6 feet of steel reinforced high density concrete surrounding the entire reaction chamber, called the 'bioshield'.

      There is a lot of information on reactor design out there if you just look and educate yourself instead of reading an editorial and jumping to conclusions. the DOE's websites have a lot of non-classified documents out for public use.

    • Safety is relative. In the case of power generation, safety is relative to worst case possibilities of a Nuclear Plant. Care to enlighten us as to how nuetron flux and radioactive embrittlement of the containment shell can result in the deaths and long-term health side-effects of the surrounding community for miles around and render the area uninhabitable for years as is the case with a worst case fuck-all-safety-mechanisms nuclear power plant disaster? Because I'm not sure you could pull that off here ev
    • I suspect it produces less waste per kilowatt-hour than nearly anything else in use. (Solar and wind might come up with less.)

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:39AM (#29911163) Journal

    Boooooooring!

    So they found the best activated carbon for their particular use comes from coconut shells. Why is this news?

  • by adisakp (705706) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @11:44AM (#29911237) Journal
    I believe the term for harvesting the power of the sun is solar energy. And yes the Sun's energy is original from Fusion but under wildly different circumstances (crushing gravitational forces vs magnetic confinement).
  • Or he will hunt you down and frickin kill you for using his friends as Nuclear Waste absorbers....

    • It's adsorb. Not absorb. If you're unaware of the difference between the two, absorb and adsorption are both in the dictionary.

  • It's 150M degrees Electron Temperature [wikipedia.org].
  • Giant Brita filter? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by loftling (574538) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @12:17PM (#29911833)
    So basically, they're using a giant Brita filter. (Brita filters are made from coconut shells) http://www.brita.net/uk/glossary_aquazine2.html?&no_cache=1&L=1&range=&lex=Activated+carbon [brita.net]
  • I don't know if fusion has radioactive waste since it deals with light elements, but, I found a business (watertorch.com) that says its product neutralizes radioactive waste. Why would we want to turn Hydrogen into Helium anyway, we can't remake it because it takes too high of temperatures. Therefore, we should stick with fission and neutralize the radioactive waste with the Water Torch.
  • by fm6 (162816) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:50PM (#29917919) Homepage Journal

    ...comes from cows. No, really. There are millions of cows in India, and observant Hindus consider it sacrilege to harm them. So they mostly die from old age, and there are no religious issues connected with recycling their remains. And it turns out that their bones, being extremely brittle, make excellent charcoal.

    I found this out from a newspaper story a few years back. It was in the news because a British water company was using cow charcoal in its filters. Local vegetarians were not pleased.

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