View Full Version : Lockheed Martin's new fusion reactor might change humanity forever

The One
11th August 2015, 08:49

This is an invention that might change civilization as we know it: A compact fusion reactor developed by Skunk Works, the stealth experimental technology division of Lockheed Martin. It's the size of a jet engine and it can power airplanes, spaceships, and cities. Skunk Works claims it will be operative in 10 years.

Aviation Week had exclusive access to their secret laboratories and talked to Dr. Thomas McGuire, the leader of Skunk Work's Revolutionary Technology division. And revolutionary it is, indeed: Instead of using the same design that everyone else is using—the Soviet-derived tokamak, a torus in which magnetic fields confine the fusion reaction with a huge energy cost and thus little energy production capabilities—Skunk Works' Compact Fusion Reactor has a radically different approach to anything people have tried before. Here are the two of them for comparison:


Above: The traditional Soviet tokamak design of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a gigantic installation being built in France.


Above: The Skunk Works' new compact fusion reactor design.

The key to the Skunk Works system is their tube-like design, which allows them to bypass one of the limitations of classic fusion reactor designs, which are very limited in the amount of plasma they can hold, which makes them huge in size—like the gigantic International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. According to McGuire:

[The traditional tokamak designes] can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit. [Their plasma ratio is] 5% or so of the confining pressure. [...] We should be able to go to 100% or beyond.This architecture allows it to be 10 times smaller at the same power output of something like the ITER, which is expected to generate 500 MW in the 2020s. This is crucial for the use of fusion in all kind of applications, not only in giant, expensive power plants.


Skunk Works is convinced that their system—which will be the size of a jet engine—will be able to power everything, from spaceships to airplanes to vessels—and of course scale up to a much larger size. At the size of the ITER, it will be able to produce 10 times more energy, McGuire claims:

It's one of the reasons we think it is feasible for development and future economics. Ten times smaller is the key. But on the physics side, it still has to work, and one of the reasons we think our physics will work is that we've been able to make an inherently stable configuration. In our case, it is always in balance. So if you have less pressure, the plasma will be smaller and will always sit in this magnetic well.

The road ahead

But we all know that the road to the dream of clean, unlimited energy is paved with failed inventions. The situation here seems different. First, Lockheed Martin is not a crazy dude working in a garage. It's one of the world's largest aerospace and military companies.

McGuire knows that they are just starting now, but he claims the design is sound and they will advance quickly until its final implementation in just a decade:

We would like to get to a prototype in five generations. If we can meet our plan of doing a design-build-test generation every year, that will put us at about five years, and we've already shown we can do that in the lab. So it wouldn't be at full power, like a working concept reactor, but basically just showing that all the physics works.
Five years after that, they expect to have a fully operative model ready to go into full-scale production, capable of generating 100MW—enough to power a large cargo ship or a 80,000-home city—and measure 23 x 42 feet, so you "could put it on a semi-trailer, similar to a small gas turbine, put it on a pad, hook it up and can be running in a few weeks."

I really hope this works out.


11th August 2015, 15:39
In the 1930’s scientists, particularly Hans Bethe, discovered that nuclear fusion was possible and that it was the energy source for the sun. Beginning in the 1940’s researchers began to look for ways to initiate and control fusion reactions to produce useful energy on earth. From the start, the task was difficult, because fusion reactions required temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees, too hot to be contained by any solid chamber. Instead, physicists sought to contain the hot plasma with magnetic fields, using, for example the pinch effect where electric currents moving in the same direction attract each other through their magnetic fields. This approach was called “magnetic confinement”.
(which is the tokamak design discussed above, not really the most efficient method available)

Initially this work in the US, UK and USSR was secret. However, by the mid-1950’s administrators and scientists alike were convinced that controlled fusion research had no military applications, and in particular had nothing to do with the development of thermonuclear weapons.
Since fusion research had no military applications, it was declassified by the major participating nations, and cooperation in fusion began between the US and the USSR.

Starting in the 1960’s, after the invention of the laser, other researchers sought to heat fuels with a laser so suddenly that the plasma would not have time to escape before it was burned in the fusion reaction. It would be trapped by its own inertia. This newer approach was thus named ”inertial confinement”.

During this first period, scientists realized that the key problem for controlled fusion was the tendency of plasma to develop instabilities that led to plasma escape form the magnetic confinement. While most fusion approaches struggled to suppress these instabilities, which occur in all plasma, in 1964 US and Soviet scientists simultaneously developed the plasma focus device, which sought to exploit the instabilities to compress energy, instead of trying to suppress them.

By the end of the 1960’s many different fusion devices existed and no one knew which approach would actually lead to practical fusion power. But in the mid-1970’s administrators in the United States decided to focus all magnetic confinement work on a single device, the tokamak, which had been invented in the Soviet Union . In part, this decision was due to the effort to portray fusion as a short-term solution to the oil crisis of the early 1970’s, requiring only engineering development. In fact, fusion was then, and still is, a research project, investigating which route to fusion power is best.

The narrowing of funding to a single device was a major mistake.


Another major error was in focusing nearly all research on deuterium-tritium fuel (DT). DT fuel undergoes fusion reactions at a lower temperature than any other fuel, but has serious drawbacks. It releases almost all its energy in the form of neutrons, which can only be turned into energy through the same expensive process of heating water to create steam, driving a turbine, that has been in use for over a century. In addition the neutrons produce radioactive waste in the reactor structure, and their damage forces DT generators to be large, to spread out the neutrons.

From the 1960’s, researches knew that there were other reactions that avoided these drawbacks—called “aneutronic fusion” reactions, because they produced no neutrons or very few. The best of these fuels was hydrogen-boron or pB11 fuel, which produced no neutrons at all in the main reaction. These fuels needed higher temperature for fusion and research into them was barely funded, despite their great advantages for cheap, clean energy.

During the 1980’s and 90’s and in the past decade, several billions were spent on the tokamak, building larger and larger devices.
{The current industrial complex is hopelessly addicted to complex devices which take forever to develop, generate dangerous waste, require costly maintenance as well the same tight security posed by fission power plants and are incredibly expensive. odd, isn't it.}
Significant progress was made, but the plasmas remained far from stable. In the same period, despite the very small funding devoted to alternative approaches, researchers demonstrated that several devices including the plasma focus, initial electrostatic confinement and field reversed configuration could, in theory achieve the high temperatures needed for aneutronic fusion. For the first two devices, such high temperatures were demonstrated experimentally. But progress remained slow due to a shortage of funds.

Aneutronic fusion is, at the moment, the only way known to science to potentially get unlimited, ecologically safe, non-bio hazardous, radioactive-waste & spillage-free power that is cheaper than any energy source now available.

Aneutronic fusion can be produced using various aneutronic fuels and various fusion devices or generators. Lawrenceville Plasma physics uses hydrogen – boron 11 as an aneutronic fuel for a device called Dense Plasma Focus. This unique combination comprises LPP’s approach to fusion called Focus Fusion.

Aneutronic fusion means fusion that does not produce any neutrons. This is extremely important because:

Neutrons produce radioactivity by merging with other nuclei to produce unstable or radioactive materials. Without neutrons, no radioactive waste can be produced.

Neutrons are destructive to material structures. If you don’t have any neutrons, you can make a source that is very small and very dense and therefore very cheap, without worrying about the damage the neutrons can do.

With no neutrons, the energy of the reaction is carried away by the nuclei themselves—which are charged particles. Moving charge particles are electricity, so you can take the energy out by a direct conversion process, using a high-tech transformer, without converting the energy to heat, making steam and driving a turbine and generator. This reduces costs radically.

The ideal aneutronic fuel is a mixture of hydrogen and boron. At extremely high temperatures—billions of degrees—hydrogen nuclei (protons) fuse with boron-11 nuclei to very briefly form a carbon nucleus. But the carbon nucleus has too much energy to stay together, so in an instant it breaks up into three helium nuclei. These nuclei carry the energy released by the reaction.

There is a better way

11th August 2015, 17:10
However, by the mid-1950’s administrators and scientists alike were convinced that controlled fusion research had no military applications, and in particular had nothing to do with the development of thermonuclear weapons.

It began to take on a military importance later, in an indirect way.

1) The US economy and all western economies interlinked with it are way overvalued and in massive debt.
2) International "big oil" trading must continue to prop up the US dollar.
3) The US military developed a habit at least starting in 2003, of invading any country preparing to abandon the dollar.

If we have similar machines in our basements or outside of our homes to power everything in our homes, it'll be the end of the big oil industry, and big, centralized, monopolized energy companies in general. No power lines have to string out overhead for miles and miles across cities, or be put in underground. No mass power outages from localized problems. No monthly energy bills. It would be very cheap to heat a greenhouse all winter, or hydroponics systems, or an entire closed, sustainable system for growing food in a greenhouse, including fish.

Cars will no longer be forced to use gasoline by the big oil lobbies. Transportation will be revolutionized probably in ways we couldn't imagine. Passenger airliners might even be replaced by a different form of craft altogether. With increased ability to travel more rapidly, international travel will increase, and be cheaper, and laws might relax. The world will become a closer place in this way.

All of this could just be the beginning of an energy revolution.

11th August 2015, 17:28
The navy has been funding fusion research in the shape of inertial electrostatic confinement with the Polywell device conceived by Dr Robert Bussard.

Basically Bussard took the Farnsworth fusor, a device known to work, and tries to eliminate the metal grid replacing them with electrons trapped by magnetic fields.


The initial difficulty was maintaining an electron "buckyball" stable within the device. Most of the work is largely a secret, but I am aware of tests that did result in fusion. As to whether the device is self-sustaining is a matter of refining the calibrations of the machine and optimizing its design.

12th August 2015, 06:38
even small tokamaks are bad medicine ... they spit out dangerous waste.
The dense plasma focus fusion design of eric lerner which he developed while working for DARPA and which has been put through a few revisions looks to be the most promising contender in this field to date.
but as you mentioned bsbray, this would decentralize things too much, which would take a whole new paradigm and new model of social and economic reality to enable, power to the people , we can hope but I have gotten really tired of hopium peddlers

12th August 2015, 06:42
I'm sure there are safer designs than this thing. It looks like they're talking about "hot" fusion when cold fusion has been an accepted scientific fact for a number of years now. There were even rumors a year or so ago about a unit about as big as an air conditioning unit that could power a household using cold fusion, but you know how these things tend to end up, thanks to big oil.

12th August 2015, 06:49
the LENR concept has been allegedly replicated by people all over the globe, yet working models are still not really prolific

12th August 2015, 14:33
even small tokamaks are bad medicine ... they spit out dangerous waste.
Bad waste is a result of the fuel used.

H Bo fusion releases charged particles only, all you need are windings and as the particles zip by, electrical current is produced, no radiation or neutrons.

Radiation is obviously known to be bad for health, and it requires a more complex system that involves heating of a liquid to cause movement to generate current., neutrons requires those protective blankets so they don't contaminate the area around the reactor. Those blankets require replacing from time to time.

The reason the science community focuses so much on H H fusion (deuterium) is because the military is interested in those neutrons for their weapons program, it is part of a method to produce weapons grad plutonium processed from the protective blankets.

All of that said, there is "safe" fission technology too; molten salt reactors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor) are fission reactors powered by thorium. Initially a small amount of uranium 235 (the bomb grade stuff) is required to start it up, but once it it up, it runs on uranium 233 with thorium (the fuel) absorbing the "slow" neutrons and turning into U 233.

It works by pumping molten salt with the fuel "dissolved" in the solution through the heat exchange unit and fuel processing stations. All waste is safe after like 100 years (ref needed). It also can produce other materials that are useful, like the plutonium in those energy cells that the voyager spacecraft uses as a power source on deep space missions. What it cannot do is easily produce materials useful in weapons.

Our current nuclear reactors like fukushima are solid fuel reactors that work with "fast" neutrons and control rods. It produces waste that lasts for 100K years, but this design was chosen even though it is far more dangerous, because of weapons applications.

It is a reoccurring theme, you see.

12th August 2015, 14:38
the LENR concept has been allegedly replicated by people all over the globe, yet working models are still not really prolific

Apparently Low Energy Nuclear Reactions is something feared in the higher circles. It has the potential to destabilize the current monetary and economic equilibriums.

12th August 2015, 16:53
The molten salt design was (is) a good one, the desire for weapons though is the rub, isn't it....
it has been said that there was large amounts of weapons grade material being made by fukoshima and this has been indicated as being a probable cause of its being targeted for a takedown (no accident at all) and that there is 500 pounds of this material still in the loading dock....
of course, since all the fission plants are shrouded in layers of secrecy this is conjecture, but certainly plausible...
the very nature of all this military tinkering creates this secrecy, which does what for civilian confidence then???
particularly since all these groups supposedly protecting people have been caught time and again with their hand in the cookie jar.....
and people think there is going to be some kind of disclosure anytime soon, ...... hmmmm there are so many angles to the whole house of cards, and those who built it are very attached to it it seems

12th August 2015, 17:15
I'd heard before that Japan and Germany could bomb assemble an atomic bomb in about 30 minutes, but technically, for international inspection purposes, had no nuclear weapons.

Whether Fukushima was part of that or not, Ben Fulford said back in 2008 what was going on out there. Japan is (or just was?) caught in a 3-way tug-of-war between US factions that have been exploiting its economy since WW2, the Chinese, and those wanting more Japanese sovereignty. Japanese has already been releasing alternative energy products, like powerful LED lamps that run only on saltwater (which is pretty use, if not for the light itself, then for the simple fact that it was using saltwater as a fuel source). This got pulled from the market quickly though. Japan is tired of being used and abused though, and back in 2008 Fulford said that the cabal in the west had already tried to use an earthquake to target a nuclear reactor and cause a major disaster. He gave all of this in detail and said they'd do it again, and about three years later in 2011 it's exactly what happened.

12th August 2015, 17:49
With all these technologies about, Lockheed puts out PR about a fusion reactor it is working on... notice the shielding? Weapons application here.

I think Lockheed made its announcement because it feels it is behind in this race and wants to gain public support. I haven't really looked at their design to suppose how it should perform, but I imagine it to be inferior to the Polywell.