It's an old joke: Practical nuclear fusion power plants are just 30 years away -- and always will be.
Maybe sooner, this time. Advances in magnet technology have led researchers at MIT to propose a new design for a practical compact tokamak fusion reactor that might be realized in as little as a decade, they say. Practical fusion power, should it ever happen, could offer a nearly inexhaustible energy resource.
The key is new commercially available superconductors, rare-earth barium copper oxide (REBCO) superconducting tapes, to produce high-magnetic field coils "just ripples through the whole design," says Dennis Whyte, a professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and director of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center. "It changes the whole thing."