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Avoiding fusion plasma tearing instability with deep reinforcement learning (nature.com)
86 points by karma_daemon 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 124 comments

Deepmind worked on reinforcement learning for plasma control back in 2022 and this also led to a paper in nature. I don't really understand the differences between their earlier work and this paper but deepmind don't seem to be involved in this one: https://deepmind.google/discover/blog/accelerating-fusion-sc...

The DeepMind paper in turn cites the authors of this paper, previously. One of the big differences in the current paper is that the experimental device is much larger and more powerful, and the duration of the shot is longer as well.

I remember having this idea when I was studying machine learning in college. I'm really happy to see that it occurred to someone else in a position to actually look into it, because it "felt like something might be there" to me.

The basic idea I had was that fusion plasma containment involves containing a turbulent, dynamical system, so it might require some kind of actual intelligence learning or co-evolving with the system.

I wondered if this might be the only way to achieve over-unity fusion outside gravitational confinement (stars, black hole accretion disks, etc.). This would mean there are two fusion mechanisms in nature: gravitational confinement and cognitive confinement. The latter can only be a product of a living system.

When a living system achieves this, its biosphere "ignites" and becomes something I termed a "biostar." Biostars could be potential SETI targets -- biospheres that have harnessed fusion and so emit anomalous amounts of optical and infrared radiation on their night side. This moment of ignition would be an event in a biosphere comparable to the evolution of photosynthesis-- a fundamental change in the energetic dynamics of life.

In the far future life the that achieved fusion could settle things like rogue planets in deep space, so that would be another potential SETI target. Find objects emitting anomalous infrared in the interstellar void. The advantage would be being far from destructive events like solar storms.

Sounds like the basis of a new Star Trek episode.

Captain's Log: Since we came to orbit Venuuil III to host talks between the Klingons and the Venullians, there has been a increased incidence of unpredictable fluctuations of plasmas in the warp drive containment field. We are now devoting all available power to increasing our computer's ability to track and predict this rapidly changing phenomenon. Geordi reports that at the current growth factor we can maintain containment for 22 hours, 47 minutes, 17 seconds. To support the peace talks, we will remain here as long as possible.

Captain's Log: Intriguingly, the fluctuations are beginning to reveal an embedded temporal distortion that exhibits language like patterns. Data has begun working on an interface between the containment field and his positronic neural net.

In Peter F Hamilton's Commonwealth series of books, true artificial general intelligence 'woke up' from the computers designed to handle the incredibly complex calculations required to make and maintain long-distance wormhole connections. Quite analogous to this situation I feel

And then formed a treaty with humans, providing Restricted Intelligences for high performance computing without self awareness creation, and then retreating to it's own planet.

What a series, I really need to read them again.

While deep learning might be a good control strategy for such systems, I very much doubt it is the only control strategy that works.

Control strategies in nonlinear systems are an effectively huge search space, and deep learning is just one way to find a good-ish solution faster.

Currently imaginable fusion power plants generate nowhere near enough power for the excess to be visible from outer space. They would not even be a blip compared to the largest already existing hydro power plant, for example.

Edit: to add some numbers, the "planned" DEMO power plant (the hypothetical successor of a successful ITER experiment) would produce something like 750MW, while Three Gorges Dam produces 22,500MW. Even if DEMO could be scaled up (which is hard, given that it would already be beyond the limits of today's material science), it definitely couldn't scale up 30 times.

What stops fusion from scaling up by building more plants instead of larger plants?

Nothing except the costs, but then it's not a single reactor anymore and other power plants scale as or more easily. So nothing is really special about fusion power if we just want to scale horizontally.

I thought fusion is special because the inputs are more abundant and the outputs less toxic than other fuel power plants.

Fusion can be compared like this:

- vs fossil fuels, almost limitless fuel with no greenhouse gas emissions

- vs nuclear fission, more fuel compared to current designs (though breeder reactors could essentially use any piece of rock as fuel), and shorter lived but even more toxic outputs (at least for D-T fusion, all pieces of the reactor become highly radioactive materials after 10-20 years)

- vs renewables, it has the advantage of being decoupled from weather and day/night patterns, but it is more expensive, it requires fuel, and it produces much more toxic outputs

The concept of "cognitive confinement" (your term I presume. It's neat, I hope it sticks) was explored in Spiderman 2.

I'm being entirely serious. Even though the visualization of the reactor was wildly off the mark, this specific concept fits what the writers had in mind with the AI mechanical limbs.

Assuming fusion drives are a thing we should be able to see them as they'd be glowing rather bright.


Unless, of course, all the ships are coming straight towards us.

That would actually make them easier to spot, as they'd need to flip around for a breaking burn roughly equal to their acceleration burn, pointing their engines straight at us. (Assuming they want to stop by and say hi, of course. If not, then there's not much to worry about.)

> not much to worry about.

Unless they are literally coming straight ahead at us!

If they intend to go straight through Earth at relativistic speeds (to establish a hyperspace bypass, perhaps?), then there's really not much we can do about it anyway. :p

You could lie down, or put a paper bag over your head.

Fusion drives wouldn't allow these ships to get anywhere near the speed of light, so we would have ample time to see the light they emit long before they arrive.

> This would mean there are two fusion mechanisms in nature: gravitational confinement and cognitive confinement

Da fuck? The mechanism is compression. This is like calling "generating electricity via a generator", "cognitive energy".

What is ITER? Black Magic that happens to cause Fusion?

Fusion is reasonably easy. You can do it in your garage with an electrostatic confinement fusor. I’m talking about fusion that generates significantly more power than it takes to run the reactor. Only that kind is useful as an energy source. That so far has been elusive.

Inertial confinement has sort of achieved this but only on paper. If you tally up the total input to set up and run the system it’s still way in the red.

ITER has the potential to run just a bit over unity but it’s really just a research platform.

Except that fusion on earth will likely never be cheaper than solar/wind.

I mean that is a cool scifi story, but economics seems to hate cool things.

There's this "big lie" that fusion people imply that it will be cheap, clean, and limitless.

Cheap is doubtful, clean is undermined by the reality that fast neutrons from fusion degrade the reactor to radioactive isotopes, and ok the fuel is pretty much limitless

Now, if we can get scalable fusion as viable load levelling, to develop it to the point it can be used in space then that's some real scifi.

I thought so too. It’s pretty simple: if you’re making a nuclear thermal power plant a lot of the costs are associated with building the containment vessel and the heat exchange mechanism. Fusion is fundamentally lower power density than fission, so you’ll need a bigger vessel for a given power, and both the containment and heat exchange mechanism are far more complex and expensive. Thermal fusion will never be cheaper than fission, which already has a hard time competing with renewables. And renewables are still getting cheaper.

But then there’s Helion. If you can extract electrical power directly rather than through heat exchange and a turbine, it changes the equation drastically. So I think their approach can work from a theoretical point of view.

Fusion will be necessary if we plan to colonize the solar system beyond Mars, and not at Jupiter. It's cold, dark, and scary, out there.

We won't, not with anything resembling current technology. So, if we were to imagine a colonized solar system, there is a good chance it's not fusion that gets us there, but some currently unknown technology.

Jeez, they invented the core tech in the 60s. An orion pulse nuclear ship can get a small city to Jupiter in a month.

You don't need a wonder technology to cart around the solar system, well, unless you are talking ECONOMICAL technology.

I'm not sure how expensive H-bombs are to make at scale.

I'm not talking just about transportation, I'm also talking about the technology required to make an actually self-sustaining human colony anywhere outside the Earth. That is the part that only exists in principle - when you go to the details, we don't actually have any idea how we could build even a Mars colony that is truly self-sustaining, never mind one on a more inhospitable world.

Note that when I say self-sustaining, I don't just mean power, food, air, and water. I mean everything that a high-tech colony actually needs - plastics, machined parts, microprocessors, software, and so on.

Power can be beamed out to interstellar distances, so fusion isn't necessary.

For that matter, if a space colony is equipped with a mirror for concentrating the sunlight needed to illuminate the inside as if it were Earth, and we place the limiting distance as that at which the mass of the mirror is equal to the mass of the space colony, the distance is about 1 light year.

Another team from Japan and the US published a paper on this recently too:


Sabine has a good review of it:


How about we add transformers to the reactor? But not that kind of transformer

Turns out paying attention to plasma is all you need.

Why doesn't simpler control theory work here, like PID controllers?

> ... Calculating tearing stability requires massive computational simulations based on resistive magnetohydrodynamics or gyrokinetics, which are not suitable for real-time stability prediction and control during experiments. This suggests the need for AI-accelerated real-time instability-avoidance techniques.

PID controllers are for linear or mildly-nonlinear systems. Plasma fluid dynamics are about as nonlinear as it gets.

I’m not sure I’m ready to trust an ml system that will control a fusion power plant. The potential of the the mistake making a ( bizarre, ml-like ) mistake seems very high to me.

> nuclear fusion is rapidly emerging

And has been rapidly emerging for 60 years...

Same with AI, and yet they both keep getting closer

Also like AI, we have natural examples as existence proofs it is possible, followed by narrow non-generalised artificial examples, yet actually getting it working properly is very hard.

Is it economically competitive with solar though?

I kinda get the feeling there are a core of scientists who want to work on this stuff.

They'll work on it even if there is no hope of commercial fusion power, simply for academic kudos. Government's will fund it simply because there isn't much other blue skies physics research to fund.

Is it? Definitely not. Could it be? Maybe. Who knows

At night it is.

Not with LFP cells falling to $54/kWh.

Solar power is gravitational confinement fusion.

60 years of high-energy physics breakthroughs! Not to mention material breakthroughs, laser breakthroughs, chemistry breakthroughs, control theory breakthroughs...


Today's high energy physics is at an energy some eight orders of magnitude higher than the temperatures in fusion plasmas. That's a larger ratio than between fusion plasmas and room temperature.

“Tell me comrade, how doez a tokamak reactor explode?”

Tokamak is dumb. I'm sick of hearing about Tokamak.

The plasma in the Safire reactor has self-containing magnetic fields and doesn't need the $20billion+ super-magnet infrastructure. A Safire reactor costs under $20-million to build, and probably much less these days.

The Safire reactor can keep the plasma lit and going for hours if not days without interruption. The Safire reactor has been around for over seven years now.

Has it been verified to actually work? A 7 year old fusion startup focusing energy on a documentary doesn't scream serious scientific research to me...



The Safire type 2 reactor has been working for over seven years now. The documentary they already made is to document the process of creating the Safire type 3 reactor which can process liquid.

The results of the Safire type 3 reactor rendering radioactive material benign were done by a third party, which means independent, laboratory. They literally spell this out in terms that even a complete idiot can understand in the documentary you just pointed out. Hence why a very small part of their team spent some documenting what the science team did to make Safire type 3.

Where can I find these results published?

Given you wrote "focusing energy on a documentary doesn't scream serious", you give the impression you are just going to ignore the findings they have published. There's plenty video showing the plasma running for far more than the "world records" of these external-magnet reactors (Tokomak, and that other Helion one), so I don't know what to point you to that can actually help you.

In the documentary they published, they do waste the viewer's time with "look at this lab we built", but if they feel passionate about telling the story of their journey, that's fine. Also in the documentary, they share some of their data and what they did to validate that data with a third party.

I suspect the current record for sustained plasma is owned by fluorescent lighting, so not sure that's a valuable metric.

My comment that it doesn't seem like "serious science" means that I'm going to ignore anything not peer reviewed and I suggest others do the same.

I honestly still wish them the best, they just have a lot of work to convince anyone they're really dealing with anything new or interesting, and I don't think that video production is the path to that.

Sustained plasma fusion, not simply sustained plasma, which is not what we are talking about here, is held by Safire by far.

>> sustained plasma is owned by fluorescent lighting

This is an NPC "I deliberately misunderstand the argument" tier response.

>> I don't think that video production is the path to that.

If you aren't intelligent enough to see in the raw video footage that you are looking at something new and novel, that's not their problem.

That said, their materials have been published and reviewed. You can find them if you look. I'm not here to spoonfeed you.

> If you aren't intelligent enough to see in the raw video footage that you are looking at something new and novel, that's not their problem.

What does intelligence have to do with seeing a video? To make an analogy, you think you'd be able to discern Intel Pentium IV from 14900K from a video footage of a working processor that would have its model number scraped out?

Fusion is just going to produce light of a certain spectrum. I don't think your brain is good at spectrometry.

>> What does intelligence have to do with seeing a video?

The raw video footage of the multi-layered plasma fusion reaction in a laboratory conveys meaningful and complete information, directly validating the larger assertions made by the Safire team. The information is right there.

If you are not able to comprehend what is right there on video not just in one place but many videos over several years, and you still want to present non-arguments against it, then you aren't very intelligent. Simple as.

>> you think you'd be able to discern Intel Pentium IV from 14900K from a video footage

The topic is not about CPUs, the topic is about plasma fusion.

>> Fusion is just going to produce light of a certain spectrum.

The fusion in question shows multiple separate plasma layers, this key information is literally shown in the video in question, not mere spectrometry.

You argued against novel scientific information conveyed in raw footage providing proof of the scientific claims made. You don't even know what the video is yet you present a bad argument where you don't even know what it is you are arguing about.

What a fucking waste of time. God damn you are stupid. You should be ashamed for posting such garbage.

edited: clarified video footage

> God damn you are stupid.

>> To make an analogy, ...

> The topic is not about CPUs, the topic is about plasma fusion.

I mean if you can't comprehend word "analogy" in a simple sentence, what makes you think you can reason about scientific claims?

The core of the multi-layer self-contained plasma fusion reaction is the size of a baseball, and the overall size is larger than a basketball, which is visible to the naked human eye.

What goes on inside of the Intel CPU you specified is not visible to the naked human eye.

Considering the scales very obviously involved (if you bothered to look), it's harder to come up with a dumber analogy than the one you presented.

Nah, the analogy is excellent and you are dumb. In both cases you can't see the important parts: calculations/energy conversion, and in both cases you can see the part that doesn't really tell you anything: CPU lid/the colors of the thing.

Do you realize how many bright gazzy things have visible layers? Hell, even a match flame has visible layers and is also part plasma.

>> even a match flame has visible layers and is also part plasma.

I actually do much appreciate that you point this out.

A while back working with a group I had pointed out that "fire is a cold plasma" and that there were electrical properties to fire. I got scolded by those of Soyence orthodoxy for saying such things. A US Navy patent reveals a fire-fighting technique that projects an "ionic wind" that "cuts the circuit" at the base of a fire, which had also vindicated what I was talking about.

You're just digging yourself into a dumber and dumber hole. Analogy is not a substitute for argument.

>> In both cases you can't see the important parts: calculations/energy conversion

The layers they postulate were very clearly visible to the naked eye.

>> Hell, even a match flame has visible layers and is also part plasma.

These layers were not postulated. Another analogy.

>> Nah, the analogy is excellent and

"yaY i WiN", okay champ

> Analogy is not a substitute for argument.

I mean https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_analogy

Thanks, but I am done. You're too stupid. Too bad you will forget about that by the time that pseudoscientific snake oil company collapses.

Whoa—your comments in this thread have been way over the line at which we ban accounts. Worse, you've done it in other threads recently: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39577225, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39573437.

This is way over the line at which we ban accounts. I'm not going to ban you right now because you've been here a long time and it doesn't look like your account has a long history of being abusive. But please don't post like this to HN again.

If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules, we'd appreciate it.

Sorry, you are right. I've been replying in kind instead of just flagging.


Whoa—your comments in this thread have been way over the line at which we ban accounts. Worse, you've done it in other threads recently: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39532499.

I'm not going to ban you right now because it doesn't seem fair to give the other user a pass and not you; plus we haven't warned this account before. But please don't post like this to HN again.

If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules, we'd appreciate it.

Nobody has ever independently verified any of the claims Safire has made. It's wishful thinking at best and a scam at worst.

The results of the Safire type 3 reactor were verified by a third party lab. It's amazing that you can just post out of your ass like that as if you have any idea what the hell you're talking about.

Maybe I'm just bad at it but your claim does not show up on Google. Can you please give me a report that shows which lab verified it and the results? And no, a random video from the Safire website does not count because my assumption is that they are scam artists.

>> my assumption is that they are scam artists.

If you sincerely believe they are scam artists, then please explain something for us.

The finding, shared at the EU 2017 conference here https://vid.puffyan.us/watch?v=7y46wMAHnsI , documented on video, is an example of a Langmuir probe (a tungsten rod) evaporating.

After the tungsten rod evaporated, the Safire team tried a much larger tungsten rod which did not immediately evaporate, but rapidly decayed, as was documented.

If the Safire team is a team of scam artists, how were they able to do something new that had not been done* before?

Is there any example of this given before year 2017? Is any other team able to take credit for this finding?

[*] done unclassified, many suspect this knowledge was already attained in classified (as in national security secrets) type environments.

>> your claim does not show up on Google.

I want to make sure I answer your question, can you narrow down which claim you are asking about?

As far as "which laboratory verified the results of the Safire type 3 reactor rendering radioactive material benign?", I will reach out to them and just ask them.

The EU 2017 conference is not a science conference, it's a pseudo-science conference with little to no evidence or science behind it. Anyone claiming any wild thing can go and present there. There is no actual peer reviewed evidence here.

So as long as no reputable independent team is a able to verify their claims, I'll remain extremely sceptical. So far all we have are wild claims and fancy videos all from a single source and that just won't cut it to convince me.

I appreciate your tacit yet loud acknowledgement that you are UNABLE to provide a single example pre-dating year 2017 where a tungsten rod was demonstrated to rapidly decay when exposed to a plasma fusion reaction.

A scam artist would not be able to originally discover and present such a result.

>> So as long as no reputable independent team is a able to verify their claims

The Safire team has worked directly with LLNL, which is as "reputable" as Science(TM) gets.

>> The EU 2017 conference is not a science conference

Nobody said the EU 2017 is not a Science(TM) conference. The Safire team is just one of many speakers there.

Can you please give me evidence for anything you have written in this thread that did not originate from Safire or aureon?

Let me state this again, I do not trust them as a source. I can't find any information regarding any Safire and llnl collaboration as well. Especially nothing from the llnl side.

>> I do not trust them as a source.

I respect your skepticism.

>> any information regarding any Safire and llnl collaboration

What I know about this information is from about six years ago, which is what I can tell you today. I probably have it saved somewhere.

>> Can you please give me evidence for anything you have written in this thread that did not originate from Safire or aureon?

The short answer is yes. Separate from that, I also have access to two of their laboratories later this year. This is contingent not on their willingness to allow me access but my own itinerary for the year.

Let me guess... Rossi's e-cat laboratory verified it for them?

Given the details the Aureon team has shared, very clearly not Rossi's lab. I don't want to hurt your feelings or whatever here, I'm just going to be very very honest with you, if your comment wasn't so obviously in bad faith, that would be a very dumb guess.


I understand the provocations and have warned the other commenter elsewhere in this thread (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39584466). But you also broke the site guidelines badly—not just here, but also:




Moreover, we've had to warn you about this kind of thing before: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=37492784.

Please don't respond to bad comments by breaking the site guidelines yourself. That only makes things worse. If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful.

The very real fact that the radioactive material was rendered benign was proven by the third party laboratory. You presented a guess about which laboratory it was. Your guess was both stupid and wrong.

You have not successfully trolled. You did not "strike a nerve", but you did provoke a disgust response. You are not even midwit tier intelligence.

Ohhhh I guess not everyone can be the mental giant you are lapping up goofy internet videos. Oh well.

There was a front page hn article this week about institutions keeping the reason for their creation going. ITER has always felt this way for me.

It's not a coincidence that the ITER project will be about one career long.

Tokamak would fall in this category too.

You don't need to believe in "Safire" (or any other fusion technology) to think tokamaks are a bad idea. They're bad all on their own.

Here is video footage of plasma in a Safire reactor causing a tungsten rod to rapidly decay, or at least that's what looks like is happening, not "vaporizing" (in scientific terms)


I did my masters in Tokamak simulation so maybe I'm biased (though I am a bit of a stellarator fanboy).

But I've never heard of SAFIRE. I've been on their website, and I can't find anything explaining what SAFIRE is and especially nothing about why it's so much better than a Tokamak. I can't find anything peer-reviewed.

All their marketing materials are leaving a very bad (e.g. pseudoscience) taste in my mouth

Here is an explanation that includes raw video footage of a Safire type 2 chamber. https://vid.puffyan.us/watch?v=ZBInhPFFVog

Here is what was shared, including some raw video footage, of what happened when a small tungsten rod was exposed to plasma in a Safire type 2 chamber. https://vid.puffyan.us/watch?v=7y46wMAHnsI

I'm a technical audience. I'd love to see a technical explanation of what their device is. This video is just "an anode" and "electrical power," which basically just sounds like a Farnsworth Fusor. Those are neat toys but not useful for a sustained fusion reaction.

I have seen some examples of Farnsworth Fusor on the web but they are admittedly (stated by those posting the videos) amateur. Can you show me strong examples of something that could be called "industrial class" that is in the category of Farnsworh Fusor?

As far as I am presently aware, a Farnsworth Fusor has not produced multiple plasma layers.

>> but not useful for a sustained fusion reaction.

The plasma in Safire meets the definition of "sustained fusion reaction", but whether this particular sustained fusion reaction is useful or not is a legitimate bigger question.

A Farnsworth Fusor does not create multiple plasma layers each separated by self-containing magnetic fields. This would be the key difference with Safire.

If neither you nor they can tell me with any technical detail what they are doing differently from a fusor in terms of construction or operation, then I conclude it's just a fusor. Is it multiple anodes? Is there some magnetic field being introduced?

Since yesterday I have put some meaningful effort into looking into what a Farnsworth Fusor is. At this point, I can confidently say that what is in the Safire type 2 plasma chamber is significantly different.

Perhaps I am biased because, most of my experience with plasma chambers has been involved in physical presence in laboratory settings.

>> I did my masters in Tokamak simulation

I think "simulation" is the key difference between what you did and those who are doing real laboratory work. Tesla lamented that too much in theoretical mathematics was being done in place of lab work.

I am honestly very disappointed that the essential characteristics between a Safire type 2 chamber and a Farnsworth Fusor are so clear to me, yet someone who has a "masters" (implies master degree) seems to struggle to spot the differences quickly.

The guys from the LLNL team were keen on immediately recognizing the differences, so no need to lose faith in humanity or anything here, but still, do they just give out masters degrees like candy now..

> Tesla lamented that too much in theoretical mathematics was being done in place of lab work.

This just shows that you have no idea what you're talking about. Not only does Tesla predate the whole field of computational physics, but computational physics is distinct from both theoretical mathematics and lab work.

And I asked a simple question-- how is a SAFIRE constructed or operated? Still no answer!

> raw video footage, of what happened when a small tungsten rod was exposed to plasma

Just FYI. You're not effectively refuting the pseudoscience claim with this.

So you don't dispute that the Safire type 2 plasma chamber has a sustained plasma fusion reaction that causes the tungsten rod to rapidly decay, got it.

Here's a hint if you need it spelled out for you: nobody gives a shit if you think this is "science" or "pseudoscience".

Nah, this forum does and you're going to be severely punted for propagating it.

The Safire plasma team presented their findings. They did an experiment involving plasma, they found that a tungsten rod evaporated in front of their eyes. This is the most literal embodiment of the scientific method there possibly could be.

The Safire plasma team doesn't even announce "weRe doinG ScIeNCe", all they are doing is presenting "here's what we did, here's what we found".

If you believe what they did "isn't science", then what you believe is not "they didn't follow the scientific method", what you believe is they did not do Science™ which amounts to orthodoxy ie religion.

As far as I have seen from the Safire plasma team, they run experiments and share their findings, then make hypothesis and run more experiments and share more findings. I have watched them do this consistently over several years.

If you want to argue that they aren't doing the "scientific method" when you aren't even familiar with their years of work, you are very stupid and may God have mercy on your soul.

Bullshit video is bullshit video. But you do you.

You are unable to refute the sustained plasma fusion reaction. You are unable to refute the rapid decay of the tungsten rod. You don't even comprehend what it is you think you are trying to argue against. I am astonished that someone could be so pathetic.

>> itS buLlSHiT

amounts to autistic reee'ing

Aren't you a peach. Not surprised at all. Sorry you got duped by a scam. I know it must hurt your ego when it's called out.

At least I understand the concept of scientific proof. And "thEre'S A viDeO oN teH iNteRweBs!" doesn't cut it.

Have a nice life.

ITER has the same problem as the NIF, had they been designed a few years later it could be a fraction of the size and cost due to improvements in technology

But since ITER was designed decades ago, we're stuck with a massive, expensive, outdated beast that's taken so long to build it will likely end up being lapped by other projects.

At least NIF has something to show for it. ITER feels like building the Vasa.

ITER never made sense at all, even without improvements in fusion technology.

And the improvements have not made tokamaks sensible. Even higher field magnets don't rescue the tokamak concept from practical irrelevancy.

And yet ITER is the only serious attempt at fusion research for power generation.

NIF is a nuclear weapons research program, as are all other (non-scam) ICF designs. Other MCF designs are either more-or-less legal scams (such as the MIT-derived startup claiming to build a working fusion power plant by the end of next or year or so), or woefully under funded.

> And yet ITER is the only serious attempt at fusion research for power generation.

I disagree, in two ways.

First, ITER is itself not a serious attempt at a fusion research program, although there is great pretense that it is. There is no plausible route from ITER to a practical reactor, even if it achieves every one of its goals.

Second, there are other attempts that are, IMO, much more promising. Helion and Zap are the two that come to mind.

There is a plausible route from a successful ITER to a practical reactor, the DEMO project. In principle, if ITER achieves its goals with its current technology, simply replacing the magnets with more modern ones would probably be enough to produce enough energy for a fusion plant.

The designs for actually capturing that energy, and for replenishing tritium, are a bigger hurdle, but there are plausible technical solutions.

Helion in contrast seems entirely a scam, promising and failing to deliver results year after year. Zap energy seems to at least not make false timeline promises, but it is trying out a much less proven concept in a direct commercial venture - not a promising way to do novel research.

Note that I am very skeptical that fusion power is a plausible economic approach to power generation, and do personally believe that all known approaches will fail to deliver a power plant that is economically viable. The amount of power that is plausible with all current approaches seems far too low to justify the immense engineering costs, and the benefit of abundant fuel is just not that impressive when you have solar and wind as alternatives.

DEMO has no chance of leading to anything practical; the power densities of the concepts are far too low and their sizes/costs far too large.

You yourself admit the economic problem, which is not separate from the notion of practicality.

My contention is, DEMO might plausibly supply power to the grid 20 years from now, but will struggle to justify its economic cost (though would likely be kept around for some time with public spending).

Helion and Zap energy will more likely never be able to supply power to the grid at all for physics reasons, regardless of economics (assuming of course they don't entirely change course and move to a tokamak-like design).

Economics is an inherent part of practicality. Being able to provide power to the grid, but not economically, is not any better than not being able to provide power to the grid at all.

Helion and Zap have larger physics barriers, that's true. But the goal isn't to produce a pyrrhic victory and a power plant that "works" but can't compete. The goal is competitive energy out. I contend Helion and Zap are both more likely to reach that actual practical goal than DEMO.

Agreed in principle. We clearly have different priors, but I think we agree on the general idea.

Basically, ITER/DEMO has a low chance of being economical even if it works physically. Helion and Zap have a higher chance of being economical if their approach works. I think we both agree on these points.

Where we differ is that I don't believe it's plausible that Helion or Zap's approach will work at all. But this is just a belief ultimately, I'm not basing it on any objective facts or anything like that.

On what do you base your feeling about Helion and Zap? Having examined the concepts in some detail, I have come to the opposite conclusion. Helion in particular has a combination of very clever ideas.

Where I think Helion approach is missing something big is Helion attempts to "force" the plasma with magnets, contrast to Safire where the plasma forms self-containing magnetic fields. Plasma, like fire, which is a "cold plasma" in a way, is something found in nature. Leveraging plasma that has self-containing magnetic fields is "going with nature" rather than trying to run against it.

Suppose one were trying to take advantage of heat provided by fire, they would want to exploit how fire naturally behaves to get the benefit, rather than attempt to force fire to behave a certain way to get the benefit.

Safire is pure pseudoscience. Helion is not.

And the only naturally occurring plasma hot enough for fusion is in the cores of stars, where gravity, not magnetic fields, keep it contained.

Safire has had, for about eight years now, a working plasma fusion reactor that stays lit for hours on end. Helion does not.

>> the only naturally occurring plasma hot enough for fusion is in the cores of stars

Plasma that is artificially created is still plasma, not unlike how fire that is artificially created is still fire.

That plasma can be manipulated magnetically does not change. The Safire plasma has self-containing magnetic fields. Helion's plasma does not have this.

They have a working plasma, yes, something smart children can do with a bit of tinkering. They do not, in any way shape or form, a self-sustaining fusion-producing plasma.

They are basically a cold fusion scam, except they are using a hotter plasma than the original cold fusion scammers. But, per their own claims (25,000 °C), nowhere near the temperatures required for fusion (million+ kelvin). They also claim that they are reproducing the conditions of the sun's atmosphere, which is again equivalent to admitting that they can't actually produce fusion power, since fusion doesn't happen in the sun's atmosphere.

Their website contains other bizarre claims, like claiming that they "use electricity to change the nuclei of atoms" and that they "transmute tungsten and iron into 17 benign stable daughter elements". They talk about cold fusion as if it exists as well.

These people either have no idea what they're talking about, or are active scammers. There is 0 chance they are anything else. Their device might heat plasma up to 25k C, but it does nothing else.

>> They talk about cold fusion as if it exists as well.

"warm" fusion does exist, see https://brillouinenergy.com/ - some have insisted that Brillouin Energy is doing cold fusion, but I am not sure if cold fusion is an appropriate description. The Brillouin Energy team is completely external to the Safire team, though they may share some of the "controversial" views that the Safire team also holds about how electricity plays a greater role in chemistry than conventional thought. The awesomeness of the larger zeitgeist of science is that it is always changing.

As far as I know, and am interested to find out, Brillouin doesn't reach a temperature of 25,000 °C.

>> They have a working plasma, yes

The Safire plasma, on its face as shown by direct observation, behaves very differently than other plasmas, in a way that others were not able to make happen.

>> They do not, in any way shape or form, a self-sustaining fusion-producing plasma.

I think this here exemplifies how there is one set of words on the screen, and some here are reading some other set of words. This phrase you have presented has not been written anywhere else on this thread. I am not aware of any point where the Safire team wrote or uttered "a self-sustaining fusion-producing plasma".

Whatever ghost you thought you were arguing against, I don't think it exists.

That said, the Safire plasma, like other plasmas, produces heat that can be converted to electricity. Because the Safire plasma remains contained by its self-containing magnetic fields and does not require external magnets to force the plasma to stay contained, the *energy requirements of the external magnets are not required*.

Hence all that is required is the already modest amount of electricity to keep the plasma lit and a steady supply of hydrogen. Because the Safire plasma continues to run, and without the overhead of external magnets, abundant electricity can be harvested. This *does not mean* that Safire "puts out more energy than it takes in", this only means that the abundant electrical energy is being harvested from what *existing energy* is converted. This is *not* and also *no one claims* that this is somehow "free energy" nor "self-sustaining". Something that requires something external to it to continuously feed hydrogen is not self-sustaining. On this front, the Safire plasma team has only ever claimed (as far as I have seen) that they have a very efficient way to harvest usable electricity from Hydrogen ; the Safire team has never claimed that their Safire plasma chamber is or somehow could be "self-sustaining".

>> They talk about cold fusion as if it exists as well.

Cold fusion is a thing that scientifically exists. Perhaps what they have written in scientific terms, is some larger meme that you have confused the term "cold fusion" with, similar to "self-sustaining fusion-producing plasma" above.

>> These people either have no idea what they're talking about

The Safire team has created a novel plasma chamber where the plasma chamber has multiple layers and self-containing magnetic fields. If you have worked on a team that has created something similar, perhaps you know more about this topic than the Safire team, but if you haven't, they are speaking from real-world experience that they objectively do have.

Furthermore, please show me another team separate from the Safire team that has created a multi-layer plasma with self-containing magnetic fields documented to have done this before the Safire team on-record accomplished this. Pro tip: you can't.

> working plasma fusion reactor

What's most remarkable about this is that you've allowed yourself to be taken in by it. Show even the slightest level of skepticism, please.

This thoughtful response here is in the spirit of forwardly affording you the benefit of the doubt that you yourself are not a cultist.

>> Show even the slightest level of skepticism

What is it, exactly, you want me to be skeptical about?

That they have a multi-layered self-containing plasma?

That the plasma in the Safire type 2 chamber is self-containing and does not require external magnets like a Tokomak reactor?

That in their plasma chamber fusion is occurring and heavier elements are forming?

The Safire team has been, for close to a decade now, forthcoming and transparent about their guesses, about what they are finding, how often they are finding it, what they think they know, what they are confident they know, so on and so on.

To be clear, the Safire type chamber containing this plasma, has ultimately one and only one at-the-crux differentiating feature, external magnets are not required like Tokomak. The Safire team does not claim to have "invented" the concept of a plasma chamber. Hot plasma does cause fusion to occur, this is not special nor novel (and Safire team did not "invent" nor advent this either). In a Safire plasma chamber the plasma is self-containing, that's the one differentiating thing, that's it.

About 10 years ago members of the Safire team (as it is now named) shared their findings in writings. In addition to their writings they shared several hours of raw video footage of plasma regimes they had in the lab of a Safire type 1 plasma chamber.

I have watched them, albeit remotely, over the years steadily progress from their experimental chambers, to their type 1 plasma chamber, to their type 2 plasma chamber. That plasma in their approach to a plasma chamber is self-containing has never seemed to be in dispute. Hell, I could probably get one of these running in my own industrial garage if I tried to, and I wouldn't be the first one to do this.

People I personally know have met these folks face to face at various conferences. What these people I personally told me was that these plasma tinkerers were no less mild-mannered, candid, forthcoming, willing to listen, and willing to answer than they present themselves online. What I and many others have seen out of them is consistency.

If you think there is some specific detail that is highly questionable, please point out to me what you think it is. I am more than willing to carefully consider what you have to share and disconfirm what seems to be reasonably true. If you have some new information to bring forth, please do.

The saying "old science dies hard" does come to mind here.

Please help me embody the skepticism you are asking of me, you can do this successfully by addressing the very specific details you are concerned about and also by not failing to make a sincere attempt to answer the questions that have been presented to you in this response.

Yeah, it's somewhat falling for the public relations spin to think NIF's fusion research is meant for power generation. NIF's fusion research is meant to simulate hydrogen bomb detonation physics.

The fact that they take a closer look at interesting power generation possibilities is a fringe-benefit: that's just scientists being thorough, but it's not why it was built. It's a bonus.

Tokamaks are 1960's technology. The future of economical fusion appears much more likely to be based on the field-reversed configuration (FRC). Helion expects to produce net positive energy production from a reactor designed primarily for He3 production in the next few years: https://www.helionenergy.com/

I'm not sure the date of invention is relevant. The wheel is stone-age tech.

What matters is how we build Tokamak's has changed. A huge notable difference are the magnets used for example.

It's relevant when it doesn't work after all that time. As I argue further down the thread, the trajectory of FRCs looks much more promising.

This seems like spurious reasoning. It’s like saying “rockets are 1950s technology therefore SpaceX is going to fail”.

Commonwealth are using cutting-edge high-temp superconductors which can generate much stronger fields:


The idea is old, the tech is new.

If tokomaks worked as well as Rockets, then I would agree. But the age of a technology does become relevant when you're discussing the history and development trajectory. The trajectory for FRC's looks far more promising. Direct electric conversion reduces the required efficiency by ~2x and the use of a low-neutron emissions fuel dramatically reduces shielding complexity and maintenance costs. And FRC requires much smaller reactors to reach net positive energy. Even considering high-temperature superconducting tokomaks, FRC's appear far more promising.

Remains to be seen.

Helion would have to ship something that gives positive net energy first.

Sure, they have prototypes, but we don't know how well they are currently performing

Agree, that will be the proof. But tokomaks have yet to do the same despite decades of investment.

We know that helion is able to recover 95% of the energy of every pulse. And they've measured the scaling laws. There doesn't seem to be anything that will prevent net positive energy in the reactor they're building right now.

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