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General Atomics To Unveil Electromagnet To Be Used In Fusion Energy Study

Photo credit: ITER

The central solenoid, in yellow, is the backbone of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor magnet system.

General Atomics Thursday announced plans to unveil a 1,000-ton superconducting electromagnet to be used in a 35-nation fusion energy study.

According to General Atomics, the Poway-built device that's powerful enough to lift an aircraft carrier out of the water will be showcased at an April 10 news conference in Poway.

The electromagnet will be used in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor experiments in France, in which scientists will try to create a burning plasma that demonstrates the feasibility of fusion energy.

Clean fusion energy has been a holy grail for researchers looking for alternatives to standard nuclear energy and carbon-based fuels. Scientists say fusion energy does not create long-term waste products or meltdown risks.

On its website, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project is described as a "large-scale scientific experiment intended to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source, and to collect the data necessary for the design and subsequent operation of the first electricity-producing fusion power plant."

The U.S., China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and nations in the European Union are involved in the project. Preparation on a site in southern France began seven years ago, and operations are scheduled to begin in 2019, according to a project timeline.

The unveiling by General Atomics will come on the heels of news last month that scientists at the San Diego-based company and the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory discovered how magnets can control damaging heat bursts in a fusion reactor.

The research built on prior studies showing that tiny magnetic fields can suppress the heat bursts — and now they know how the process works.

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