GERMANY BEGINS NEW FUSION EXPERIMENT.
SCIENTISTS in Germany have started an experiment they hope will advance the quest for nuclear fusion, considered a clean and safe form of nuclear power.
Following nine years of construction and testing, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald injected a tiny amount of hydrogen into a doughnut-shaped device - then zapped it with the equivalent of 6,000 microwave ovens.
The resulting super-hot gas, known as plasma, lasted just a fraction of a second before cooling down again, long enough for scientists to confidently declare the start of their experiment a success.
The experiment in Greifswald is part of a worldwide effort to harness nuclear fusion, a process in which atoms join at extremely high temperatures and release large amounts of energy.
Advocates acknowledge that the technology is probably many decades away, but argue that - once achieved - it could replace fossil fuels and conventional nuclear fission reactors.
Construction has already begun in southern France on ITER, a huge international research reactor that uses a strong electric current to trap plasma inside a doughnutshaped device long enough for fusion to take place. The device, known as a tokamak, was conceived by Soviet physicists in the 1950s and is considered relatively easy to build, but extremely difficult to operate.
The team in Greifswald is focused on a rival technology invented by American physicist Lyman Spitzer in 1950, called a stellarator.
The Greifswald device should be able to keep plasma in place for much longer than a tokamak, said Thomas Klinger, who heads the project.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a doctorate in physics, personally pressed the button at Wednesday's launch.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, centre, visits the site of the Wendelstein 7-X nuclear fusion experiment during an initial hydrogen plasma test