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New material could enable clean, safe nuclear power

nuclear-plant-rancho-secoResearchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden are producing a material that’s 100,000 times heavier than water and more dense than the core of the Sun, and say the material could provide a cleaner and more sustainable source of energy than the nuclear power used today.

Produced from heavy hydrogen, also known as deuterium, the material is known as “ultra-dense deuterium.” It’s so heavy that a cube with sides of length of 10 centimetres weights 130 tonnes.

So far, only microscopic amounts of the new material have been produced. Measurements show that the distance between atoms in the material is much smaller than in normal matter.

Leif Holmlid, a professor in the university’s department of chemistry, says the process researchers are using to produce the ultra-dense deuterium marks an important step on the road to commercial use of the material.

“One important justification for our research is that ultra-dense deuterium may be a very efficient fuel in laser driven nuclear fusion,” Holmlid said. “It is possible to achieve nuclear fusion between deuterium nuclei using high-power lasers, releasing vast amounts of energy.”

The laser technology has long been tested on frozen deuterium, known as “deuterium ice,” but results have been poor, as it’s difficult to compress the deuterium ice sufficiently for it to attain the high temperature required to ignite the fusion.

Ultra-dense deuterium, on the other hand, is a million times more dense than frozen deuterium, which means it offers a promising material to create a nuclear fusion reaction using high-power pulses of laser light.

“If we can produce large quantities of ultra-dense deuterium, the fusion process may become the energy source of the future,” Holmlid said. “And it may become available much earlier than we have thought possible.”

He added, “Further, we believe that we can design the deuterium fusion such that it produces only helium and hydrogen as its products, both of which are completely non-hazardous. It will not be necessary to deal with the highly radioactive tritium that is planned for use in other types of future fusion reactors, and this means that laser-driven nuclear fusion as we envisage it will be both more sustainable and less damaging to the environment than other methods that are being developed.”

1 Comment

  • Ross
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Yet another (very) small step towards the Holy Grail of nuclear fusion reactors, or at least the laser variety that the US are pursuing. Maybe we’ll see the technology come to fruition midway though this century: just in time to help meet those government long-range carbon reduction targets. Its the get-out-of-jail card which everyone hopes is just around the corner, but we always seem to be several blocks away!

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