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Building a Homemade Nuclear Reactor In NYC 219

Posted by samzenpus
from the extreme-diy dept.
yukk writes "Mark Suppes, a web developer for Gucci, is working on his own personal fusion reactor. His work in a NYC warehouse using $35,000 of his own money and $4,000 raised on a website has made him the 38th independent researcher recognized as creating a working fusion reactor. How's that for a hobby?"

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Building a Homemade Nuclear Reactor In NYC

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  • Neat (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nametaken (610866) * on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:39AM (#32677758)

    This is really cool. Though I'd guess that the neighbors will be up-in-arms soon, even if you tell them it's completely safe.

  • fusioneers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Verdatum (1257828) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:45AM (#32677836)
    I've worked with a couple of these people online before. Depending on where you mark the threshhold, there are a few more fusion hobbyists than most people would think. They're good to talk to because they are some of the few hobbyists playing with high vacuum technology (which interests me for the purpose of vacuum metalization, aka evaporative deposition).
  • by thomasdz (178114) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:45AM (#32677840)

    (yeah, yeah, I know...never trust anything on Wikipedia... but it's still a good reference starting point)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor [wikipedia.org]

    • No, it's a polywell (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's an polywell in fact: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell [wikipedia.org]

  • Yes, but... (Score:4, Funny)

    by sv_libertarian (1317837) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:46AM (#32677850) Journal
    Can it run on garbage yet?
  • But... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:47AM (#32677876) Homepage
    Does it run on banana peels [wikia.com]? That would really be something.
  • by Plazmid (1132467) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:48AM (#32677892)
    that it isn't a Hahn configuration [wikipedia.org] tritium moderated fission reactor.
  • by Aluminum Tuesday (317409) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:49AM (#32677916)

    Uh oh, I've heard this before... Wikipedia article about David Hahn, the 'Radioactive Boy Scout' [wikipedia.org]

    • by Cillian (1003268) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:54AM (#32677998) Homepage
      That's fission, they really are pretty different. On a hobby level, fission consists of lots of playing with radioactive things and all that. Fusion consists of putting some gas in a box, turning it on, putting a whole lot of power in and ending up with a different gas in the box.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by IronChef (164482)

        Fusion consists of putting some gas in a box, turning it on, putting a whole lot of power in and ending up with a different gas in the box.

        ... plus a bunch of neutrons that really, really want out of the box.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by compro01 (777531)

      He tried to build a fission reactor. This is a fusion reactor.

    • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:58AM (#32678058) Homepage

      Actually, Hahn didn't do this - He created a fission reactor. (Which, IMO, makes him deserve far more credit because fission is dangerous and far harder to get the materials for.)

      Basic fusion is easy with the Farnsworth Fusor design. The problem is that it's not a useful design for anything but low-yield neutron generation for experiments - it can't generate power due to operating nowhere close to breakeven and, if I recall correctly, with quite a bit of physics saying that such a design will never be able to achieve breakeven at any scale.

      • by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @10:00AM (#32678084) Homepage

        > Actually, Hahn didn't do this - He created a fission reactor.

        No he didn't. A pile of radioactive scrap is not a reactor.

      • with quite a bit of physics saying that such a design will never be able to achieve breakeven at any scale

        Because physics has never been wrong about anything, ever.
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Generally, physics hasn't been so far off that something that was thought not to work actually could be made to work.

          Nuclear fusion and fission are pretty well understood by physics at this point, and if all the experts say that this design from the era when television was just invented won't be able to break even, then I believe they're correct. Instead of constantly trying to prove the physicists wrong with the same old design, maybe it's time to come up with a design that DOES work, and generates more p

    • http://www.google.com/images?q=david+hahn [google.com]

      what that is is kaposi's sarcoma

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaposi's_sarcoma [wikipedia.org]

      if you need a hobby, radioactive materials is not your best choice

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        However, you'll notice that the second article you cite says that Kaposi's Sarcoma is a cancerous tumor due to a virus called Human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8) [wikipedia.org]. Most famously, it's associated with HIV/AIDS, but not exclusively.

        HHV-8 is responsible for all varieties of KS.

        So, no radiation there.

        I'm not sure that anything in the wiki link supports the notion that radiation is the cause of that rather disturbing picture. There's more there to infer that he's HIV+ (or at least has an infection which also opportunis

        • radiation destroys the immune system

          99% of us carry herpes around, constantly held in check by our immune system

          so when our immune system is destroyed, whether by HIV or radiation, out comes our wonderful viral friends, to lay waste to our bodies completely unimpeded

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            radiation destroys the immune system

            Yeah, I think I figured that part out. Initially I was thinking you meant radiation directly led to KS.

            And, yes, don't mangle your immune system is the lesson here boys and girls. :-P

  • I think (Score:2, Funny)

    by ack_call (870944)
    somebody must have already done this in my neighbourhood as it's already overrun with mutants.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The site you want to visit is www.fusor.net. He got the idea from this site. Spending $35K on this is really high. Most guys make there fusor for around couple $2k-$5K.Some do it for a couple of hundred dollars. It's all in how you scrounge for parts. I wish him luck, but he needs better scrounging skills.

    • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @11:26AM (#32679270)

      Its all the high vac stuff that gets expensive and time consuming, its a real pain in the ass. Good backing pumps and high vac pumps (like Diffusion or Turbomoleculer pumps) are tough to come by for cheap unless you are willing to rebuild them. I bought three smaller diffusion pumps off eBay for another experiment and let me tell you its not an easy task finding parts for a $20 nondescript pump you bought off ebay. Then your need vacuum valves to control the pump down process. First you need to rough the chamber and wait for the pressure to drop to about 4E-2 Torr and then keep it there to remove as much vapor as you possibly can. then close the roughing valve and then open the forline valve to pull the back of your high vac pump down and then open the main valve which exposes the high vac pump to the chamber. Those vacuum parts alone can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Also given the fact that high vacuum fittings like Kf or CF elbows, flex pipes, tees etc can cost $50-$100 each! I applaud him for throwing that much money at the problem, he looks like he built a nice fusor with the right parts the first time so he isn't spending hours trying to figure out why he cant pull a vacuum below the -3's (Torr).

      Its fun trying to iron out vacuum leaks! Especially without a $20,000+ helium leak detector. But a little vacuum grease on the KF O rings and making sure you tightened your CF flanges properly should help eliminate your problems.

      I was trying to build a small electron beam welder for fun. I work on them for a living now so it looked like a nice little project but its not easy or cheap. As of now its a half assembled pile of parts because I cant afford to keep throwing money at it. The 3HP Stokes Microvane (55CFM) alone cost me 550 bucks. And that was a lucky find, don tthink the seller knew what he had. And it needs a rebuild because it cant pull lower than 7E-1 Torr. I also need good vacuum gauges (dial gauges arent much help below a few Torr, and the old Hastings I got from work are not that reliable), Hastings makes real nice ones, have them at work but they cost about a grand for the low-med vac gauges (1E-4 Torr) and I believe 1500+ for the one that goes all the way to ultra high vac (good to 1E-10 Torr).

      Anyone who puts this kind of time, money and effort in to their hobby is a real dedicated person. My hats off to you Mr. Suppes.

  • i know everyone is freaked out about the military thoecracy of iran and the cult of personality of north korea with nukes, and that nuclear technology will inevitably trickle down to smaller and smaller states: suriname, east timor, vanuatu... and then factional organizations: al qaeda, FARC, doctors without borders, make a wish foundation, girl scouts...

    but when fashion designers have their hands on nuclear technology, i think we can pretty much declare the effort to contain nuclear technology over, and just start writing the epitaph for civilization. we're doomed

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geekoid (135745)

      The idea of fashion designers pretty much means we're doomed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KenSeymour (81018)

      An oldie but goodie from Tom Lehrer:

      First we got the bomb, and that was good,
      'Cause we love peace and motherhood.
      Then Russia got the bomb, but that's okay,
      'Cause the balance of power's maintained that way.
      Who's next?

      France got the bomb, but don't you grieve,
      'Cause they're on our side (I believe).
      China got the bomb, but have no fears,
      They can't wipe us out for at least five years.
      Who's next?

      Then Indonesia claimed that they
      Were gonna get one any day.
      South Africa wants two, that's right:
      One for the black and o

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      but when fashion designers have their hands on nuclear technology, i think we can pretty much declare the effort to contain nuclear technology over, and just start writing the epitaph for civilization. we're doomed

      Oh come on, how else is Edna Mode [wikipedia.org] going to make all of those cool suits for The Incredibles [imdb.com]?

      No Capes!!

  • Reactions (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wowsers (1151731) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @09:55AM (#32678032) Journal
    That money would sure buy a lot of smoke alarms (a legendary story). [harpers.org] ...... Kids, don't try this.
  • Lots of people have made fusors, even high school students for science fairs.

    The article is really light on details, his setup looks far more complex than a basic fusor would need to be and I assume that's where he spent all the money. Getting good deals on things like used vacuum pumps you could probably do this for a couple of thousand. It's a neat hobby but fusors are far too inefficient to be used as anything other than a cheap neutron source, and even then only if you really up the voltage. Most make f

  • um, ok (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @10:05AM (#32678156)

    As a (non-amateur) physicist and former fusion researcher, I recommend putting in a deposit at a sperm bank for any man intending to do this.

    Contrary to popular belief, fusion does cause significant radiation.

    That said, this is pretty cool. It's too bad people like this don't go all the way and do physics professionally. Perhaps if advanced physics research paid as well as working for Gucci...

    • Just a thought, but wouldn't Fusion research be better performed on the moon where H3 is lot more plentiful? H3 isn't the size of small car, and all the test equipment that one sees appears to be for solving problems that apply to larger structures.
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Probably, but that would require spending a lot of money to build a research station there and transport people and supplies there. Plus, we don't know much about the long-term effects of 1/6g on the human body. We know that 0g causes lots of problems over time, but we don't know about low gravity.

        With the way our nations don't want to spend any money on scientific research, but are happy to spend tons of money on military deployments and social welfare for people who don't want to work, I think you can f

    • Meh, I'm having a vasectomy tomorrow so this has all of the cool and none of the drawbacks.

      One of my friends owns a metal shop so I can get some nice looking parts made...

      Stay tuned, folks. I'll either end up on /. or in This is True.
           

  • put it in a car that can go 88MPH!

  • Didn't Dr. Octopus do this? You see how that turned out.
  • Fusion is Easy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerrry (43027) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @10:48AM (#32678750)

    Fusion is relatively easy to achieve on a small scale. What's extremely hard to achieve, judged on the efforts of various organizations over the past 60 years, is fusion that produces more power than it consumes.

    • by jd (1658)

      You just need a few quadrillion tonnes of hydrogen.

      Ok, if you want something a little smaller, then let's look at the problem. Ignition can now be done. Lots of ways to ignite fusion. A sustained reaction is harder. However, as a general rule, in other domains when instabilities have appeared to be a problem, it is the instabilities that proved to be the solution. Instead of working to eliminate them, perhaps they could be used as a pump mechanism to draw in new fuel and expel the helium produced.

    • by demonbug (309515)

      Fusion is relatively easy to achieve on a small scale. What's extremely hard to achieve, judged on the efforts of various organizations over the past 60 years, is fusion that produces more power than it consumes.

      Not easy maybe, but certainly been done numerous times before [wikipedia.org]...

    • by astar (203020)

      On the other hand, it is IMO pretty rare for anyone to actually try to do a device that might do breakeven as constructed.

      Back in the 70's, getting break even was known to be pretty straight forward. Some simple linear pinch device, but say two clicks long. This might actually go back to the 50's.

  • by humphrm (18130) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @11:28AM (#32679314) Homepage

    Mr. Wizard -- Today Timmy, we're going to take an old spatula, an inner tube and some macaroni noodles to make a nuclear reactor.
    Timmy – Gee, Mr. Wizard! Aren't nuclear reactors dangerous?
    Mr. Wizard -- No, Timmy! But old spatulas are! They can poke your little eyes out!

  • So at $39,000 to build and my current average electric bill of $50/month - this would only take 65 years to pay for itself! And that isn't even reasonable seeing I haven't figured in the fact it would take (guestimate) probably $100 worth of electricity to produce $65 worth of electricity. I mean yeah, cool you invented a fusion reactor. But why? No practical use other than uber-geeky bragging rights. Not quite sure that is worth a personal $35,000 investment.
  • by DCFusor (1763438) on Thursday June 24, 2010 @05:52PM (#32685002) Homepage
    In fact, our open source fusor forum, http://www.fusor.net/board/index.php?site=fusor [fusor.net] doesn't even know this guy, or I don't recognize him, anyway -- we usually use our real names there. It's been around for quite awhile too -- if you go there look at the archives and see for yourself. Not only does this represent a dupe, and not to take anything away from this guy, he's far from alone, and unless he is making over 2 million neutrons/second on less than 5w power input, he's not even caught up to the current hobby record, which as far as I know, I hold -- some of it shown at http://www.coultersmithing.com/ [coultersmithing.com] , my site (which can take a slashdotting much better than the forum can, which is "some guy" hosting from home -- the perfessor we call him and are grateful. If you go there you'll find many more than 38 folks with working fusors I think. The pic in the BBC article looks in fact like one copied from one of our (main) forum members fusors, Richard Hull (see wikipedia on that). Again, not taking anything away from the guy -- the more the merrier -- hope he catches up with the rest of us at some point, as we have refined the Farnsworth concept quite a bit over the years, and made much more progress than is normally reported, because what funding is done is either to ITER with their non working approach, or NIF, which is really a weapons stewardship test device. Mod me up, damnit -- this is sick, we've been doing this for decades and are pretty good at it, and nearly all of us have done it *purely* with our own earned bucks, not taking contributions from people dumb enough to donate for no return. I guess we mostly care more about the science than being 15-minute famous. And most of us (but not I) have done it for a lot less money than that. We have a few high school students who have made working fusors on high school student spare change kinds of money. I had the bucks, so I went whole hog and do a real science approach myself, but I am the exception, not the rule. Strictly speaking it's against regulations to make a device that makes either X rays or Neutrons without some paperwork, so that's another incorrect statement, and many hobby fusors make amounts that would be dangerous if we weren't careful, and part of what we do on our forum is mention what we have "activated" eg made our own radioisotopes via neutrons from fusors.

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