Nuclear Fusion Z-Pinch Progress with Staged Z-Pinch LTD 10MA Generator

The University of Reno Nevada National Terawatt Facility and commercial company, US Nuclear and MIFTEC, were able to generate the most powerful neutron flux from fusion power ever achieved by a private company. They will scale up to a 10 MegaAmp version of their machine. This will have ten times the amperate and should generate 100 times the neutron flux. They expect to generate a neutron flux of trillioin which is clearly greater than the 10 billion required to produce commercial quantities of critical, low-cost radioisotopes that are in short supply. MIFTEC has contracted with a leading design engineer from a National Lab and has already completed the plans for its first commercial machine called the Staged Z Pinch (SZP) LTD-X (linear transformer driver-X) 10 MegaAmp generator.

Recent experiments on the 1 MA, 100 ns Zebra driver at the Nevada Terawatt Facility at the University of Nevada, Reno, investigated the compression of a deuterium target by a high-atomic-number (Ar or Kr) gas-puff liner. Pinch stability improved with axial premagnetization of 1–2 kG observed as a decrease in magneto-Rayleigh-Taylor instability growth. Implosion dynamics and stagnation conditions were studied computationally with the radiation-MHD code MACH2 using initial conditions that approximate those in the experiment. Typical average and peak implosion velocities exceeded 300 and 400 km/s, respectively, which raised the target adiabat by shock heating as the front converges on axis, at which time the target is adiabatically compressed to stagnation. Experimental fusion yields of up to 2 billion for Ar liner on D target implosions were measured, while with a Kr liner yields up to 10 trillion were measured. Higher yields in Kr compared to Ar were also calculated in 2-D MACH2 simulations. These observations will be further tested with other radiation-MHD codes, and experiments on the 1 MA LTD-III machine at UC San Diego.

Physics of Plasma – Ar and Kr on deuterium gas-puff staged Z-pinch implosions on a 1-MA driver: Experiment and simulation.

Staged Z-Pinch LTD 10MA Fusion Energy Generator

In April 2019, US Nuclear Corp. (OTC-UCLE) and Magneto-Inertial Fusion Technologies, Inc. (MIFTI) signed an agreement which grants US Nuclear 500,000 shares of Magneto-Inertial Fusion Technologies, Inc. (MIFTI) stock, the option to acquire up to 10% (ten percent) of MIFTI, and non-exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture and sell MIFTI’s patented thermonuclear fusion power generator. MIFTI’s fusion power generator can produce clean, base load electric power for the US and other power grids and wherever small modular electric power sources are needed. The worldwide energy market is estimated to reach $6 trillion by 2030.

Last year, US Nuclear signed a similar agreement with MIFTEC Labs for a revolutionary new way to produce medical radioisotopes from nuclear fusion power that has several cost and safety advantages over the current nuclear fission-based methods.

MIFTI and MIFTEC are sister companies under the same management and are developing and using the same “staged Z-PINCH fusion technology” for different applications and markets. MIFTI is developing thermonuclear fusion energy to power cities, transportation, space vehicles, military vehicles, and ships from fusion; and MIFTEC is developing a fusion-based generator for the abundant production of low-cost medical isotopes, which are currently in very short supply.

US Nuclear plans a series of future announcements relative to both MIFTEC and MIFTI developments.

US Nuclear Corporation is a world leading manufacturer of advanced radiation and chemical detection and UAV instrumentation.

MIFTI is a Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (DOE/ARPA-E) awardee and benefits from support by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). MIFTI also holds a fully executed work package agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and is in negotiations for a work package agreement with Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has shown interest in using MIFTI thermonuclear fusion power devices for use in space craft propulsion systems. The U.S. Navy has also shown an interest in MIFTI’s fusion power device for use in nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

38 thoughts on “Nuclear Fusion Z-Pinch Progress with Staged Z-Pinch LTD 10MA Generator”

  1. I think it is a military project aiming to produce either a non-fission Gen4 primary, or a related single-shot device for special effects such as non-fission EMP. It has no relevance to “powering cities”. Unpowering, perhaps. But “powering cities” is a good story that prevents unnecessary questions.

  2. I wouldn’t imagine they’d WANT it to be a single-pulse design, so much as that is the physica-imposed limitation for the device over timeframes of minutes-to-hours.  As it stands today.  

    Imagine, no fusion. 
    Just a big spark. 

    20 kV in 64 capacitor banks, each having 50,000 µF of capacitance.  

    E = ½CV²
    … = 64 ea × 0.5 × 50×10⁻³ F × 20×10³² 
    … = 640 MJ
    … = 153 kg of TNT

    Now, with WELL reinforced walls, hardened doohickeys, all the rest, the Z-pinch of such a 64 wire device is going to blast a million-degree vapor cloud at millions of meters per second into the whole chamber. It’ll coat everything, if operating in a vacuum. More likely, operating in pressurized argon or other heavy gas (except inside the z-pinch holoraum, to borrow terminology from the tera-laser peeps), to suppress ionization, and to capture that super-speed vapor cloud BEFORE it impacts everything, well, shoot the shot, while simultaneously opening the cross-valves of vacuum and more argon. Whoos, on human timescales, the kabang is vacuumed clean. 

    But still, the IR, visible, UV, X-Ray and potentially gamma ray hit to the devices walls will be unavoidably absorbed to a large degree. Millions of joules of thermal load, in a handful of nanoseconds.  

    Think it could cycle more than once an hour?
    Obviously, I think not.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  3. Not my job to fact check you and it’s pretty much impossible to do so with regards to WMD like this. That said, it is obvious that a 200T-yield primary provides the high energy density (i.e. GJ/ft**3) of xrays and stubborn high Z mass needed for this most easily attained degenerate state of matter that the Z pinches and lasers fail to achieve. A small fission bomb is so clobberingly powerful it overrides all those Rayleigh instability tendencies… it’s like the difference between interplanetary and near interstellar travel, a splash and a tidal wave.. a tardigrade and a tiger… oodles of orders of magnitude of separation.

  4. If pinch is primarily used for “stockpile stewardship” (lingo), what is air force doing there? It is DoE’s job. But if there is new weapons development, air force is interested. They got in the news (barely) years ago on the subject of weaponisation of antimatter (positrons). The real Gen4 prize is indeed antimatter, but antiprotons. In short, a very small quantity (already within capabilities) opens the possibility of a clean nuke in sub-kiloton range. And it would not be too large for B-2 bays.

  5. The economics of bundles of small generators is a horror show, regardless of their energy source. Reactor, turbine, diesel or whatever else have to be as close to demand as feasible. That is why airplanes have 2 engines: maximum feasibility with minimum redundancy; fighters had one, until they got madly expensive – F-16 and Gripen are still around because they win on cost-value basis. There are benefits in making smaller unit if it is made in factory instead of on site, but factories make nuclear ships, and they easily go into triple digit MW range. There was Russian 100MW “city power” design (SVBR-100) for use in groups, but it did not survive the feasibility study. A variant for 10MW with very long fuel campaign also did not survive. The 200MW design made it into production, and will likely be used for everything to use economy of scale. Smaller designs do not seem to survive.
    The only element that would thermalise wide spectrum neutron flux without intolerable problems is helium. It is not activated, and low mass makes it a second best moderator and heat conductor. The price is low density – reactor would have to be huge, which means hugely expensive (on per MW basis) and economically hopeless. Gas-cooled fission reactors are coming online in China right about now – they have efficiency advantage, but low power density (two 250MWt reactors for one 210MWe turbine). If pinch reactor cannot offer better cost efficiency than fission, it has no future in “powering cities”.

  6. “Scale matters. To be useful for “powering cities”, reactor must have at least 100MWe capacity”

    NuScale is well under 100MWe per reactor and they make it work by… wait for it… putting multiple reactors together in a plant.

    Same principle applies to any other “mini-bomb” pulsed power nuclear fusion plant. Lots of little mini bomb plants all contributing together. Soak up the neutron energy from all the small bomblets in a pool of something that absorbs the neutron kinetic energy, boil water, spin a big turbine.

    And while I am not a nuclear physicist I also suppose that you can absorb the neutron energy in something that doesn’t thermalize the neutrons as quickly as water so that the neutron energy is absorbed over significantly larger volume. Potassium, Lead, Lead-Bismuth or maybe something fancier like Lead-Potassium.

    Spread the energy of lots of small pulses over a larger volume, boil water, spin turbine.

    I do agree that the prospect of a clean-ish bomb is intriguing but I recall that all of the pulsed Z machine funding money was geared towards validating the physics models for nuclear bomb detonations.

  7. Scale matters. To be useful for “powering cities”, reactor must have at least 100MWe capacity. For a run of the mill fission reactor, that means 300~350MWt. For pulsed reactor, with 1μs pulse and ~100% conversion efficiency, that means 1e14W power input into whatever converter is used. If that power is in neutron flux, it is a wonderful neutron bomb, and converter will have a huge problem converting it, but not for long. I would say, for another microsecond, followed by “disassembly”. That is why this whole work looks like a weapons program, not in the least like a “powering cities” program.

    The concept of “clean” has a certain context. It means there is no fission products in politically significant quantities, though some Gen4 designs use gram quantities of plutonium or uranium as a neutron-producing target, with full fission. Short-lived neutron activation products, with exception of C14, are acceptable, and C14 is just a manageable “oh well”. Overall, “clean” means usable without political fallout. Everything else will surprisingly be “not a problem”, because one would do well not to complain too much at the dawn of usable “clean” weapons in the sub-kiloton range. No one ever wants to be stepped on by giants.

    Chinese have an ADS project. Russians have a concept of DD-driven fusion-fission hybrid, thought it is just a concept. Europeans have something too. So, perhaps “nobody in USA” is actually looking into accelerator driven reactors, but then in USA there is no need.

  8. “It is commonly known that to be useful, a fusion power reactor has to generate long pulses at the very least, constant burn preferably.”

    Nothing in the math or engineering makes that a universally true statement.

    “A pinch machine is the exact opposite of that. Even if it is perfected to the point of 50× energy gain — in that brief moment — it will be an electrically-powered neutron bomb,”

    Scale matters. If it is an “electrically driven neutron bomb” with a yield of several tens of MJ then it is great. If it is a 5MT thermonuclear warhead then you have a problem.

    “But an electrically-powered neutron primary is one of the ways of making Gen4 clean nukes.”

    Well it definitely is “one” way of making Get IV nuclear power but I doubt it can be branded as “clean”. Also nobody is actually looking in to accelerator driven reactors (beyond TRL 0.1 PPTs) because stopping a chain reaction is a pretty well solved problem.

  9. 10^12 is what is REQUIRED for economic medical isotope production. The 10 MA machine is expected to deliver 10^15 or above. So more than what is required for that purpose. This is why they are making a big deal out of it.
    Quote: “…completed the design for our new 10 MA (10 Mega Amps) LTD-X Staged Z-Pinch Fusion Generator that is designed to generate 1015 Neutron Flux…”
    I interpret that as scaling with the 5th power. But your interpretation might differ.

    Also, again note that this is the neutron rate for D+D fuel. I would assume that they would use D+T fuel for energy production, which has a much larger cross section and will thus have a much higher yield for the same input current.

    As for repetition rate: I honestly don’t know. I have not seen any information on that yet. You may very well be right about this being a problem. I will hold my judgement until I have all the information. That said, again, I am not too convinced by MIFTI either. I think that the Sheared Flow Stabilized Z- Pinch holds more promise (as far as Z- Pinches go).

  10. Good… you did read the next-to-last paragraph in the article, above! 10 trillion, 1 MA, Kr ‘puff’. Expectations of 100× production for 10× the pulsed current.  

    That wouldn’t be A⁵ scaling, but A². Which is where I started objecting to the technology — if the A² scaling really applies long-term — has much value for commercial-sized reactors.  

    Then, if you’re still reading … the other problem is the rate at which one might blast the lil’ bits of fusion fuel to smithereens with these ginormous pulses.  

    Taking JUST these two numbers A² and 10¹⁵ fusions per 10 MA pulse…

    F = (10¹⁵ ÷ 10²) • MA² • reprate
    F = 10¹³ • MA² • reprate
    3.35×10¹⁹ ÷ 10¹³ = MA² • reprate
    MA = √( 3.35×10⁶ ÷ reprate )

    rep-per-sec, MA
    0.01, 18,000 
    0.02, 13,000 
    0.05, 8,200 
    0.10, 5,800 
    0.20, 4,100 
    0.50, 2,600 
    1.00, 1,800 
    2.00, 1,300 
    5.00, 820
    19.0, 420 
    20.0, 410 
    50.0, 260 
    100., 180 
    200., 130 
    500., 82 

    Two SigFig rounded…

    So… there you are. What would you guess might be an achievable repetition rate, Skip? I kinda think that ‘higher than a few times a second’ is probably not achievable. So, 1,000 MA.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  11. I would assume that engineers are aware of the power output and design the machine with matching specifications…

  12. OK. Then its just math.

    F/s = 10¹² • MA⁵ • reprate

    If 10 MWe requires about 3.35×10¹⁹ D-D fusions per second, and while we don’t know the rep-rate, we can at least evaluate it in terms of ‘reasonable range’.  

    3.35×10¹⁹ = 10¹² • MA⁵ • reprate
    MA = fifth root of (3.35×10⁷ / reprate);

    Reprate… MA….
    0.01, 80 MA — less than 1× a minute
    0.02, 70 MA
    0.05, 58 MA — once every 20 sec
    00.1, 51 MA
    00.2, 44 MA — once every 5 sec
    00.5, 37 MA
    1.00, 32 MA — once a sec
    2.00, 28 MA
    5.00, 23 MA — 5× a sec
    10.0, 20 MA
    20.0, 18 MA
    50.0, 15 MA — at line frequency 50 Hz, Europe
    100, 13 MA
    200, 11 MA
    500, 9 MA
    1000, 8 MA

    And that’s taking the faint hints of a trillion 10¹² neutrons yield from using a krypton shielded deuterium target. 

    Its just math.

    GoatGuy ✓

  13. The problem is power. In loose and easily imaginable terms, if energy intake rate vastly exceeds energy absorption rate, the accumulator will not be accumulating energy. It will turn from solid, to liquid, to plasma, to fireball, and blow the machine into smoke. That is how a nuclear device “disassembles” itself, but not before it completes its work. A reactor has to work continuously, hence energy intake rate should equal energy absorption rate, or it will “disassemble” itself one way or another. That is what happened to Chernobyl reactor: momentary power exceeded design by three orders of magnitude, and rapid disassembly followed. Some people call it explosion. It was full of water, which is by design an “accumulator”, but not at 1000× power. A pinch machine power is concentrated in great many orders of magnitude smaller time than “disassembly” of Chernobyl reactor (a very large machine). The only possible result of such momentary power application to anything is “disassembly”, also known as fireball.

  14. And again, what you calculated there is per second, not per pulse. I am quite certain that the neutron production is per pulse. These pulses are in the nanosecond range.

  15. 3,000,000,000,000 ^ ⅕ … is 313× the current. Which times 1,000,000 amp is 313 megaämps.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  16. Ok, I think I was off with the scaling laws. Reading up on some numbers for MIFTI, it seems like neutron yields are scaling with the input current at the 5th power, not the 4th as I stated. E.g. increasing the input current by a factor from 1MA to 10 MA will increase neutron yield from 10^10 to 10^15.
    Also worth noting that a reactor for power generation, would probably use D+T, which has a much higher yield for less power in. There may be a few more ways to optimize the design. By switching from Ar to Kr they already increased output significantly (by a factor of 5000).
    And then, I found a problem in your calculations. You are talking about reactions per second. They are talking about reactions per shot. To the best of my knowledge these shots are in the scale of several nanoseconds…
    That said, I myself am not 100% convinced by the viability of the design. But I am not writing them off completely either.
    My personal favorites remain Helion and ZAP, which have much more modest operating parameters. E.g. 1.3 to 1.5 MA for a ZAP D+T reactor with confinement lasting several microseconds instead of nanoseconds among other things.
    Helion is in the milliseconds with confinement times.

  17. I agree with you although ICE typically deflagrate and avoid detonation. I don’t see how pulsed inertial confinement can’t boil water as strangelove insists it cannot

  18. Well, will the cooling blanket not act as an “accumulator” to smoothen out the peaks to a constant thermal power? And if yes, what is the problem?

  19. And you think that the energy from an “explosion” can not be captured to make practical energy? Ever heard of an internal combustion engine?

  20. No. Given equal integral energy, the difference between a burn and explosion needs no explanation. At the power level suitable for powering anything, and considering 10MA currents, pinch is effectively a fairly large explosion. Magnetically induced currents alone would be fairly destructive. In short, it is a fancy bomb.

  21. You can use the pulsed power to heat a medium and that then powers steam turbines. It is not that big of a deal.

  22. All such research is “dual use”. Pulsed power is useless for powering cities, but it is exactly what is required for weapons. US Air Force is not in the business of powering cities, and national labs do not really work for utilities. Their common interest is weapons, and until the very recent outbreak of global peace and love, Gen4 nukes were the common and very open goal of all leading nuclear powers. Still is, though not so ‘in your face’ as it used to be in the 80’s.

  23. He’s got a point. All the inertial confinement proposals are aiming at short blasts of energy. Usually followed by moving another target into the position to get shot at.

    If “to be useful, a fusion power reactor has to generate long pulses at the very least, constant burn preferably…” then that’s saying that all those schemes with brief, sharp blasts will not be useful.

  24. If they want the thing to be a single-pulse design, as in a primary in a Gen4 nuke, it might be compactable**: makes one pulse, then turns into a rapidly expanding plasma ball (“disassembly” in their lingo). I just don’t see why they bother with that for such a small neutron yield, as this Russian thing makes 5e8 neutrons (onboard “Curiosity” now) per pulse for many years, consuming 150 watts. So the pinch people must have forgotten to tell some key parts of their powerful story. 🙂
    ** as in ‘fits into B-2 bay’, not ‘tabletop’

  25. Well, what a relief! I was just working off the relative number expectations printed in the article above. Expectations of a 100× yield with 10× the amperage. Dunno. 

    Even IF it A⁴ scaling, the same 3,000,000,000,000 × rate to the ¼ power is 1300× amp flow. One point three BILLION amps. Wow. Just wow. 

    GoatGuy ✓

  26. Not sure about this device, but IIRC, the fusion reaction rate scales with input current to the 4th power for the Sheared Flow Stabilized Z- Pinch. The SFS Z- Pinch reaches (DT) reactor conditions at 1.3 to 1.5 MA.

  27. Some little birdie keeps squawking in my ear that “hundreds-to-thousands of megaämps … isn’t going to be readily compact-able”. You know? Check out the other reply of mine, above. GoatGuy ✓

  28. Well stated. ⊕1

    For the numerically curious … D-D fusion yields

    50% ²D + ²D → ³T (1.01 MeV) + ¹p (3.02 MeV)
    50% ²D + ²D → ³He (0.82 MeV) + ¹n (2.45 MeV)

    1 MeV = 1,000,000 eV … × 1.6×10⁻¹⁹ J/eV = 1.6×10⁻¹³ J/MeV.  

    If perhaps up to 60% of the energy of the charged particles might be directly harvested without going thru the ‘boil water, make steam, turn generator’ business, then between the two rows (with 33% collectable thru the steamy heat route), one can expect a 10 MWe plant to be consuming some 7.0 kg of deuterium a year, being run 24–7–365, and all that.  

    Putting that in perspective, that’d be 3.36×10¹⁹ fusions per second, or some 3,000,000,000,000× higher than the ‘trillion’ recorded for the krypton blanketed reaction setup.  

    Assuming (which is dangerous, but lets…) that their reaction scales per A² (amps), at 1 MA (present), yielding 1 trillion fusions, let’s see… 

    A = √( 3,000,000,000,000 )
    A = 1,700,000 × 1 MA
    A = 1.7 teraamps. 

    Scaling by 1.7 million, up, the amperage. 
    That’s going to take some special duct tape.
    Very Special. 

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  29. It is commonly known that to be useful, a fusion power reactor has to generate long pulses at the very least, constant burn preferably. A pinch machine is the exact opposite of that. Even if it is perfected to the point of 50× energy gain — in that brief moment — it will be an electrically-powered neutron bomb, not a power reactor. For isotope production, probably with exception of isotopes of californium, a constant neutron flux is far better. So it does not fit the requirements of either application. But an electrically-powered neutron primary is one of the ways of making Gen4 clean nukes. If they succeed in miniaturising it to be deliverable by B-2, with a yield of 0.1~1kt, the brass will be deliriously happy. That would explain not just national labs, but also air force involvement, who are not in the electric power business at all.

  30. Purpose and scope of an experiment matters. Was the current test device ever meant to achieve the performance levels of a full commercial scale reactor? Also not all Z- Pinches are the same. This one is a staged Z- Pinch that works differently from the Z- Pinches of old.
    That said, I am not 100% sure about MIFTI. I think that ZAPs Sheared Flow Stabilized Z- Pinch is better. But it is good that they got investment and financial backing. All approaches should be investigated.

  31. There is something strange in this. With neutron yield that low, this machine has no relevance to power generation in the sense of powering cities.

    There are readily available spallation neutron sources, which are already operational, that generate many orders of magnitude greater neutron flux. And then there are nuclear power stations that are already used for tritium production, small reactors and accelerators make isotopes for medical applications. Although there some gaps in that market due to the general neglect and rampant silliness in recent years and decades, the best way to make neutrons today is fission. Spallation is the fancy next best for special applications.

    And yet they are messing with pinch machine, with national labs involved, telling stories of fusion power, while counting neutrons in the billions (that is a very small number). I wonder what is the real motivation for the project? Gen4 (clean) nukes perhaps? Russians have been giving high-level hints on some achievements in that area. Still, miniaturisation of a pinch machine is difficult to imagine, to put it mildly. But not impossible with explosively-powered pulse generator achieved 30+ years ago in USSR, and later in USA. If that pulse were somehow channeled into a miniature pinch machine with neutron yield sufficient for hot spot creation (20keV or so), it could ignite fusion fuel without fission primary. And, ironically, bring abundant light and heat power to some cities, if only for a moment.

Comments are closed.