The reactor, named Norman, can operate at 60 million degrees Celsius

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Tri Alpha Energy has been working on nuclear fusion technology for nearly two decades and has just hit a milestone:

On Monday, the company announced that it started up a new nuclear fusion reactor that can achieve the high temperatures needed to continue to validate its technology plans. The reactor, named Norman — after the late company founder and professor, Norman Rostoker — can operate at temperatures between 50 million and 70 million degrees centigrade, which is in the temperature range of the core of the sun.

Commercial-scale nuclear fusion will likely have to operate in the range of a billion degrees centigrade. So Norman, which is the company’s fifth reactor, is just a step along the way.


Norman, which is 100 feet in length and 45 feet wide, is housed at the company’s Foot Hill Ranch facility in Southern California. It can consume a whopping 750 megawatts of power in a short burst when it’s holding the plasma that is needed to create a nuclear fusion reaction.

Because of the high energy needs, the facility has an array of batteries and flywheels on standby that store the needed energy to get the reactor running. Norman achieved what’s called “first plasma” (i.e., it generated plasma in its core) in June.


Unlike the tokamak’s donuts, Tri Alpha Energy is using a design that shoots beams of plasma into a vessel where it’s held in place, spinning, by a magnetic field. The design shares some properties with particle accelerators.

Norman cost $100 million to build, and can fit five times more plasma in it than the previous reactor. At the same time, it can still be housed at the facility that held the previous reactor.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    “It can consume a whopping 750 megawatts of power in a short burst…”

    Consume?? 60 million degrees?? This almost certainly yet another example of criminal fraud in the swamp of fusion power.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    I suggest we call these scams “fusionism.”

  3. I started to type a long post, but instead I’ll just direct anyone who’s interested to this thread. Note especially the posts by user pdf27.

  4. Oops, sorry for that mess, Isegoria!

    [Isegoria: No prob! Fixed the link.]

  5. D. John 1 says:

    Tri Alpha Energy is one of the several small programs that has emerged in the last decade and are actually worth watching. The other programs bring EMC2/ various programs looking at Polywell, the Lockmart Polywell variant project, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Hellion Energy, and General Atomics.

    Tokamaks, Inertial compression and their kin such as pdf27′s stellerator variant have gone nowhere and done nothing for 50 years, and they will GNDN for 50 more if not murdered with a joyful song on the heart. They are wonderful money siphons and jobs programs for plasma physics PHds. Nothing more. They are not designed for even extrapolation to practical energy results. ITER itself will outmass a European aircraft carrier and the neutronicity of its DT fuel cycle makes it utterly impractical for commercial energy generation.

    Every time you hear that ITER is short of money and its staff on the verge of unemployment, let it gladden your heart.

  6. Bob Sykes says:


    Thank you for the link, especially for pointing out the comment by pdf27. However, that does not change my mind that Alpha Energy is running a scam. “Commercial-scale nuclear fusion will likely have to operate in the range of a billion degrees centigrade.” Is that not a dead giveaway? 10^9 K is the temperature of the Big Bang at 100 sec.

    As to the tokamak, we now have experienced 40 years of failure in that design (which admittedly is only one likely to succeed), so I don’t think it is going anywhere, although pdf27 apparently hasn’t given up on it.

    If you have access to Science and Physics Today, you might want to read the following:

    W. D. Metz (1976), “Fusion Research (I): What is the Program Buying the Country?,” Science, vol. 192, pp. 1320-1323.

    W. D. Metz (1976), “Fusion (II): Detailed Reactor Studies Identify More Problems,” Science, vol. 193, pp. 38-40, 76-?

    W. D. Metz (1976), “Fusion Research (III): New Interest in Fusion-Assisted Breeders,” Science, vol. 193, pp 307-?

    W. E. Parkins (1978), “Engineering Limitations of Fusion Power Plants,” Science, vol. 199, pp. 1403-1408.

    W. E. Parkins (1997), “Physics Today,” pp. 15, 101-102.

    I don’t wish to regurgitate ancient history, but there has been very little, if any, progress on the tokamak design.

    The real killer, however, is the cost. Back in the 70′s it was estimated that the capital cost of a working tokamak machine would be an order of magnitude larger than the cost of a fission reactor, then the most expensive source of electricity. So, even if we could somehow solve the engineering problems of the tokamak, it would have no commercial or military use.

    The tokamak is just one of several Big Science projects that should be shut down. Nominations are open.

  7. I don’t necessarily disagree with you, Bob; I was linking his comments more for their (in my opinion valid) criticism of some of the smaller fusion efforts more than his support of the larger ones.

    I do think that eventually we’ll figure out artificial fusion as a viable power source, but I agree with you that it’s unlikely to come out of one of the big efforts currently ongoing. More likely something like magneto-inertial liner fusion, or perhaps as a result of us learning more about the detailed dynamics of high-temperature plasmas (which are still quite mysterious).

    That said, I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at when you talk about plasma temperatures. IIRC, some fusion experiments have produced plasmas in that temperature range, and the Z-machine achieved a 2-billion K plasma quite a while ago.

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