Almost 60 years ago to the day, a group of Princeton freshman (including yours truly) were dazzled by a talk by Professor Lyman Spitzer, as he described the “Stellarator”, a machine designed to mimic the thermonuclear reaction of the sun. He said it would produce all the energy one could want using nothing more complicated than water (once it was broken down into hydrogen and oxygen). He described it as the ‘energy of the future’.
60 years later it still is.
An article in today’s Nature (vol. 537 pp. 14 – 15 ’16) describes the malfunction of the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) founded by Spitzer himself. Apparently some component failed, and the machine will be taken offline for repairs. The machine was being upgraded to produce higher magnetic fields using new coils, and one of them failed.
Since a machine at MIT is being permanently shut down, this leaves US fusion physicists with just one functional machine for experiments.