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Nuclear Fusion – Possible at Last?

By John Daly | Thu, 02 May 2013 22:03 | 8

On 26 April, the world largely yawned as a nuclear anniversary came and went.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Ukrainian SSR nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded, providing a severe test of the USSR’s General Secretary of the Communist Party Mihail Gorbachev’s policy of “glasnost” (“openness,”), which the sclerotic Soviet leadership signally failed, providing a less than candid drip feed of news about the magnitude of the disaster.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Twenty-five years later, Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi NPP was decimated by a tsunami generated by the offshore Tohoku earthquake in the western Pacific, estimated at 9.0 on the Richter scale.

Response?

Nothing to see here, move along, yet again.

What even the strongest proponents of civilian nuclear power production cannot deny is that both incidents released radioactive material into the surrounding environment, whose long-term environmental and human health consequences have yet to be seen.

Related article: NASA Funds Research into Fusion Powered Rocket for Deep Space Travel

But the Chernobyl catastrophe is not forgotten in Ukraine, where last month Ukrainian Minister Mykola Azarov participated in commemorative events of the accident, which released radiation equivalent to 500 Hiroshima atomic bombs, while President Viktor Yanukovych said the total cost of the incident for his country over the last 27 years has been almost $180 billion.

But now, another aspect of potential nuclear power generation from the atom seems poised to take a giant leap forward, with potentially enormous implications for the entire issue of civilian nuclear power generation.

The potential way out?

Nuclear fusion, which instead of using the heat from breaking apart radioactive elements and isotopes to use the resultant temperatures to drive steam powered turbines, would instead attempt to reproduce the nuclear processes fueling stars to generate power instead from the fusion energy generated by lighter elements combining.

The quest is well known, having been around since the dawn of the nuclear age, but the physics have precluded significant research.

Until now.

A tokamak uses an intensive magnetic field to confine a plasma in the shape of a torus, which was were invented in the 1950s by Soviet physicists Igor Tamm and (later Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) Andrei Sakharov, inspired by the research of Oleg Lavrentiev. For the past five decades, the tokamak is the most-researched magnetic confinement device candidates for producing controlled thermonuclear fusion power, as magnetic fields are currently the best candidate for plasma confinement since no solid material could withstand the plasma’s extremely high temperatures.

Related article: The Coming Nuclear Waste Disaster

And now, 34 nations are collaborating in the world’s largest scientific collaboration since the International Space Station to construct the $16.9 billion ITER (“International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor”) fusion power project In Provence’s Cadarache forest in southern France.

Sidestepping previous research bottlenecks, where experimental tokamak fusion reactors devoured more power than they produced, the ITER fusion reactor has been designed to produce 500 megawatts of output power for 50 megawatts of input power. ITER’s construction of the facility began in 2007, and the first plasma is expected to be produced in 2020.

What is the appeal then of ITER?

Its hydrogen isotope fuels are relatively abundant, and its fuel isotopes, deuterium, can be extracted from seawater, while its tritium isotope could be created using neutrons produced in the fusion reaction itself. Like its NPPs predecessors, a fusion reactor would produce virtually no CO2 or other atmospheric pollutants, but, unlike its Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima antecedents, its radioactive waste by products would be very short-lived compared to those produced by conventional nuclear reactors.

Given the depth of international commitment, one should not write off the possibility of success, as it involves top nuclear minds worldwide. In this context, it is worth remembering that America’s World War Two “Manhattan Project,” was an effort while, funded by Washington, involved emigre European scientists. What is the potential of a global effort of the “best and brightest, not only from the U.S. but Europe, Russia and Asia as well?

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

Leave a comment

  • SA Kiteman on May 03 2013 said:
    If you want a better, faster, cheaper, cleaner, greener nuclear power, try the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Recycler (aka LFT Reactor). Meltdowns could be a thing of the past.
  • Arthur Robey on May 03 2013 said:
    Dr Peter Hagelstein is experimenting with the Nanor which has a energy output of 14 for an input of 1.
    Oh, and it costs a couple of cents.
    Sometimes Big Money is not the answer.
  • Joannes Van den Bogaert on May 06 2013 said:
    Cold fusion on the basis of Ni and H as obtained much attention. I like to inspire another interesting way of low energy nuclear fusion using lithium, more particularly Li7 in combination with anionic hydrogen (H-). Anionic hydrogen can be adsorbed to lithium(+) and particles thereof are to be injected at high speed into liquid lithium at high positive potential to make the H- fuse with Li7 at positive potential yielding 2 He atoms. The fusion of protons with lithium has been carried out already in 1932 by Cockroft and Walton using accelerated protons colliding with solid lithium. Said reaction is aneutronic with all the advantages thereof. A possible reactor to be modified for high voltage use is the BLASCON reactor (US-patent of Fraas)and the reaction may be carried out under the circumstances described in Belgian patent BE1003296 see e-Cat Site the article "LANR by Coulomb Explosion".
  • Rick on May 07 2013 said:
    A cheaper and better solution is with multiple colliding-beams instead of toroidal confinement and lasers.
  • SA Kiteman on May 08 2013 said:
    Rick,
    Sounds like you are talking about Polywell. Still a hopeful, but running black under Navy control.
  • Glen Wurden on May 13 2013 said:
    Even if ITER works exactly as advertised (and that is a huge if), it is not a fusion reactor, and it will produce no electricity. To do that requires a full "blanket" which can survive large neutron fluences, and for sustainment of the reactor requires the production of more tritium than it consumes. The tokamak approach to fusion suffers from lack on a sufficiently efficient current drive scheme, and also even more seriously, from the lack of a reliable way to prevent damaging disruptions. The technology of ITER proves that tokamak fusion is a long way in the future, at best. Furthermore, the cost of ITER (more like $25B at the moment) proves that economic fusion power is even further away.
  • Mike on June 23 2013 said:
    I guess "10% never get the word" saying is true. Your missed the news that hot nuclear fusion is impractical and improbable by a foactor of about 1 million. http://e-ditionsbyfry.com/Olive/ODE/VTC/Default.aspx?href=VTC/2012/12/01 VT&C magazine Dec. 2012, p35.
  • +energy on September 11 2014 said:
    Why not offer a greater incentive than the one at present, like a 1000y patent or 1 Trillion dollars for "discovering fusion power."
    ( ;

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