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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Is Infinite Clean Energy Near?

Fusion

After decades of research and planning, a group of scientists in France are attempting to achieve the impossible: harnessing the heavens.

They are building a tokamak, a donut-shaped, man-made, artificial star that has the potential to bring the universe down to earth and provide millions of years of clean energy. Is this the dawn of a new era, in which we dominate nuclear fusion and solve the energy dilemma for millennia, or is it just a crackpot pipe dream? Every year we seem to be getting closer to the former.

While it once seemed impossible that we would be able to create, control, and confine plasma hotter than the sun, the development of tokamaks has created, for the first time, a viable avenue for nuclear fusion. Scientists have already been able to create plasma at the necessary ultra hot temperatures necessary. Now they just need to refine the process until they can create more energy than is consumed by the process to create the reactions—something that has never yet been achieved, but is growing closer to becoming a reality each year, thanks to international projects like the one currently taking place in France.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the massive tokamak fusion reactor under construction in Southern France, has been internationally funded with $14 Billion dollars (a number that will continue to rise) in capital. It’s a combined effort by many nations in the European Union along with the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea. The scientists involved anticipate that the groundbreaking machine will make its inaugural run in 2025, 40 years after its inception, which was initiated after a fateful handshake between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.

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There is a concern, however, that with the new administration in the United States, their annual $400 million contribution may be slashed or stopped altogether thanks to budget cuts and an aversion to investing in renewables. The Energy Collective has reported that President Trump has allotted $63 million for ITER, however, the Senate’s official budget does not publicly account for ITER funding at all.

Despite a new reluctance from the federal government, under past administrations the U.S. has been on the cutting edge of the technology that could help make the tokamak-based nuclear fusion a reality. Just this month the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have completed new simulations to study the behavior of these plasma bubbles and blobs, giving us a great understanding of how the heat moves and changes within the tokamak.

In order to fuse hydrogen atoms into helium, tokamaks must maintain the astronomical level of heat of the plasma (the hottest state of matter) they control. This is a particular challenge due to the percolating bubbles that arise and release this vital heat (think of boiling water). In order to function, a tokamak needs to maintain a temperature of around 100 million degrees Celsius.

In future simulations, the PPPL also plans to study how this behavior changes according to the shape of the tokamak, as well as the effects of density, temperature, and electromagnetic force affect the behavior of the blobs, crucial information in the development of the ITER.

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The UK is also gunning to be a major player in the development of nuclear fusion, and is currently working on designs for their own nuclear fusion power plant. Just this month it was announced that Atkins will partner with Tokamak Energy to create what they hope will be the world’s first fusion facility (although it will be completed more or less at the same time as France’s internationally-funded model) that generates more energy than it consumes. They aim to generate the first electricity by 2025 (the same year as ITER) and commercially viable fusion power by 2030.

Despite our tricky history with nuclear power, fusion holds the most promising (if not the only) viable future for clean and renewable energy worldwide. Despite popular belief, fusion actually holds little danger relative to traditional nuclear power, producing no long-lasting radioactive waste. Working as a complement to wind and solar, nuclear fusion would bring us much, much closer to creating a carbon-neutral planet, a goal that has never been more urgent.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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  • Steve on October 29 2017 said:
    Now that facts are finally starting to replace the hyperbole that has surrounded the global warming hoax, being carbon neutral is no longer urgent. It's not even remotely necessary, as man made global warming was merely a product of zealously modified and hand picked climate data and proprietary computer models who's only purpose was to spit out what they wanted to hear. Fusion, if it ever turns out to be anything but a pipe dream, will be the greatest energy news ever, but not because it's green. It will be because eventually it won't cost so much "green" to heat and cool our homes and businesses and power our industry. I hope they can make it work, but I fear that like the great climate debacle that preceded it, it's nothing but another pit to pour money in.
  • Dan on October 29 2017 said:
    There is nothing wrong with fission and it's far easier to do. Using light watered reactors isn't the answer long term but there are many ways to do nuclear fission. The Molten Salt reactors designed in the 60's would be a great solution running as a thorium breeder. Even as a burner reactor they are more efficient and safer. Fission or fusion it doesn't matter though. We need both as soon as possible.
  • Curtis Lowe on October 29 2017 said:
    Article should include a postscript that this is a heat source not a source of electricity. The investment to switch everything possible over to electricity is HUGE, will require many decades & possibly would be affected by the supply & inevitable rise in the cost of copper.

    Think about everything involved in manufacture, repair & fuel supply for all cars, trucks & trains that must be changed over to electricity. Planes & ships won't be switched over.

    I tire of rah-rah artcles that don't offer even a pinch of reality leavening.
  • Bill Simpson on October 29 2017 said:
    All we need to do is duplicate the conditions in the center of a star for longer than the trillionth of a second done inside an exploding thermonuclear bomb, in some machine we build which doesn't cost hundreds of billions of dollars to construct. Sure, we can do that, like NEVER.
  • Steve (olduvai.ca) on October 30 2017 said:
    "...provide millions of years of clean energy..."
    First, no energy source no matter how well-intentioned is 'clean' in the sense of being free from environmental impacts. They all require various production/maintenance/transportation/etc. that have negative repercussions on the environment.
    Second, an 'infinite' energy source does little to nothing to address more pressing issues such as disappearing arable farmland/fish stocks/pollinators/etc..
    The notion that we can have infinite supplies of energy through some technological breakthrough (always in our future...) to address the dilemmas billions of humans face on this planet is little more than wishful thinking and techno-narcissism.
  • Jim Van Zandt on October 31 2017 said:
    ITER has taught us a lot about plasmas, but it's taken so long that I think its design has been overtaken by events - specifically the development of superconductors that can withstand much higher magnetic fields. That would let us build devices that are much smaller (therefore less expensive and quicker) than ITER. MIT is on the right track here.
  • Robert Bernal on November 03 2017 said:
    Solar will be cheaper than fusion, just as it is cheaper than fission. However, we need large baseload sources to solve the excess CO2 problem. Go molten salt nuclear, solid state batteries, lots of solar and wind and lots of desalination, for turning deserts green, the only real solution to excess CO2 after all clean energy.
  • Stan Sandu on November 04 2017 said:
    About thermonuclear controlled reactor.
    SandustanBrasov –Kronstadt 2. A.Einstein through the his relativity to REVERSED the reality of the our terresterial world. He remove the ETHER from physics and give materiality the space and the time. But the SPACE limit the place where it can unfolding material actions and the TIME mark the period of unfolding to some material actions. The space and the time are only ABSTRACT notions, absolute and colateral which show where and when it unfolding certain material actions.?
    SandustanBrasov 4. But the ETHER is a physical reality constituted from a very small matter, invisible for human eye, and is formed from atoms more small with 7...8 order of dimension than the atoms of the chemical elements. The matter of the ether penetrate in all the visible bodies and is the physical matter which fills both the interplanetary space and the interatomic space. The ether is a matter with mass and weigth, being subdued and she the action of the universal attraction law.?
    SandustanBrasov 5. The PHYSICAL-CHEMICAL MATTER is the visible matter with free eye and is constituted from atoms of the chemical elements. The PHYSICAL-ETHEREAL MATTER is a matter with atoms more small with 7..8 order of dimension than the atoms of chemical elements, and the bodies formed from this matter are invisible for the human eye. The ETHEREAL PHYSICS it occupy with the study of the ethereal matters, but which was abandoned in the XX century, because in 1905 A.Einstein excludes the ether?
    SandustanBrasov 6. The ELECTRON is not an exclusive electrical load, but an elementary particle from the composition of any atom, and is only a particle with intermediate role in the unfolding of the electrical phenomenons. The REAL ELECTRICAL LOAD is a particle of electrical ether more nore small than the electron, has and she a personal and rapid rotation, producing a personal magnetic field, which it gear with the magnetic field from the round of one electrical conductor.?
    SandustanBrasov 7. The ELECTRICAL FIELD is a field of particles of electrical ether, free and it move approximate in right line.The MAGNETIC FIELD from the round of one conductor is constituted forever from particles of the electrical ether, but magnetic coupled head at head and it move on a curve forming concentric circles in round to one conductor.The ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELD is a combination of particles of electrical field anf of curls of magnetic field, having property of the evolve in space.?
    SandustanBrasov 8. The ELECTRICAL CURRENT consist in circulation in the round and in lengthways to one electrical conductor to the particles of electrical ether guided on the magnetic field from the round the conductor; magnetic field formed all from particles of electrical ether coupled head at head and expelled in concentric circles in the round the conductor.If it interrupt the electrical current, then it decompose and this magnetic field in particles of electrical ether and it drain in circuit
    SandustanBrasov 9. The ACTUAL ELECTRICAL GENERATORS : galvanic elements and electrical accumulators; dynamos and alternators; thermoelements and photoelectric cell - transform nothing, but they only gather the electrical energy= the particles of the electrical ether which exist in metals, in the environing medium, in the thermic radiation or in the ray of light!?
    SandustanBrasov 13. The information by satellites and terrestrial observations say-us near all about the Sun activity. Along a cycle of 11 years, the places of solar spots appearance change slowly from plus minus 50 degrees latitude at the beginning of the activity's cycle, to ecuator near by latitudes at the end of the cycle. SandustanBrasov 14. The appearance of a spot is preceded by the appearance of a magnetic field of 5000 gauss, but which disappears after spots disappearance, betraying the whirligig's inner move of matter from solar mass, whirligig tube that pass through the solar mass by one hemisphere in another.
    SandustanBrasov 15. After a minimum spot's period, the Sun begins the formation whirl's tubes from plus minus 50 degrees latitude to equator's zone, realizing in the central zone a space with higher temperature and concentration, which can assure the beginning thermonuclear reaction, of which pressure will push whirl's tubes towards the equatorial area and will reduce the differential movement in the Sun internal coatings.
    SandustanBrasov 16. Thus in the case of the Sun are two sort of magnetic fields: 1.- The principal magnetic field of the solar magnetosphere which dress the solar mass, and 2.- the secondary magnetic fields which pass through the whirligig tubes by one hemisphere in another, and at whom ends it found the symetrcal solar spots. The lines of the secondary magnetic fields dress and they the outside of solar mass from one hemisphere at another.
    SandustanBrasov 17. Because the rotation of the solar mass the lines of the secondary magnetic fields are not parallel with t
  • Lawrence on November 09 2017 said:
    ITER is not an experiment designed to generate electricity or prove commercial viability of fusion power. By framing it as such, you are setting it up for failure (but maybe you knew that).
    ITER is a pure-science experiment, akin to the LHC. Just leave it at that, and evaluate it at that level.
    The knowledge gained from ITER may someday lead to commercialization, but that day is so far away it isn't even worth considering, so don't. Just don't.

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