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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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Nuclear Fusion Could Be A Reality By 2025

In order to keep globally rising temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, the international community will have to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and down to zero by the middle of the century. Meanwhile emissions continue to increase every year, and the increase is accelerating, rising by 1.6 percent in 2017 and about 2.7 percent in 2018 to reach an all-time high. Making matters even more dire, global energy demand is projected to grow by approximately 27 percent by 2040, or 3,743 million tons oil equivalent (mtoe). What if there was one energy solution that could solve all of these pressing problems?

While it sounds fantastical, there is a comprehensive solution. And it’s right around the corner. 

One of the most powerful forms of power we use today is nuclear energy. While modern nuclear is extremely efficient and creates zero carbon emissions, it has a lot of drawbacks, and they’re big ones: potential nuclear meltdowns and radioactive waste that remains hazardous for thousands of years (costing taxpayers a bundle in the process). But there is a better way. Our current nuclear reactors are all powered using nuclear fission, the process of splitting atoms to generate energy. For years, scientists have wondered how we can harness nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun by fusing atoms together, for use on earth. Fusion is ultra-powerful, several times more potent than fission, and generates zero nuclear waste, since its fuel is not uranium or plutonium, but hydrogen. 

“Achieving controlled fusion reactions that net more power than they take to generate, and at commercial scale, is seen as a potential answer to climate change,” writes Nathanial Gronewold for Scientific American. “Fusion energy would eliminate the need for fossil fuels and solve the intermittency and reliability concerns inherent with renewable energy sources. The energy would be generated without the dangerous amounts of radiation that raises concerns about fission nuclear energy.”

The dream of nuclear fusion has long been out-of-reach, but now, with companies like the Jeff Bezos-backed General Fusion and a huge pool of fusion startups heating up the competition, fusion is quickly becoming a reality. Just this week, the “world’s largest nuclear fusion experiment” has made a major breakthrough. 

Officials from the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a multinational project based in Southern France, have announced that they are now just 6.5 years away from “First Plasma,” in a historic milestone. ITER’s project, supported by a consortium of 35 nations, is now 65 percent complete according to this week’s press release. “The section recently installed—the cryostat base and lower cylinder—paves the way for the installation of the tokamak, the technology design chosen to house the powerful magnetic field that will encase the ultra-hot plasma fusion core,” reports Scientific American. Related: Heavy Oil Supply Crunch Cushions Canada From IMO 2020

The project is the world’s very first commercial-scale fusion reactor project, and all eyes are on ITER’s tokamak to set the bar, as well as the timeline, for the commercialized nuclear fusion race. While the project is scheduled to launch at the end of 2025, it will take another decade (at least) to bring the facility to full power. “The date for First Plasma is set; we will push the button in December 2025,” spokeswoman Sabina Griffith told SA. “It will take another 10 years until we reach full deuterium-tritium operations.”

Nuclear fusion is so difficult to achieve because of the extreme conditions--like those in the core of the sun-- needed to be reproduced here on Earth. As explained by the United States Department of Energy, “fusion reactions are being studied by scientists, but are difficult to sustain for long periods of time because of the tremendous amount of pressure and temperature needed to join the nuclei together.”

While nuclear fusion holds an incredible amount of promise for solving some of the modern world’s toughest issues, the clock is ticking, and many experts say that even with fusion right around the corner, time is not on our side. While it is hopeful that ITER’s tokamak will be up and running by 2025 and fully operational by around 2035, that could be too late. Climate experts are now saying that the 12-year deadline the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave the world to turn climate change around may need to be shortened--to 18 months. Potsdam Climate Institute’s Hans Joachim Schellnhuber puts it simply: "The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can't be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020."

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on July 28 2019 said:
    It is always the case. What looks like a technical marvel ends up just as a high-tech fantasy. Nuclear fusion is no exception.

    On paper and even in laboratory it looks like a promising solution to the world’s energy needs and environmental problems, but in reality it remains a fantasy.

    Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab near San Francisco have been working for years on a pellet containing a few milligrams of deuterium and tritium, isotopes of hydrogen that can be extracted from water. If the pellet is blasted with a powerful laser, it can create a reaction like the one that takes place at the centre of the sun. Harness that reaction and you can get the heat necessary to generate electricity without creating any pollution. However, even the biggest lasers in the world could not yet generate enough energy to smash nuclei together and make them stick thus achieving fusion.

    Scientists warn that fusion is all just a high-tech fantasy. The reality is that fusion energy is only 40 years away, and will always be only 40 years away.

    Meanwhile, we are now in an era of “energy diversification,” where alternative sources to fossil fuels, notably renewables, are growing alongside—not at the expense of—the incumbents and where natural gas, nuclear energy and hydro power are virtually banishing the use of coal in electricity generation probably for ever.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Alan B Ball on July 28 2019 said:
    Cold fusion is fantasy. There are a number of functioning fusion reactors in the world today. It is believed by many that a net positive fusion reactor that is economically viable is between 5 and 10 years away. There are many fusion oriented startups who have already made genuine breakthroughs. Lockheed martin a US Defense contractor has also put a substantial amount of research into the development of a "portable" fusion reactor.
  • James F on July 28 2019 said:
    Of course all these technologies are dependent on huge corporations building these machines, and running them. Then they inflate their costs by 100% to lamely justify their extortionist prices. All the while crying (it's new technology). Solar is hear now. Let the Sun make the power, all we have to do is catch it. Oh yeah, that's right. Everybody can get solar, and own the equipment themselves. No paying a utility company (huge profits). Let's focus on individual owned technology, not enslaving technology. Give me a call when I can buy my own Fusion reactor. Then I will be interested.
  • Jonathan Pugh on July 28 2019 said:
    Agree with Mamdouh. ITER is a bloated organization who will never provide a commercial reactor. Brilliant Light Power on the other hand seems to be positioned to commercialize their dark matter engine, Suncell.
  • Bob Walker on July 28 2019 said:
    Mamdouh is bought and paid for by the middle East oil companies. Don't believe me? Just do a web search. He promotes oil and laughs at every other form of energy, especially clean ones.

    He cites unnamed scientists as saying fusion isn't possible when the exact opposite is true. The science has been moving forward and will continue to until we have achieved a wonderful breakthrough in energy.

    Will it happen in the next five years? Probably not. But we have gone from seemingly insurmountable obstacles just a few decades ago to the point where private companies are investing in this technology.

    Ignore Mahdouh. He is simply paid for by OPEC
  • Philip Ridge on July 29 2019 said:
    Creating more power is futile. It is well known that conservation is the easiest and least expensive solution. Solar power, wind power, splitting water for a hydrogen economy is the path of common sense.
    The greatest challenge of all is managing the size of our population before we become an Easter Island.
  • Brendan Casey on July 29 2019 said:
    I'll believe it when I see it. Fusion has been promised for the last six decades, but every time it turns out the dog ate the homework. Did Big Oil have something to do with that? You tell me. All's I can say is promising projects one after the other have been shut down just when they appeared to be reaching exothermic stage for decades now.
  • Scott Hurst on July 29 2019 said:
    just 6.5 years away from “First Plasma,”

    This contradicts the title. First plasma is a long long way from making "Nuclear Fusion a Reality."
  • only mho on July 29 2019 said:
    while waiting for fusion, breeder reactors should be deployed at locations of current fission sites in order to remove/reduce the nuclear waste stored at those locations while providing CO2 free baseload energy
  • Steve K on July 29 2019 said:
    Simply put, the ITER isn't even designed to produce power. It is also very unlikely to achieve break-even, though it will likely get very close... after many tens of billions of $ expended.

    Fusion will likely happen eventually, and I am all for continuing research, though it should be more nimble than the bloated beaurocratic effort of ITER. It will NOT occur quickly enough to be a viable replacement energy source for reduced carbon emissions.

    Including ALL nuclear incidents, Nuclear power (fission) has produced the fewest fatalities. Period. It has a similar carbon footprint as a solar farm, and ALL waste produced over a reactor's lifetime can be safely stored on site indefinitely. Additionally, the newer reactor designs coupled with secondary processing can "burn" some of the spent nuclear fuel of the older reactors.

    If we want to address carbon output, there are only 4 viable paths, and they MUST be done together:

    1) Improve generation, delivery and use efficiencies
    2) Conserve
    3) Renewables + viable surplus storage
    4) Fission to fill in the gaps left by renewables (no solar at night)

    Some may argue that #4 isn't necessary, but the reality is that you only get about 6 "full power" hours per day. For every 1 kWh of energy you produce with a coal plant, you'll need 3+kWh of Solar power to replace it... and a means of storing the excess to deliver when the sun is shining or producing. That can be reduced by full active solar tracking, but you're still talking at least 2X the current global power production capacity.

    I'm not even talking about what it would take to de-carbonize the transportation carbon output.
  • Kevin Bjornson on July 29 2019 said:
    Satellite photos reveal, the earth is already greening due to increased levels of carbon dioxide. We need more carbon in the air, not less. More practical use of capital would be to use the sun to desalinate salt water, and irrigate deserts.

    Power from nuclear fusion is worth researching, but is not ready for commercial use. The engineering difficulties are too great and there is no timetable that can tell us when this technology will be ready.

    If we are going to go for a longshot, we might as well research cold fusion. At least that would not cost as much, and if it works, would be more practical.

    Even if the technological problems were solved, we're trillions of dollars away from converting to nuclear-fueled electrical power.

    The author appears to have little useful technical knowledge. Does she have a physics or related degree, or any work experience besides journalism?
  • Kevin Bjornson on July 29 2019 said:
    Satellite photos reveal, the earth is already greening due to increased levels of carbon dioxide. We need more carbon in the air, not less. More practical use of capital would be to use the sun to desalinate salt water, and irrigate deserts.

    Power from nuclear fusion is worth researching, but is not ready for commercial use. The engineering difficulties are too great and there is no timetable that can tell us when this technology will be ready.

    If we are going to go for a longshot, we might as well research cold fusion. At least that would not cost as much, and if it works, would be more practical.
  • Bill Simpson on August 02 2019 said:
    Even if they perfect it, finally producing more energy than it consumes, which I doubt will ever happen, it will be way too expensive to ever use on a global scale to produce massive amounts of electricity. Nuclear fission works great. It is dying due to the very high cost of the plants. Fusion will deteriorate the reactor, so will cost even more to operate.
  • James Dastrup on August 23 2019 said:
    Each atom split in the fission reaction releases 5.5 million electron volts of energy whereas the collapse of nuclei in a fusion reaction equals only 1.5 million electron volts of energy, so the statement of a fusion reaction being more powerful than a fission reaction is not correct. Using deuterium and/or tritium in a gaseous form in a variable pressure chamber with a number of variable intermittently fired infra-red lasers all aimed at a small central target in center of chamber should yield a intermittent fusion reaction...but why use the heat generated...? Use the tremendous magnetic energy instead ...! cold fusion more or less
  • Bob Bobperson on August 26 2019 said:
    ITER will never produce more energy than it uses. It will require 50MW electrical power to heat the plasma and aims to produce 500MW thermal power from the fusion reaction. What they rarely explain is that the machine itself will require another 250MW to operate. So, 300MW total electrical power in, 500MW thermal power out. At an optimistic conversion efficiency of 40%, the electrical output would be 200MW, a net loss of 100MW. See the New Energy Times website for more details on the ITER fusion deception.

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