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The long wait for fusion power may be coming to an end

The long wait for fusion power may be coming to an end thumbnail

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind account for a growing share of the world’s electric power. That’s no surprise, given concerns about the carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants and their harmful effect on the climate.

Nuclear energy offers some advantages over renewables, including the ability to make electricity when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. But today’s nuclear plants use fission, which splits atoms of rare metals like uranium. Fission creates radioactive waste and can be hard to control — as evidenced by reactor accidents like those at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Another form of nuclear energy known as fusion, which joins atoms of cheap and abundant hydrogen, can produce essentially limitless supplies of power without creating lots of radioactive waste.

Fusion has powered the sun for billions of years. Yet despite decades of effort, scientists and engineers have been unable to generate sustained nuclear fusion here on Earth. In fact, it’s long been joked that fusion is 50 years away, and will always be.

But now it looks as if the long wait for commercial fusion power may be coming to an end — and sooner than in half a century.

Leading the charge

One of the brightest hopes for controlled nuclear fusion, the giant ITER reactor at Cadarache in southeastern France, is now on track to achieve nuclear fusion operation in the mid- to late-2040s, says Dr. William Madia, a former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory who led an independent review of the ITER project in 2013.

Construction of the ITER reactor — a doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber known as a “tokamak” that spans more than 60 feet — recently passed the halfway point.

 The assembly hall at ITER ( the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), where components for the ITER Tokamak will be pre-assembled before integration into the machine, in Cadarache, southern France,on Dec. 13. Claude Paris / AP

Madia says the decades needed to bring the ITER reactor to full operation reflect the huge engineering challenges still facing fusion researchers. These include building reactor walls that can withstand the intense heat of the fusion reaction — about 150 million degrees Celsius (270 million degrees Fahrenheit), or 10 times hotter than the core of the sun.

And then there’s the challenge of creating superconducting materials that can generate the powerful magnetic fields needed to hold the fusion reaction in place.

ITER has international backing and a budget of more than $14 billion. But it’s not the only promising effort in the long quest for sustained nuclear fusion, or what some have called a “star in a jar.”

Lots of competition

Several smaller fusion projects, including commercial reactors being developed by Lockheed Martin in the U.S., General Fusion in Canada, and Tokamak Energy in the U.K., aim to feed fusion-generated power to electricity grids years before ITER produces its first fusion reactions.

“Our target is to deliver commercial power to the grid by 2030,” says Tokamak Energy’s founder, Dr. David Kingham.

Related

Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works engineering division is developing a compact fusion reactor that uses cylindrical magnetic fields to confine the fusion reaction instead of the donut-shaped reactor being built at the ITER site.

The company foresees its fusion reactors replacing the fission reactors used in warships and submarines — and being put on trucks so they can be deployed wherever power is needed. A 100-megawatt fusion reactor that fits on the back of a truck could generate enough power for 100,000 people, according to the company.

Other fusion power projects include the Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor in Germany, which uses an alternative to ITER’s tokamak design known as a stellarator. Like ITER, the German reactor is backed by an international consortium and serves mainly for experimental research.

 The Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor in Greifswald, Germany in 2015. Stefan Sauer / dpa via AP

Exactly which, if any, of these initiatives will crack the fusion nut is still uncertain. But experts hope fusion power one day can make fossil-fuel-fired plants and nuclear fission reactors obsolete, along with most of their environmental problems.

And we can take heart that the remaining challenges are all just a matter of advanced engineering. Says Madia, “We know the science is absolutely real because we can see it happening in the sun every day.”

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25 Comments on "The long wait for fusion power may be coming to an end"

  1. Bug on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 1:51 pm 

    See article above this regarding technofantasists. Lol

  2. Cloggie on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 3:21 pm 

    Renewable energy this century, fusion perhaps in the next.

  3. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 3:25 pm 

    Datz right pally!

    We iz da rasoichas, an
    we iz doin da rasoich !!

    Like Vinny over der, wit da
    multimeter an da cryo tanks.

    Youze take away Vinny’s paycheck,
    an he will beat youze skull to mush
    wit dat multimeter, pally.

    So youze better keep payin for da
    rasoich, for youze good health, see?

    An if anyting left is youze brains he
    will freeze da rest wit da cryo tanks.

    An dump all dat at the wharf,
    ta feed da fishies.

    So now youze still gotz a problem
    wit da fusion research? Or I gotta
    tell Mr Big who iz gettin in our way?

    Ya youze thinkin da fusion rasoich
    iz at an end? If youze pull da
    funding, it’s jist da beginning pally.

  4. Darrell Cloud on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 4:54 pm 

    Well, when and if leave a lot of leeway for prognosticators. My hope is that it works, my fear is that if it does, it will not be soon enough.

  5. onlooker on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 5:05 pm 

    The ULTIMATE techno fantasy. If it ever does work, it would certainly be too little too late. But even worse if it does work, do you really want to give an abundant energy source to 7 plus billion rapacious cancer monkeys? Think about it

  6. Reece Agland on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 5:12 pm 

    Think ITER has been a boondoggle by interested parties. Private sector likely to get there quicker and cheaper. Also boron laser fusion may be more effective and cheaper still. Lots going on in this space.

  7. denial on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 8:26 pm 

    look you are basically trying to mimic the sun….and trying to contain it…..what could go wrong?

  8. Harquebus on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 8:56 pm 

    Instead of always being fifty years away, it will only now be always 25 years away. In another century or two heck, we might just get it down to always one or two years.

  9. Sissyfuss on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 9:20 pm 

    And now for a word from our sponsor, Hopium Unlimited.

  10. MASTERMIND on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 9:26 pm 

    Clogg

    Renewable s in this century you say?

    Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google PhD Engineers

    Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/

    Solar and Wind produced less than one percent of total world energy in 2016 – IEA WEO 2017
    https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/KeyWorld2017.pdf

    One percent after forty years! WOW doing big things! Clogg is as dumb as they come!

  11. Makati1 on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 10:13 pm 

    The last sentence says it all.

    “And we can take heart that the remaining challenges are all just a matter of advanced engineering. Says Madia, “We know the science is absolutely real because we can see it happening in the sun every day.”

    Yep! And the sun is just like a tin box on the earth isn’t it? LMAO

  12. MASTERMIND on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 10:40 pm 

    Madkat

    How would you know what is real science and what is not? You are not even college educated and worked for a lunatic cult (church) and as a construction worker…If someone needs a toilet installed they will call you okay. LOL The reason you worked construction because you were not smart enough to work with your mind..Which is fine we need dumb bloats to build things and the hard labor.

  13. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 29th Dec 2017 11:40 pm 

    Yo, Mr Makita power tools, talkin to ya,
    well,
    that last sentence is indeed BS, because
    the fusion method in these earthbound
    reactors has nothing at all, to do with
    sun-fusion.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fusion

    Sun fusion is due to ‘proton-proton reaction’.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton%E2%80%93proton_chain_reaction

    Sun-fusion is insanely LOW energy density,
    a cubic meter of sun-core, has very few atoms
    in it, and produces scarcely enough power to
    light a Christmas tree bulb.

    Just how would ya setup that to be a
    power-producing electric station? LOL.

    So the fusion in the Tokomak is
    Deuterium-Tritium fusion.

    https://www.euronuclear.org/info/encyclopedia/f/fusion.htm

    This type of fusion has NOTHING WHATSOEVER
    in common with sun fusion.

    As such, the last sentence in the article is
    the stupidest sentence in the whole world,
    stupider than Donald Trump’s tweets.

    People who say things so stupid as
    ‘ITER is like the sun’ those people should
    have their head flattened out underneath
    the greyhound bus tires, and then
    their headless corpse should be run thru
    a branch chipper at a harbor wharf, a
    great big red rooster tail of guts
    flying out the chute… launch it all
    into the harbor to feed the fishes.

    Thats what should happen to dummies who
    say ITER is like the sun.

  14. pointer on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 7:23 am 

    Just want to thank you all for the spirited debate and information sharing. Heck, I often just read the comments here, unless the Davy-Cloggie-Makati-Boat-EtAl ad hominems get out of hand.

    Happy New Year to you all!

  15. dave thompson on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 10:06 am 

    Nice point pointer.

  16. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 11:25 am 

    That’s a good point,
    Happy New Year!

  17. Cloggie on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 12:13 pm 

    Just want to thank you all for the spirited debate and information sharing. Heck, I often just read the comments here, unless the Davy-Cloggie-Makati-Boat-EtAl ad hominems get out of hand.

    Spirited debates mostly come with ad hominems.

  18. MASTERMIND on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 12:47 pm 

    Pointer

    I try to keep my mind skeptical and my sources sharp..You will only see me post from trustworthy mainstream sources and scholarly peer reviewed articles.

  19. dave thompson on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 1:35 pm 

    Cloggie says; “Spirited debates mostly come with ad hominems.” Should read; ad ho·mi·nems are only used by people who have lost the debate.”

  20. Davy on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 2:57 pm 

    It depends on if there is a debate if there is an ad hominem or not. Those I battle are not debating much of the time. They are peddling hate. I disrespect people who disrespect me. I have tried to be nice and tried to bend to their point of view in the past. Yet, Extremist have only one point of view and that is winning their point of view. There is no common ground for these sub-humans. They are here to create an extremist magnet to draw in support so they can have a super majority. Lies need support and support realizes lies. For them winning is everything. It is a deadly serious passion of envy and personal advancement. Extremist are most often narcissist. The ones I talk about are always talking themselves up like they are special. I have even offered these scum bags to mutually leave the forum for a time to free up new debate but the extremist I am talking about won’t bite at that either.

    Bad shit is ahead and I want an edge on that eventuality. I am here to wade through the shit in search of some meaning. I want to give back something I have learned to the many who are good people here. I am not here to brag nor do I want people to befriend. I am not lonely and in need of a friend. I am in need of the truth. I would like for this to be a friendly place with respect and learning. Instead it is a place to moderate and neuter extremism. This extremism is hate directed to me directly and indirectly.

    If any of the extremist here want to argue what I just said then bring it on. Let’s debate our extremism. I have adopted extremism to fight extremism. War is hell and the sooner it ends the better. War is better than a bad peace. A bad peace is capitulation to extremist who peddle hate and disrespect. I turn my cheek to friends and family. I bend over backwards to those I care for. I attack with a vengeance asshole who come here to tell me how horrible I am just because I am who I am. I attack people that want my country destroyed. They act as if this destruction is abstract and is not directed to me. They act as if I should bend over and take it because I deserve it. I am not going to play stupid games like this does not matter. Some will say this is just an obscure forum don’t take it so seriously. LOL, then don’t take it so seriously saying don’t take it so seriously, get it.

    This is about having backbone and facing bad people. This is about standing up for what is right and what is right is not the peddling of hate and pressuring the conversation with agenda. This is about saying to extremist spit on me and you are going to get it right back. Too many here are meek and humble to these bullies. I say fight fire with fire. You know who I am talking about and those I am talking about know I will be back again in 2018 to give them hell. How is that for a nice New Year’s message? LOL

  21. MASTERMIND on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 3:14 pm 

    Clogg used an ad hom to attack Cornell University… LOL

  22. Cloggie on Sat, 30th Dec 2017 3:43 pm 

    millimind has no clue what ad hominem means.

  23. peakyeast on Mon, 1st Jan 2018 6:29 am 

    How disappointing – I had hoped they had scrapped the project for good – or at least one of the scientists had looked up and noticed the sun.

  24. diemos on Mon, 1st Jan 2018 12:45 pm 

    “Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.”

    THIS civilization cannot be powered by renewables, but there are civilizations that can. We’re just not ready yet to admit that changes will be necessary or to implement them.

  25. Cloggie on Mon, 1st Jan 2018 1:16 pm 

    https://environment.google/projects/announcement-100/

    “100% renewable is just the beginning”

    LOL

    Millimind, the forum village idiot.

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