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Fusion Power, China, and Political Will

Alternative Energy

At The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian mounts a long exploration of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and the quagmire of bureaucratic, political and technical difficulties surrounding it. China’s need for and work towards fusion power appears on the fringes of his story.

Sitting at his computer, [Guenter] Janeschitz [a senior adviser in the ITER director-general’s office] made his case for fusion: “In the next several decades, we have to replace , and in the next century we have to replace —and these two, taken together, represent sixty per cent of the total energy use of every country today. This is a huge amount of energy. To replace it would require many stations, or -powered stations. Now, will be available for a long time, so is an option. China is building a -powered station almost every week—and that is just . But China also has an -usage growth of nine or ten per cent per year. This is an exponential curve. This is not sustainable. So we will see, at one point, an increase in the price of . When you have a barrel going for two hundred dollars or three hundred dollars, it will be felt throughout the world economies.”

[…] Janeschitz envisions a future in which thousands of commercial thermonuclear reactors will one day operate, with plasmas burning within: points of astral light across the globe. “In my opinion, you need very big fusion power to make it viable—two- or three-gigawatt power stations,” he told me. He believes that political will and imagination are the crucial factors in determining when this vision becomes reality. This belief, expressed in this way, is common among his peers, who often use “political will” as a synonym for money. South Korea has a lot of political will. At the moment, China is building a fusion-research facility, in Huainan, that resembles a small metropolis, with an Epcot-like orb at its center, and it is even designing a reactor prototype. As one ITER official joked, “We make a modification to ITER on a Friday, and by Monday they have added it to the design of their machine.” [Source]

The facility—the EAST, or Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (itself, Khatchadourian explains, short for the Russian toroidalnaya kamera s aksialnym magnitnym polem, or “toroidal chamber with axial magnetic field”)—achieved a major advance in plasma containment time last last year. Although mentioned only a handful of times in Khatchadourian’s piece, China’s efforts cast a long shadow over it in light of ITER’s litany of stops and false starts and the “hare and tortoise” progress of the Chinese space program.

China Digital Times

8 Comments on "Fusion Power, China, and Political Will"

  1. deedl on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 12:22 pm 

    Half a century of political will did nothing to bring us closer to workung fusion, while PV prices fell 99% in the last four decades. So if there is a chance of having an energy source after fossile fuels it will be fusion … 149 million kilometers away from us ^^

  2. Davy, Hermann, MO on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 1:03 pm 

    Human technical exceptionalism deceiving another “lobbyist of plenty” this time in China. Mentioned here earlier on this site regarding economic fusion power it is always mentioned 10 years out or more. That is “speak” for will not scale and is not technically possible. Again huge amounts of investment to maybe produce a small amount power more than is introduced into the process. I imagine a negative EROI BY A LONG SHOT. Game is over with fusion. It is a huge waste of resources and a false profit of plenty

  3. ulenspiegel on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 2:32 pm 

    Why do people assume that fusion would provide CHEAP energy?

    All assumptions in respect to costs were simple models on base of costs of fisson.

    Iter, the lab bench version is still a pipe dream, a prototype of a industrial fusion reactor would take additional 10 years.

    Why this uncritical belief that fusion is a better alternative than REs?

  4. ghung on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 3:03 pm 

    Suppose for a minute that fusion becomes a scalable reality. Then what?

  5. Davey on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 3:08 pm 

    Ghung – still the predicament of limits of growth in an overshoot of our carrying capacity on a decending energy gradient. The all important variable time is not enough to overcome entropic decay in society preventing our growth based society from growing thereby causing colla

  6. GregT on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 4:19 pm 

    “Suppose for a minute that fusion becomes a scalable reality. Then what?”

    No more possibility of a ‘managed’ collapse. Nature determines the outcome of the human experience.

  7. Poordogabone on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 5:59 pm 

    We are 60/70 years past our golden age of science/technology. I don’t see how, short of a miracle, we would reverse that trend. When enough people take to the streets for not being able to afford the basic necessities of life, they’ll stop the $ guzzling fusion projects and concentrate on angry and hungry crowd management.

  8. Arthur on Tue, 25th Feb 2014 8:02 pm 

    To say something nice about fusion power: it works, on the sun. But that’s about it. We are simply running out of time to gamble on that option. We have something that works, a derivative of fusion power: wind and solar. Maybe fusion will work in the 22nd century, for the coming decades we will witness solar panels to be mounted on all roofs. In the sixties you had centralized computer data centers, 25 years later computers invaded the homes. Won’t be different with power stations. Distributed power generation is the key word.

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