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Nuclear fusion is ‘a question of when, not if’

Nuclear fusion is ‘a question of when, not if’ thumbnail

The prospects for developing nuclear fusion as a feasible source of energy have significantly improved, say experts.

The UK government has recently announced an investment of £200m to deliver electricity from a fusion reactor by 2040.

Private companies and governments have told the BBC they aim to have demonstration models working within five years.

But huge hurdles remain, say critics.

With the price of wind and solar continuing to drop, experts say these existing renewables might offer a more economical and timely method of tackling climate change and generating energy than an unproven technology like fusion.

Nuclear fusion is an attempt to replicate the processes of the Sun on Earth. It differs significantly from nuclear fission, which has been our only way of getting electricity from atoms since the 1950s.

Fission has proven to be hugely expensive. It generates large amounts of radioactive waste and raises serious concerns about safety and the proliferation of weapons.

So what exactly is fusion?

Fusion is the process that drives our Sun.

Every single second, millions of tonnes of hydrogen atoms crash together in the tremendous temperatures and pressures of our parent star. This forces them to break their atomic bonds and fuse to make the heavier element, helium.

Image copyright ITER
Image caption The giant Iter site in southern France aims to have its first plasma generated in 2025

Natural, solar fusion generates enormous quantities of heat and light.

For decades, researchers have been trying to replicate this process on Earth, or “build the Sun in a box” as one physicist dubbed it. The basic idea is to take a type of hydrogen gas, heat it to more than 100 million degrees until it forms a thin, fragile cloud called a plasma, and then control it with powerful magnets until the atoms fuse and release energy.

Potentially, it can generate power that is low carbon, with much smaller amounts of waste. It also comes without the danger of explosions.

To deliver the fusion concept, countries have focused their energies on a major international co-operative effort called Iter.

Giant step forward or a white elephant?

The Iter project involves 35 countries and, right now, it is constructing a huge test reactor in southern France.

The plan is to have the first plasma generated in 2025. However, getting from this step to producing energy is extremely difficult.

Iter has also been beset by long delays and budget overspend which means it is unlikely to have a demonstration fusion power plant working even by 2050.

“One of the reasons that Iter is late is that it is really, really hard,” said Prof Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

“What we are doing is fundamentally pushing the barriers of what’s known in the technology world. And of course you reach hurdles and you have to overcome them, which we do all the time and Iter will happen, I am completely convinced of it.”

Image copyright General Fusion
Image caption General Fusion believe their approach to fusion will work within five years

Until Iter is up and running in 2025, the UK based Joint European Torus (Jet) remains the world’s largest fusion experiment.

It has secured EU funding until the end of 2020, but what happens after that, and the participation of the UK in Iter after Brexit remain unclear.

To give some sense of certainty, the UK government recently announced £220m for the conceptual design of a fusion power station by 2040.

Over the next four years, researchers based at Culham in Oxfordshire will develop designs for a fusion power plant called Step or Spherical Tokomak for Energy Production.

How will the UK make fusion work?

The most widely known approach to making fusion happen involves a doughnut shaped vacuum chamber called a Tokomak. Hydrogen gas is heated to 100 million degrees C at which point it become a plasma. Powerful magnets are used to confine and steer the plasma until fusion occurs.

In the UK, researchers have developed a different form of Tokamak, that more resembles an apple core than a doughnut. Called a Spherical Tokamak, it has the advantage of being more compact, potentially allowing future power plants to be located in towns and cities.

“If you look at some of the very big units, the big machines that we are looking at, just finding geographically somewhere to put them is difficult,” said Nanna Heiberg from the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

“What you really want to do is put them close to where the energy is required. And so if you can do them in a much smaller footprint, you can put them closer to the users and you can put more of them around the country for example.”

So where is the excitement about fusion coming from?

While governments are wrestling with Iter, many are also driving ahead with their own national plans. China, India, Russia and the US among others are working on developing commercial reactors.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Building the “sun in a box” has remained outside the grip of scientists for decades

As well as the UK government putting cash in, the European Investment Bank is pumping hundreds of millions of euros into an Italian programme to produce fusion energy by 2050.

But perhaps the major excitement comes from private companies. They are usually smaller, nimbler, and they develop by making mistakes and learning from them quickly.

There are now dozens of them around the world, raising funds and pushing forward often with different approaches to fusion than that seen in Iter and in the UK.

Here’s a brief sample of some different approaches to fusion.

First Light: This company originated in the University of Oxford and was founded specifically to address the urgent need to decarbonise the global energy system. Their idea involves firing a projectile at a target that contains hydrogen atoms. The shockwave from the impact of the projectile creates a shockwave that crushes the fuel and briefly this reaction will produce plasma that is hotter than the sun and denser than lead.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems: A private company created by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) staff, CFS has raised significant funding of over $100m. It is focusing on developing a Tokamak system but its key innovation is in superconducting magnets. They hope to build powerful enough magnets so they can build smaller and cheaper Tokomaks to contain the plasmas required to generate fusion.

TAE Technologies: With backing from Google and other high tech investors, this California-based company is using a different mix of fuel to develop smaller, cheaper reactors. They want to use hydrogen and boron as both elements are readily available and non-radioactive. Their prototype is a cylindrical colliding beam fusion reactor (CBFR) that heats hydrogen gas to form two rings of plasma. These are merged and held together with beams of neutral particles to make it hotter and last longer.

US Navy: Worried about how to power their ships in the future, the US Navy has filed a patent for a “plasma compression fusion device”. The patent says that it would use magnetic fields to create “accelerated vibration and/or accelerated spin”. The idea would be to make fusion power reactors small enough to be portable. There’s a lot of scepticism that this approach will work.

‘A ball of liquid metal…’

One of the main challengers with ambitions to make fusion work is a company based in British Columbia, Canada called General Fusion. Their approach, which has gathered a lot of attention and backing from the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, combines cutting edge physics with off the shelf technology.

They call their system “magnetised target fusion”.

This approach sees a hot gas plasma injected into a ball of liquid metal inside a steel sphere. It is then compressed by pistons, much like in a diesel engine.

“The pistons all fire simultaneously and collapse the cavity with the fuel inside,” said Michael Delage, the company’s chief technology officer.

“So at the peak of that compression when the fuel bursts into fusion reaction, it is surrounded on all sides by liquid metal so the energy goes into the metal and you take this hot liquid metal and boil water, make steam and make electricity.”

General Fusion say they hope to have a working model within five years.

Why hasn’t fusion worked so far?

Despite the hopes, no one to date has managed to get more energy out of a fusion experiment than they have put in.

Most experts are confident the idea will work, but many believe that it is a matter of scale. To make it work, you have to go large.

“I think fusion needs resources to really make it work,” said Prof Ian Chapman from UKAEA. “You could do that within a company or a country but you really need to have the requisite scale and resources.”

Image copyright General Fusion
Image caption The compression system for the General Fusion reactor featuring large scale pistons

“When ITER works, and I say when, not if, it will be a step change for fusion and you will see massive investment come into the field.”

Will renewable energy make fusion redundant?

In 2018, the IPCC reported that emissions of carbon dioxide need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 to keep the rise in global temperatures under 1.5C.

Getting to that point requires a rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector. The UK has committed to Net Zero emissions by 2050 which will require the deployment of wind and solar on a massive scale. Some argue this is should be a greater priority for Britain, rather than spending large sums on experimental fusion reactors.

“The cost of renewables has shot down while the cost of the world fusion project, Iter has gone up and it now looks very unlikely they will be able to compete without new ideas,” said Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, a one time chair of the ITER council and a respected British physicist.

“I don’t think this means we should give up on fusion, there are ways it could become cheaper but it is not going to be there immediately when we need in the UK at least.”

Others involved in the fusion industry take a different view.

“If you’re a country like Malaysia, that has a high carbon intensity of its energy system, and you’re trying to move away from coal, there’s not a lot of options today,” said Chris Mowry, General Fusion’s chief executive.

“This is the type of application we’re focused on. And even in countries like Canada, which have a fair amount of renewables, it can never be 100% renewables.”

“And so we need a carbon free source of energy that can complement renewables in the future.”


76 Comments on "Nuclear fusion is ‘a question of when, not if’"

  1. makati1 on Thu, 7th Nov 2019 8:06 pm 

    Question: How can you go to war with your “enemies” if they supply the parts for your weapons?

    “US Navy’s ‘fragile’ supply chain could depend on Russia and China for parts”–7106948.html

    The US mostly assembles parts made elsewhere. For instance: parts for the F35 come from over 80 countries. What happens in a war if the supply train stops? I don’t think duct tape and bailing wire is enough. LMAO!

  2. full woke supremacist muzzies jerk i knew some wrong when a pretty little white girl ran to a black man's arms dead giveaway deeeeeeeed giveaway on Thu, 7th Nov 2019 8:40 pm 

    supertard glenn roberts featured a story muzzies killed 100 students in mosul.
    the spin is muzzies aren’t real. then why the sea burrial of muzzie died like a dog.

    this type of back pedaling is what drove supertard glenn roberts to document the facts on his website thereligionofpeace . today we have muzzies spinning constanly like a yoyo in full audience of the world and modern media. i believe this won’t last long and the days of muzzies are numbered.

    right now supertards are deploying massive number of muzzies anti rape machine, muzzies amputation machine, muzzie hamster machine

  3. Davy on Thu, 7th Nov 2019 9:20 pm 

    Did I mention schooling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Schooling is all about the lowest common denominator.

    Take me for example. No matter how hard you try, you can’t fix stupid.

  4. Sissyfuss on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 10:04 am 

    OT, if the sun has figured out fusion surely we exceptional creatures can not only replicate it, we can perfect it. I’m sure the Clusionator has a working model heating his outhouse as we text.

  5. Outcast_Searcher on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 11:45 am 

    Since it’s always 40 years away, it ought to become practical around the time it’s far too late to prevent AGW from becoming too severe to be survivable by humans in any meaningful number. Clever monkeys we are, after all.

  6. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 11:56 am 

    “OT, if the sun has figured out fusion surely we exceptional creatures can not only replicate it, we can perfect it. I’m sure the Clusionator has a working model heating his outhouse as we text.”

    I don’t. My advice would be to travel to the sun, at night mind you, land there, steal the secrets and make sure to get the hell out of there before dawn.

  7. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 12:05 pm 

    Wow, what a way to start the weekend!

    The lefties of der Spiegel AGREE WITH MACRON that NATO is dead!

    “Macron hat recht” (Macron is right)

    Europa muss auf seine militärische Souveränität hinarbeiten und zudem den Dialog mit Russland suchen. Man kann das “Neogaullismus” nennen. Oder schlicht Realismus. Denn tatsächlich hat Macron nur weitergedacht, was die deutsche Kanzlerin schon vor mehr als zwei Jahren formuliert hatte, in jenem Bierzelt im bayrischen Trudering, wo sie im Sommer 2017 diagnostizierte, dass Europa sich auf die USA nicht mehr so wie früher verlassen könne und deshalb seine Sicherheit “ein Stück weit” selbst in die Hand nehmen müsse.

    (Europe must work towards military sovereignty and seek dialogue with Russia. One can call this “neo-zeroullism”. Or simply realism. In fact, Macron just kept on thinking, as the German Chancellor had formulated more than two years ago, in that beer tent in Trudering, Bavaria, where she diagnosed in the summer of 2017 that Europe could no longer rely on the US as it could have done before and therefore it must take its security “a bit further” into their own hands.)

    PBM is no longer a matter for European right-wingers, like me. Even lefties begin to develop an appetite for a European revival.

  8. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 12:06 pm 


  9. Davy on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 12:13 pm 

    “The lefties of der Spiegel AGREE WITH MACRON that NATO is dead!”

    Tell that to the generals who continue to coordinate and practice war fighting capabilities. If you think MSM is the news good luck. OH, and Macron is a whore.

  10. Davy on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 12:15 pm 

    OH, and cloggo, I am not a fan of NATO but I am a fan of close cooperation with Europe on military matters. I am also a fan of bringing Russia in from the cold.

  11. The Board on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 4:00 pm 

    Nobody gives a crap what you think dumbass davy.

    go away

  12. we ate ribs with this dude on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 4:11 pm 

    why supertards advocating population reduction of infidels constantly, many call for malthusian, and Greta calls for poverty of developed nations. this has no practicality because it’s self inflicted and would affect rich whiteys and supertard’s learjet. the reasons are endless and as an example, these infidels have no history of jihad against other infidels. the muzzies wage jihad constantly for 1400 years against muzzies and infidels. muzzies report to allah the pedifile. for this reason muzzies are not people of this world. this seems like a good starting point to get rid of people not of this world if getting rid of inner struggle muzzies for the sake of safety isn’t a good enough reason. then go ahead and cull muzzies. go for it. there’s no longer a need for politics because kinetic parity is way out of balance nowadays.

  13. JuanP garbage on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 6:58 pm 


    we ate ribs with this dude said why supertards advocating population reduction of…

    The Board said Nobody gives a crap what you think dumbass davy. g…

    Davy said i wish JuanP would come back. I miss him REAL bad…

  14. joe on Fri, 8th Nov 2019 11:51 pm 

    The new gilded age is back as Mike Bloomberg enters the race for the ‘calling’ of potus. The trump revolution is complete as billionaires squabble over which elitist will control the unwashed masses. Bloomberg’s policies will be proglobalist liberalism while they buy up their own brand of populism madness. The stage is being set for the collapse of another Rome. Pbuh. Trump will be impeached and removed from office and he will not be convicted of a serious crime. The coup must succeed when it begins. Obama, killary, and crazy joe must not be found guilty of corruption or violating FISA because the consequences for the deepstate would be to expose them as the real power in the US. trump was warned they gave 50 ways from Sunday to get back at you…..

  15. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 1:19 am 

    “The new gilded age is back as Mike Bloomberg enters the race for the ‘calling’ of potus.”

    That’s an important sign.

    The US, until 2016, was in the firm hands of the so-called Deep State. Now every liberal country on earth country has a Deep State. Holland for instance has its “200 van Mertens”…

    … Jan Mertens was a Dutch trade unionist who in 1968 claimed that the Netherlands was essentially run by 200 people, who owned the state and the economy.

    The US is a little larger, so there the Deep State consists of a few thousand people rather than 200.

    The only alternative to a Deep State is an authoritarian leader. With varying degrees of authoritarianism we have seen in recent history: Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Putin and Trump.

    The difference between the US Deep State and the European ones (minus UK and to a lesser extent France) is that said Deep State is dominated by Those Who Can’t be Named, let’s call them Friends of Israel. The reason for that state of affairs in Europe is because of a certain Austrian who put said Deep Staters on a Train to the East.

    Now back to Bloomberg.

    The side-lined Deep State fears that Trump could be reelected and that system occupational hazard Trump could become the US version of Gorbachev, terminating not only empire but also the US itself.

    The Deep State prefers to work with reliable goy puppets, like Clinton or Biden (not Gabbard) in order to hide to the boobs who really runs the US.

    Bloomberg stepping up the plate would be a risky move, namely that the difficult to control chattering classes on the internet would link Bloomberg’s policies to his identity.

  16. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 2:29 am 

    “OH, and cloggo, I am not a fan of NATO but I am a fan of close cooperation with Europe on military matters. I am also a fan of bringing Russia in from the cold.”

    Really? So you are now backing my neo-Huntingtonian Eurosphere concept?

    We’re making quite some progress here!

    The take-away point though is that it is YOUR country that needs to be brought in from the (((cold)))), not Russia. That country came in from the (((cold))) after 2000, thanks to Vlad the Great.

    But perhaps we can make Donnie Great Again as well!

    “Trump considering Putin invite to parade of Russian military might”

    Trump essentially is the same as he was during the 2016 campaign (“wouldn’t it be nice to get along with Russia?”). It seams to be not the case, but that is only because DJT is embroiled in a life-and-death struggle with the evil deep state, that is fighting tooth-and-nail to dump DJT at the earliest opportunity.

  17. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 2:59 am 

    To illustrate… naming names… the Dutch Deep State in 2018:

    Overwhelmingly ethnic Dutch, two Muslims (one mayor of Rotterdam), a handful of “friends of Israel”, two people of color (from the Dutch Antilles), a growing number of women (more than I would expect). Most are Hollanders (not Netherlanders), that is from the North- and South-Holland provinces facing Britain, very Anglophile, very globalist, very liberal, very political correct but also very EU-minded (if faced with a stark choice, they will chose for Europe, not Anglosphere, although they don’t like to have to make that choice). They determine the international liberal aura of the Netherlands and they are the reason why joe esquire thinks (wrongly) I am not Dutch. There is no such thing as ZOG-Netherlands, yet indirectly it does exist, because since 1945 we are forced member of the US empire and the Dutch elite has accommodated to that fact.

    The two western European countries in contrast that are closest to breaking with the western status quo are Italy and France, in that order.

    To illustrate the EU-Anglo dilemma for the Dutch elite, here is a VERY Anglosphile and very prominent Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk. He is not top 200 in the sense above, but certainly top-20 opinion maker in the Netherlands. I like him for his aura and smartness, his liberal values/opinions not so much:

    He HATES Brexit and rubs it in with his British collocutor (as a neo-Gaullist, em sorry, as a “Neder-Natzi”.lol, in contrast I love Brexit). He is going back to the Netherlands because of Brexit.

  18. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 4:02 am 

    The End of The West latest (aka Brexit):

    There is absolutely a Boris-effect.

    CON – 38%
    LAB – 26%
    LIB – 17%
    BRX – 10%
    SNP – 4%
    GRN – 4%

    It seems almost certain that the Tories are going to win the election… in the sense of remaining the largest party in Westminster.

    However, this is going to be the ultimate Brexit-election and a new phenomenon is developing, namely organizing the elections such that it is a quasi-2nd Brexit-referendum. Enter strategic alliances between parties.

    The irony is that the no-deal Brexit party could torpedo Brexit altogether, now that BoJo has snubbed an alliance as proposed by Farage, as a consequence of the very Anglo “winner takes it all” rather than proportional electoral system like in continental Europe:

    “Nigel Farage won’t win a SINGLE seat but COULD cost Boris a majority, claims academic”

    “Splitting of the conservative voter” in action.

    It is very well possible that despite a BoJo-victory, the UK will end up once again with a hung-parliament.

    BoJo isn’t a no-dealer, he is even a luke-warm Brexiteer, but he is most of all a passionate PM and perfectly content with his EU-deal, as he gambles he will be able to carry it through parliament and I hope he will… so he can leave the EU, and Britain can be swapped for Russia, in order for Europe with 640 million white population base to return to planetary pole position, a position where she belongs on the bases of its history and immense scientific, technological and cultural preeminence, eclipsing not only the third world, but also China and even Anglosphere, nuclear armed to the teeth and in the position to shop ourselves ca. 120 million Americans with an attitude, who opine that white lives matter after all. End good, all good. Colonization of the solar system is next, after completion of the renewable energy transition.

    It took Europe 440 years between this…

    … and the almost complete colonization of the world in 1939, until assorted globalist inconveniences like Anglos and Soviets, led by the youknowwho, showed up to pee in the European soup.

    Meanwhile Russia has been tamed and is yearning to become a tenant of Gorbachev’s European House. That’s all we need to really shift the geopolitical balance. And we’ll deal with the Americans “after the break” (CW2). The defeat of the ZOG in Syria at the hands of Russia is only a small sign of things to come.

  19. makati1 on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 4:45 am 

    “Recent tests in the New York area show that less than half of all students are proficient in English and Math, and in some areas the number is as low as 13%. This is true in most of the country, literacy being marginal in most American secondary schools. In an article published in the San Jose Mercury in 2001, it was documented that 75% of California high school seniors could not read well enough to pass their exit exams…

    In problem-solving in a technological environment and the use of “cognitive skills required to solve problems”, the Americans were at the bottom.”

    And that bottom is in math, vocabulary, language usage and technology, with Chinese students far surpassing the Americans even when using a language that is not their own…

    In spite of all the branding propaganda and rhetoric, the decreasing quality of American education is well-known in the West. It is not a secret that for many decades the US has been “dumbing-down” its education at all levels…

    The amount of mythological propaganda and marketing surrounding American education is stunning.”

    Only a few tidbits on the dumbing down of Amerika. Too many examples to post here, but the article is easy to read for you dumbed down Amerikans. lol

  20. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 6:15 am 

    “You’ve got mail!”

    Every few days I receive an email about changing locations of the offshore wind turbine installation vessel Aeolus. The ship is currently involved in building Borssele I-V, to be the largest offshore wind park in the world (but not for long):

    Every email means 4 more monopiles ramned into the seabed out of Vlissingen (“Flushing”)

    First “picture” of Flushing in 1669:,_1669.jpg


    Europe has many of these ships:

    Currently 9.5 MW turbines will be installed, in a few years time 15 MW. The Aeolus can install 1 monopile per 24 hours.

    The Netherlands has an average electricity consumption of 13 GW. 13000/15 = 867 wind turbines. Assume a capacity factor of 50% to arrive at 1734 turbines to cover the entire conventional (current) Dutch electricity needs. The Aeolus is able to install these (monopiles) in less than 5 years.

    Multiply that with a factor of 2 to eliminate all fossil fuel and you arrive at 10 years.

    In other words, the entire renewable energy transition for the Netherlands could be carried out before 2030, assuming storage will have sufficiently developed.

    In the sixties, the Netherlands managed to complete the natural gas transition within a decade. The Netherlands is now much wealthier than it was in the sixties.

    And then there are still people who seriously think we have an energy problem.ROFL

    After 2030-2050 the Netherlands no longer will have a fossil fuel bill. All energy will be free (minus maintenance of infrastructure).

  21. Davy on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 7:11 am 

    “Daimler To Slash 10% Of Management Amid Global Auto Industry Bust” zero hedge

    “Daimler AG will slash 10% of its top management, or about 1,100 leadership positions, in the near term, as the global economy continues to grind to a halt. German daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, first broke the story of the sweeping cost reduction program Friday morning, citing a letter distributed by administrators of the carmaker’s works council. The global auto bust is what’s helping spur a vicious synchronized global slowdown. The reaches of the auto market go deep, with long supply chains and large consumption of raw materials, textiles, chemicals, and electronics. The industry is home to millions of jobs, and last year, the sector shrank for the first time since the global financial crisis.”

  22. Davy on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 11:05 am 

    I posted the above copy and pasted artical because it has nothing at all to do with nucular fusion. Just more spam I found over at zero-iq hedge. We all no intelligence is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  23. JuanP ID theft on Sat, 9th Nov 2019 11:20 am 

    This is from stupid:

    Davy said I posted the above copy and pasted artical because…

  24. Rik on Sun, 10th Nov 2019 5:48 pm 

    Europe needs a new system: the 4th Reich.

  25. Rik on Sun, 10th Nov 2019 7:26 pm 

    America should pull out of the UN.

  26. Richard Guenette on Sat, 23rd Nov 2019 7:39 pm 

    Macron is married to a woman, old enough to be his mother. Gross.

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