Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on March 18, 2018

Bookmark and Share

The Guardian view on fusion: A moment of truth

Alternative Energy

There has been a lot of buzz about fusion in the past few days, after the announcement of “a dramatic leap forward” from a collaboration between MIT and a newly formed private company, followed by declarations that “the world’s energy systems will be transformed.”

Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company involved—Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support from an Italian energy company—said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed, and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”

Such projections may be overly optimistic.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been examining the commercial exploitation of fusion as an energy source for some time; publishing a story a year ago in these pages about even the desirability of such technology (“Fusion reactors: Not what they’re cracked up to be“). And a few weeks ago, we published an update, looking at the topic with the most advanced real-world approach in mind. (“ITER is a showcase…for the drawbacks of fusion.”)

Both stories were written by Daniel Jassby, a research physicist who worked on nuclear fusion experiments for 25 years at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in New Jersey—who notes that “Now that I have retired, I have begun to look at the whole fusion enterprise more dispassionately, and I feel that a working, everyday, commercial fusion reactor would cause more problems than it would solve.”

Roughly along these same lines, an editorial just appeared in The Guardian about even the very feasibility of making fusion into a widespread, commercial energy source in the near future. Some of the most compelling lines: “If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. For decades scientists struggled to recreate a working sun in their laboratories—little surprise perhaps as they were attempting to fuse atomic nuclei in a superheated soup. Commercial fusion remains a dream. Yet in recent years the impossible became merely improbable and then, it felt almost overnight, technically feasible. For the last decade there has been a flurry of interest –and not a little incredulity—about claims, often made by companies backed by billionaires and run by bold physicists, that market-ready fusion reactors were just around the corner…”

“…If it falls short then there must be a realistic rethink of fusion’s potential. After all, the money that has been poured into it could have been spent on cheap solar technology which would allow humanity to be powered by a fusion reactor that’s 150 million kilometers away, called the sun.”

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

14 Comments on "The Guardian view on fusion: A moment of truth"

  1. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 18th Mar 2018 4:25 pm 

    “…If it falls short then there must be a realistic rethink of fusion’s potential. After all, the money that has been poured into it could have been spent on cheap solar technology which would allow humanity to be powered by a fusion reactor that’s 150 million kilometers away, called the sun.”

    It might be time to rethink this one—-

  2. Cloggie on Sun, 18th Mar 2018 5:04 pm 

    Nice thought: fusion technology works, it’s called a solar panel.

    Good. Now that we have got fusion to work, let’s install it.

  3. Anonymouse1 on Sun, 18th Mar 2018 5:10 pm

    Should be required reading for the legions of fusion fan-boys and fake science news writers that perpetually extol the three central tenets of Fusion power. (At least in their eyes). Fusions ‘holy trinity’ as it were.

    Safe – Clean – Unlimited.

    (cost has been ex-communicated from fusions holy trinity and rightly so).

    After reading that the only question one could sensibly ask is, why are ‘we’ (they actually) even bothering? What problem’
    are they trying to solve? Or think fusion is going to solve. If anything, I can’t help but think they are trying to create an entirely NEW set of intractable problems, so ‘they’ can create whole new industries dedicated solely to ‘solving’ all the new problems fusion would create.

    The author rightly concedes a point none of the fusion fan boys can or would even consider. Fusion power plants would create more problems than they would ‘solve’. And I think that assessment is a generous one since if the current society is anything to go by, we would waste fusion electrical power just as frivolously as we do non-fusion power. If there is any ‘upside’ at all, its that fusion power would be too-expensive-to-meter.

  4. Plantagenet on Sun, 18th Mar 2018 11:56 pm 

    Carbon-free energy from fusion power? An end to the use of coal, NG and oil? This could be just what the world needs.


  5. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 19th Mar 2018 12:58 am 

    The link takes me to a cartoon image.
    Cartoons don’t generate power.
    Fusion don’t generate power.

    But makes great paychecks for fusion researchers.

    Until a pedestrian bridge in Florida lands on them. Flattens them out, right next to campus. oops.

  6. Kat C on Mon, 19th Mar 2018 5:34 am 

    “The claim that nuclear electricity would be “too cheap to meter” is not apocryphal: That’s what Lewis L. Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1954, told the National Association of Science Writers in New York in September of that year. And equally audacious claims were still to come. In 1971, Glenn Seaborg, a Nobelist and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission then, predicted that nuclear reactors would generate nearly all the world’s electricity by 2000. Seaborg envisioned giant coastal “nuplexes” desalinating sea water, geostationary satellites powered by compact nuclear reactors for broadcasting TV programs, nuclear-powered tankers, and nuclear explosives that would alter the flow of rivers and excavate underground cities. Meanwhile, nuclear propulsion would carry men to Mars.”

    The green revolution was supposed to end hunger, instead we now have more people to be hungry.

    Promises, promises, promises.. Only things sure in life are death and taxes…

  7. Bob on Mon, 19th Mar 2018 12:50 pm 

    FusionFusionFusion! Enough already! Bring me a working reactor or stop with this nonsense! Fusion always has been and always will be financially unviable. Compare this nonsense to a batch hot water heater I installed in 1999 and rebuilt in 2014: it has been heating my hot water all this time and with rebuilds will do so forever! Fusion, go away!

  8. Lawfish1964 on Mon, 19th Mar 2018 1:57 pm 

    I thought fusion power was always only 10 years away? Now it’s 15?

  9. Kenz300 on Mon, 19th Mar 2018 2:33 pm 

    Wind and solar are now so cheap and getting cheaper why would anyone want something more expensive like fossil fuels or nuclear.

  10. Sissyfuss on Mon, 19th Mar 2018 6:25 pm 

    I remember reading sci-fi comic books stating that we would in the near future be running New York City for a year on a bucket of seawater. I bought into the hype for years but not for another century.

  11. Seaharvester on Wed, 21st Mar 2018 8:05 pm 

    kenz – wind and solar will remain niche players until storage technology becomes cheap enough to solve the baseload problem on a large and widespread scale.

  12. Boat on Wed, 21st Mar 2018 9:07 pm 


    How big is a niche?

  13. Boat on Wed, 21st Mar 2018 9:11 pm 


    All the costs are up-front. Give me free wind and solar for 25 years and I promise to pay it off the last 5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *