A Century-Old Promise Remains Unfulfilled

From a small hill in the southern French region of Provence, you can see two suns. One has been blazing for four-and-a-half billion years and is setting. The other is being built by thousands of human minds and hands, and is — far more slowly — rising. The last of the real sun’s evening rays cast a magical glow over the other — an enormous construction site that could solve the biggest existential crisis in human history.

It is here, in the tiny commune of Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, that 35 countries have come together to try and master nuclear fusion, a process that occurs naturally in the sun — and all stars — but is painfully difficult to replicate on Earth.

Fusion promises a virtually limitless form of energy that, unlike fossil fuels, emits zero greenhouse gases and, unlike the nuclear fission power used today, produces no long-life radioactive waste.

Mastering it could literally save humanity from climate change, a crisis of our own making.

https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2022/05/world/iter-nuclear-f…

Fuskie
Who has been following the unfulfilled promise of nuclear fusion (not to be confused with radioactive nuclear fission) for 50 years and will remain hopeful yet skeptical until it can be demonstrated to generate more energy than required to sustain it…


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Fusion promises a virtually limitless form of energy that, unlike fossil fuels, emits zero greenhouse gases and, unlike the nuclear fission power used today, produces no long-life radioactive waste. Mastering it could literally save humanity from climate change…

If mastering fusion could ‘save humanity from climate change’ then fission could as well. I’m not sure many here see either happening.

DB2

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The difference is that fission reactors create radioactive waste that is difficult to dispose of, as well as presenting the risk of a radioactive meltdown. Fusion has neither dangerous waste or risk from failure. If its operation is interrupted, it simply shuts down with no muss, no fuss.

Fuskie
Who notes fusion has often been used in science fiction as a miracle energy source for a reason…


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If its operation is interrupted, it simply shuts down with no muss, no fuss.

Do you have any links to possible failure modes? Somehow it seems that material at 100 million degrees might go awry with some muss or fuss. BWDIK?

DB2

The difference is that fission reactors create radioactive waste that is difficult to dispose of, as well as presenting the risk of a radioactive meltdown. Fusion has neither dangerous waste or risk from failure. If its operation is interrupted, it simply shuts down with no muss, no fuss.

Right, so we can expect fusion to generate much less resistance from environmental groups, NIMBYs, scaredy-cats etc … and said resistance is why nuclear fission no longer has a prominent role in plans for a carbon-free grid, and why Japan and Germany have made little progress over the last 11 years since the Fukushima disaster prompted each to phase out nuclear power rather rapidly.

Do you have any links to possible failure modes?

When I was in college, I took a class in fusion power. As I remember, for a Tokamak style plant, one of the worst accident scenarios would be if the superconducting magnets suddenly became normal conducting. Superconductors lose their low resistance properties if the temperature gets too high. Under such a scenario, if that much current continues to be put into a normal conducting magnet, the fusion plant will nearly instantly tear itself apart.

The link below describes the “thermal quench” event, which might involve melting of the magnets. These type of accidents would certainly kill people in the power plant, but would not be much of a concern for the public outside. However, there are certainly radioactive components in a fusion plant.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S09203…

Fusion is not going to be a reality in any time scale we need to be concerned about. The engineering problems associated with the first wall will prevent any workable power plant. What we need is advanced fission power. We already know how to do fission.

  • Pete
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What we need is advanced fission power. We already know how to do fission.

  • Pete

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But we do not know how to build them on time and under budget.

Jaak

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