The Future of Energy
Posted by Jeff Condon on December 30, 2008
Many of us know that fission nuclear has been given a bad rap by extremist groups but there is another beast in development which in my mind represents the true “green” energy source. The trouble is twofold, first the technology needs more time but the second is that the many of the same extremists have already rejected it. People who think global warming is so bad should be screaming for money to be injected into it but I’ve heard nothing.
Fusion reactors have many advantages over fission but two stand out above the rest. First is they can’t melt down. If things go out of control, they shut off, that’s it. Second, they don’t generate the long half-life wastes that fission reactors do.
There is a major project being built in France called ITER, using hydrogen isotopes called deuterium and tritium helium is produced releasing huge energy. True alchemy!
Link to ITER website is HERE.
The ITER project is quite well known and uses a Tokamak reactor which is a torroidal shaped vacuum filled chamber which uses strong magnetic fields to guide plasma in a circle at high speed. The plasma is heated through different means to high temps where fusion occurs.
You can see a person standing in the bottom for scale. For once the US is not the primary developer of this technology, this is a European project with other countries helping pay the bill including the US, China and Russia. I wish the US was also developing a tokamak but our country is doing something different and less well known.
A Lawrence Livermore National Labs project, is planning to use lasers to heat the outer layer’s of a pellet to rediculous temp causing an explosion which compresses the center of the pellet to fusion levels. Also a unique facility, the scientists plan to produce 10 times the input laser energy during the fusion ‘explosion’ process.
What’s also interesting about this project is that it is nearing completion.
Inside the facility, the scientists are impatient. After 11 years of development work, they want the last of the lenses and mirrors for the laser to be put in place and the tedious task of adjusting and aiming the laser to be over, a process they fear could take up to a year before they can successfully achieve fusion.
It was really funded to continue study of US nuclear weapons which is why it isn’t a multinational effort. Some believe this is a more practical approach than the tokamak. We’ll find out.
These technologies get me excited, when compared to biofuel the amount of energy available is astronomical. The fuel is nearly limitless and it is a safe process. Costs aren’t even part of the discussion at this point but down the road we’ll find out if it is feasible. I would love to see more money in fusion research.
NIF link HERE.