the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

The Future of Energy

Posted by Jeff Id 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!

fusion-pic

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.

iter-design

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.

Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star

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.

1

2

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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.


21 Responses to “The Future of Energy”

  1. David said

    * “Many of us know that fission nuclear has been given a bad rap by extremist groups … ”

    Many of US know … eh, Jeff, who is “us”?

    As to the bad rap of fission, don’t blame the extremists. Blame Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The nuclear industry might claim that these events don’t accurately portray the safety of their product, to which I say … too bad!

    Next …

    * “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.”

    Jeff, are you stupid or are you insane?

    The environmentalists aren’t opposed to nuclear fusion no more so than an atheist is opposed to God. You cannot oppose a nonexistent thing.

    Fusion Energy is a dream of the Star Trek set. It is also about as likely as Transporter and Warp technologies.

    Try again …

    Jeff, you could do better than this, can’t you?

    Oh well, guess not!

    [snip link - unrelated]

    REPLY: You make a good point about Chernobyl, but that disaster was created by the oldest technology having its safety features deliberately turned off so some guy could do a personal experiment. The newer fission technologies make meltdown very difficult to achieve even if you wanted to. These should be considered as separate and new.

    I am growing impatient with you again Dave and will start snipping your stunningly ignorant and deliberately inflammatory comments soon. BTW star trek used anti-matter. Another potential future energy.

  2. WhyNot said

    Where did this David guy (if he even is male….?)come from??? I read this blog on a regular basis and have not figured out if his responses are purposefully or naturally this ignorant. My guess is that it is the latter, low IQ, non-existent logic, a radical liberal at his best. Sorry, not on the subject, but go Jeff and go Fusion it is the FUTURE!!!

  3. Adam Gallon said

    I think you may be mixing your fission & fusion here a little.
    The “Greens” have been against fission, with its overtones of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. It’s proven to work, but has the potential of handing nuclear weapons to unstable states, regimes & terrorist organisations.
    They may not need to produce a viable fission weapon, packing nuclear fuels around a conventional explosives core would be more than sufficient for their purposes.
    The spectre of Chenobyl, TMI & Windscale are always raised.
    Chenobyl has killed people, no doubts about it, but nobody, certainly in the Western World, would consider building an RBMK-1000 reactor, a design some 40 years old and with known instability problems at certain output levels.
    For the benefit of your pet Troll, here’s further info on that.
    The experiment was being carried out despite the knowledge that safety devices weren’t working, due to political pressures to declare the unit up and running.
    A typical command-economy decision.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_accident

    TMI was a litle different, basically poor instrumentation had a major contribution.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident

    Nobody died at TMI.
    The 1957 accident at Windscale involved a reactor designed to produce various radioisotopes, it is estimated that the release of radioactive isotopes has caused an excess of 33 deaths.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windscale_fire

    The use of Deuterium & Tritium for fusion reactions is common, it’s statistically more likely for two molecules to collide simultaniously than four atoms to produce a fusion reaction.
    “Greens” haven’t got steamed up about fusion yet, because it’s not been made to work commercially. Your Troll’s actually right about that, even if he’s in need of a slap from his mother to cure his rudeness.
    If we ever do get Fusion to work commercially, it would provide all the power we could ever want.
    Sadly, it’s been many decades, with little sign of it becoming a reality.

  4. Jeff Id said

    Adam,

    Several green organizations have come out against fusion as well. We don’t hear about it as much because the public isn’t aware of fusion as Dave so eloquently pointed out.

    When you say this, I don’t think you checked out the links above.
    “Sadly, it’s been many decades, with little sign of it becoming a reality.”

    This reactor is a proof of concept, if it does what it is supposed to it will make 500MW of very expensive power. It is possible fusion could be commercially available in 40 years.

    The second link is another process which is what some consider a more viable method of power generation. Also a long way off. I think both are good signs of it becoming a reality.

  5. Phillip Bratby said

    Jeff,

    Firstly, I don’t think it too wise to ban David, his ignorance speaks for itself. Just snip what you consider irrelevant or offensive.

    Extremists have always had it in for the nuclear industry, despite its excellent record in the west (forget the Soviet experience, it’s not relevant). As has been said, no-one was killed by TMI2. Despite all the errors made by the operators, the systems prevented all but an insignificant release of activity. I remember a joke at the time of TMI2 “which has killed more, the nuclear industry or Edward Kennedy (remember Chappaquiddick?)”. Nuclear power still remains the safety method of producing electricity. How many have been killed in coal, gas and oil. Even the clean, green, wind industry kills people on a regular basis.

    Also he is ignorant to state that nuclear fusion is a non-existent thing. Think the sun or a hydrogen bomb. Nuclear fusion as a commercial source of power always seems to be 20 (or is it 50?) years away. But, yes, we should be putting lots of money and effort into turning it into a reality.

    The only answer currently to our long term power need is nuclear fission, whether the environmentalists, with their ignorance and dogma, like it or not.

    Happy New Year and keep going for it, you’re doing a great job here.

    Phil

  6. WhyNot said

    I actually was able to get my hands on a internal report on the Chernobyl accident while I was consulting in robotics for the nuclear industry. To correct Adam from the information released to the public, the accident occurred not because of faulty safety devices, but due to the disabling of ALL safety devices to run the experiment. Wiki only gives a partial account, unfortunately. It had nothing to do with “political pressures” or a “command-economy decision”. I could give further details, but….

  7. cmb said

    Nice work here, Jeff. One point – fusion reactors are apparently expected to generate significant long-lived nuclear waste in the form of used reaction chamber parts.

    There may be other radioactive outputs I’m not familiar with – for instance, I have a friend working on liquid metal jet orifices for something called HYLIFE II, jets to surround the explosion for inertia control. That material could certainly be expected to become radioactive, I should think, but is supposed to eliminate the need for chamber replacement during the plant’s 30-year lifespan, removing some of the earlier concern.

    More on HYLIFE II – http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/thyd/icf/refs.html

    (BTW, happy New Year – keep those globes warm!)

  8. DeWitt Payne said

    Then there’s the Bussard fusion reactor which fuses 11B and 1H. No neutrons are produced, only charged particles which transfer their energy to the electrostatic containment field. If it works, ITER and tokomaks in general will be a multi-billion dollar wasted investment.

  9. Jeff Id said

    DeWitt Payne,

    That’s an interesting link. I suggest others check it out. If it’s real it could be incredible. Let’s snag 1 percent of just the auto bailout back (they won’t even notice) and see if we can make fusion!

  10. The ITER is a type of Fusion type reactor based on the old Russian Tokamak design, although as far as I know, no one has yet got this type of reactor to put out more energy than is actually put in. Bussard’s WB-7 design currently under evaluation shows promise, and there’s this design at the NIF, Livermore, Ca. I think there’s even some form steam gun initiated prototype under development by an outfit called General Fusion.

  11. Miguel said

    Greens are not interested in energy, energy means economic development, they are only interested in limiting the economic development. They feel it, as insane and vicious.

    I recommend reading “Break Through” (T. Nordhaus & M. Shellenberger) counterarguing green’s strategy.

  12. John F. Pittman said

    I don’t think Jeff was wrong or exaggerating. Though, I do think the concerns about some generation or residual radioactive problems does seem to be worth considering. However, the amount of energy potential versus radiation would mean fusion would reduce our nuclear exposure quite a bit. Having worked in nuclear fuel production, and familar with wastes problems, a reduction is waste with a significant decrease in radioactive materials is much desired. Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

    Apparently a total CO2 and radiation solution is a gigantic waste of money?? Somehow, what they claim and how they propose we spend money do support those who surmize they are misanthropic. If you include the non-radioactive heavy metals in Coal and even wood and petroleum, fusion, even fission, have technical advantages over not only coal, fossil fuels, but over wind and solar, such as containment of wastes versus fossil fuels, and remarkable small footprints compared to solar and wind. Biofuels are so land intensive, their ability to support a modern society is almost non-existant, if you assume that Greenpeace and the Sierra club will continue to oppose full scale transformation of natural landscape to biofuel plantations. A likely prediction in my opinion.

    Nuclear fusion reactor project in France: an expensive and senseless nuclear stupidity http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/ITERprojectFrance
    “Congratulations to the Canadian government for refusing to waste billions of tax dollars on the ITER fusion reactor” said David H. Martin, Policy Advisor for the Sierra Club of Canada. “Fusion is a delusion. Even its supporters admit that a commercial reactor to generate electricity is at least 50 years away. The ITER reactor will not produce any electricity, and there is no guarantee that fusion will ever work. Fusion is not clean, and certainly not cheap.”

    http://www.nirs.org/press/12-19-2003/1

  13. cmb said

    It seems the generalities here keep coming apart. Once one gets away from crazies like Greenpeace (whose careers actually DO depend on alarmism), those radical lefties seem pretty enthusiastic about fusion:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/5/12/171119/055/665/333938

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/12/24/01048/939/153/425980

    It might be fun to see more informative articles here without the unresearched political digs. Those don’t seem to hold up as well as the other content. =)

  14. Jeff Id said

    Here’s an article for Adam #3 now that I have some time.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/ITERprojectFrance

    Here is another link which pretty well covers the groups which just got Obama elected.

    Environmentalists oppose ITER Fusion Reactor… Cabinet to Decide on Billion-Dollar ITER Reactor Subsidy

    http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/media/item.shtml?x=388

    he letter came from Jim Fulton, Executive Director of the David Suzuki Foundation; Elizabeth May, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada; David Pollock, Executive Director of the Pembina Institute; and Peter Tabuns, Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada. These organizations have been at the forefront of the fight to oppose climate change in Canada. The letter states:

    These people have a real goal, limiting economic development as Miguel said. They offer no solutions only non-solutions. Anything good for development is rejected, often for amazingly stupid reasons. Limited resources requires government distribution which limits the power of individuals.

    You can pound on me all you want about that but it is your world too.

  15. Chris H said

    Something I want to mention, although I’m not going to argue it further, is that very few deaths can actually be attributed to Chernobyl – something like a 100 if my memory serves, according to a BBC (Horizon?) documentary I saw. And the news paper stories of malformed babies/etc are pure misinformation (the rates of such births have not increased anywhere).

    I am NOT saying that Chernobyl should be ignored, but the worries about nuclear power have been blown out of all proportion – mainly because people mentally link nuclear power to nuclear weapons (which is like comparing a small stove fire with TNT explosions – both rely on combustion, but the former provides many benefits if you are careful, while the latter is on a completely different scale & was designed to be a weapon).

  16. David said

    Eh … I can see that the delusional are still dreaming about fusion power.

    Too bad for you. Dreaming about something which will never come.

    http://www.flickr.com/dmathew1

  17. John F. Pittman said

    “Never” is an awfully long time. Now who is dreaming(or is it scheming?) to deny future generations of THEIR capabilities? Their dreams? Their “Manhatten projects?”

  18. David said

    Hello John,

    Yes, John, when I said “never” I meant never. The present generation will never attain fusion power. All future generations will not attain fusion power. They may dream of fusion power and engage in as many futile Manhattan Projects as they wish, they never will have fusion power.

    That’s just reality. Accept it. Reject it. Think whatever you wish. The outcome will remain the same and as described above: Never.

    http://www.flickr.com/dmathew1

  19. TSH said

    What was the death toll for chernobyl?

    Careful david, smarter men than you once claimed heavier than air flight was unattainable.

  20. David said

    Hello TSH,

    What was the death toll for chernobyl?

    It doesn’t even matter … what matters is that there is a huge region of the Ukraine which is uninhabitable because of the radiation and a generation of genetically deformed children. Not that the nuclear lobby cares about such things, not at all, no more than the coal lobby cares about melting icecaps.

    Careful david, smarter men than you once claimed heavier than air flight was unattainable.

    In this case, though, you are involved in an argument with the laws of physics. You might as well dream of the Perpetual Motion Machine … (not that you don’t!).

    Anyhow, greater men than you promised all sorts of miraculous technologies by the 21st century. Here we are in the 21st century without those technologies. Where is the lunar base? Where is the Martian base?

    http://www.flickr.com/dmathew1

  21. frost said

    Fission reactors could also be improved substantially. Some distinct possibilities:

    * no long lived fission products (50 year half lives, rather than 100,000 years)
    * hence no production of fissile materials that could be stolen by terrorists
    * greatly reduced possibility of runaway reactions
    * more efficient production of electricity
    * direct production of hydrogen,e.g. for use in cars
    * use of other fuels beside rare U235, such as U238 & Thorium

    More information here.

    Of course you can’t get all of these advantages with all of the proposed technologies and there are significant problems to be solved, like finding materials that survive 800 deg C temperatures, but you’d think that it would make sense to fund investigation into these technologies.

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