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13 February 2014

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Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

The application of fusion energy to commercial power generation is still unfeasible because of the damage that the containment vessel sustains during its operation; every few months the fusion reactor has to be shut down and its containment vessel replaced.

No commercially viable power plant can operate in that manner.

Existing materials will not suffice; the required improvements in material properties - in terms of scientific and technologic leap that they would entail - are on the par with what would be required for the space elevator to become a reality.

However, for space travel the fusion reactor might be useful; the containment vessel need not be maintained indefinitely and the reactor need not operate all the time; it would work to propel the ship while a fission reactor would supply the power to the other systems outside of the propulsion.

It is interesting that the Princeton Plasma Laboratory, after 60 years of funding, still failed to come up with this....

Bill H

PL, your disbelief might have something to do with there being a slight misstatement in the piece, when they say that "they can now produce more energy than put into igniting fuel." It's true in that they produced more energy than was contained in the fuel, but later in the same piece they say the process "hasn’t yet reached the stated goal to achieve 'ignition,' where nuclear fusion generates as much energy as the lasers supply."

This is a big deal, to be sure, but they are a very long way from providing power by means of nuclear fusion. It's like we're travelling from California to Florida, and we finally cleared the San Diego city limits.

Will

interesting name for one of the leading researchers- Omar A. Hurricane. There is actually a Hurricane that was named Omar. haha

hans

Wonder if we could cancel the F-35 and devote that money to fusion? Whoever first brings a commercially viable fusion system will have done a great thing for humanity, hopefully in the nick of time. The transition to electric everything can happen very rapidly. Those countries whose only foothold in the world is the oil underneath them will fade quickly, and very emphatically won't be missed.

Valissa

Interesting article, thanks! I think Babak’s comment quite on target. Space elevators and using fusion for space travel have long been popular in science fiction, and such ideas appeal to my inner techno-dreamer. However, my inner skeptic always responds with TANSTAAFL :-)

Thorium technology is the one nuclear technology these days that seems to have a better chance of becoming useful. Some links I have collected on that:

From the World Nuclear Association… Thorium http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Thorium/

Bill Gates’ nuclear company explores molten salt reactors, thorium http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2013/07/23/bill-gates-nuclear-company-explores-molten-salt-reactors-thorium/

China blazes trail for 'clean' nuclear power from thorium http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/9784044/China-blazes-trail-for-clean-nuclear-power-from-thorium.html

On a somewhat different note, today I came across this fascinating article about the latest research into condom technology involving nanotechnology, graphene and other advances in materials science.

Sheathing Cupid’s arrow http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21596500-oldest-artificial-contraceptive-may-be-ripe-makeover-sheathing-cupids

GulfCoastPirate

Colonel,

Let me play devil's advocate. Given that we have a perfectly acceptable fusion reactor already working (the sun) and given that this fusion reactor is off world (which alleviates the types of problems we see in Japan with fission or other types of reactors that may be coming)shouldn't we be putting more resources into finding the technologies that allow us to store this energy and transport it to where it is needed when it is needed?


Joe100

Col. Lang & Babak -

Some recent work on nuclear energy, with advice from some very experienced (with fusion) engineers, suggests the following:

1. The NIF is basically a nuclear weapons technology in disguise;
2. The big global fusion funding focused on ITER (magnetic containment fusion machine) is most probably a dead end.
3. Creative fusion researchers left the mainstream national/global fusion programs twenty years ago - these programs become a fusion scientist sinecure.
4. Several fusion energy start-up companies are exploring more creative approaches to conventional fusion (General Fusion, Helion, Tri-Alpha Fusion, etc.) and at least one of these companies has raised about $250 million (from some very experienced investors). Not clear that any of these start-ups will succeed, but they are examples of the diversity and creativity that we should be seeing in fusion R&D.
5. We probably need a serious program that greatly diversifies research on innovative fusion, as that is the most likely path to a real, affordable fusion energy source - such a program is being designed and costs would be "noise on the margin" of the existing global conventional fusion R&D funding. No one is promising success in this area, but the pay-off for success suggests such a high-risk/high reward program would be useful.
6. For those interested in learning more about the status of fusion, I suggest checking out the following (very lengthy) blog post and comments: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/01/nuclear-fusion/
7. And then there is Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) science/technology, which may or may not have promise, but some serious work is occurring in this area, including by the Naval Research Lab which has been tracking and funding work in this area for some time (and NRL has and continues to fund important work in innovative fusion and companies like Lockheed/Martin's "skunkworks".

oofda

Concur with the caution statements re: fusion. There is a long ways to go before it is a viable energy alternative. The safety aspects are daunting and a lot of questions have to be answered. And thorium has issues as well.

Jose

Babak, Material Scientist-Engineers are coming up so many new substances that are approaching science fiction. I truly believe they will figure out a material to make fusion work sooner, rather than latter.

Space Elevators are coming!!!

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57383872-1/japan-plans-snail-paced-space-elevator-for-2050/

Babak Makkinejad

I think are expressing something very close to a Religious Faith (in the advancement of science).

Babak Makkinejad

As long as the problem of the confinement vessel is not solved, commercial fusion power plants is not even a pipe-dream.

Babak Makkinejad

Anything you put in space to collect solar energy and send it back to Earth may be construed as a weapons (of mass destruction) platform; before it is constructed some one is going to shoot it down.

r whitman

We have heard this story before. Older science/technology investors will remember the splash and publicity in the 1970's from KMS Energy Co of Michigan and listed on the old American Stock Exchange. Every month or so Ken Siegel, the CEO would come out with some pronouncement on fusion power and fusion reactors in an attempt to kite the stock. Siegel died and everything just disappeared.

This latest PR release is just an attempt to get more funding.

Marco Naccio

Joe100 touched on the point I was going to post. The fusion research is just a cover story. Maybe it will work, but not exactly, so far (as the news story admits).

The real purpose of the NIF is nuclear weapons research. It's essentially a way of testing nuclear weapons on an extremely small scale, which avoids the detectable seismic effect of "going critical" on an actual warhead.

Basically, a way of circumventing the test ban treaty. This is hardly a secret; even a cursory search will turn up dozens of articles discussing this point. I suspect that part of the research has achieved great success, although those results won't make the news.

Jose

Faith had nothing to do with it, I took my nephew to several good schools with excellent material science and engineering departments...lol

Babak Makkinejad

Yes, I agree.

Just like the CERN collider that some how produced the "Higgs" Boson....after all that money was spent

Ulenspiegel

Gretchenfrage: What evidence do we have that a fusion reactor would generate cheaper electricity than alternatives like wind turbines or PV panels?

All I have found so far were extrapolations from the costs of fission reactors, these are now much more expensive than alternatives.

Babak Makkinejad

Not at all - you need to improve certain material characteristics by 4 orders of magnitude to make the containment vessel a reality.

It will not happen.

Your initial statement reminds me of "In Jesus, all things are possible."

GulfCoastPirate

Are you saying they didn't find the Higgs?

GulfCoastPirate

BM,

Why does it need to be collected in space?

Jose

Millions of Birds are being killed by wind turbines and PV panels...they are false hopes...

Babak Makkinejad

I am having my doubts; I am trying to decipher the chain of reasoning and evidence.

It is a slow process since I have to learn certain things.

But the test of an experimental discovery used to be its duplication by others.

Where is this result going to be duplicated?

Reminds me of the 2 independent observational confirmations of the planet Vulcan orbiting the Sun - to account for the anomalous precession of the perihelion of the planet Mercury.

But once the General Theory of Relativity was invented which could account for that anomaly; Vulcan disappeared.

CK

There might have been a spoon.
There is no Higgs; the closest was a Higgins, two Dobermans and a Ferrari

CK

Fried birds near the solar boilers; diced birds under the blades; won't someone think of the ... children.

Mark Logan

Babak,

Geothermal is another example of lacking the right materials.

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

Are we closer to this than we are to fusion?

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