Fusion presents low proliferation risk, experts conclude

Mar 29, 2012
Fusion presents low proliferation risk, experts conclude

American researchers have shown that prospective magnetic fusion power systems would pose a much lower risk of being used for the production of weapon-usable materials than nuclear fission reactors and their associated fuel cycle.

The researchers, from Princeton University, found that if nuclear fusion power plants are designed to accommodate appropriate safeguards, there is little risk of fissile being produced for , either secretly or overtly.

Their results have been published today, 29 March, by IOP Publishing in the journal Nuclear Fusion.

In the study, the researchers undertook a quantitative assessment of the risks of – the spreading of nuclear materials for use in weapons – that could be associated with future energy power systems in three different scenarios and compared them to the risks associated with nuclear fission.

Co-author of the study Alex Glaser summarizes: "We found that the proliferation risks from fusion are low compared with fission, assuming that IAEA are applied in both cases."

The three scenarios were: the clandestine production of weapon-usable material in an undeclared facility; the covert production of such material in a declared facility; and the production of material in a breakout scenario where the effort is not concealed.

Firstly, their findings showed that it is highly implausible that a small-scale nuclear fusion system could be built, and then operated, in a clandestine fashion to produce material for even one weapon in two years, due to the large size and power consumption of the facility that would be required; it would be clearly visible by, for example, the continuous power it would consume and ultimately have to dissipate – at least some 40 MW.

In comparison, first-generation centrifuge plants used to produce highly enriched uranium for fission power plants are much less conspicuous and can be operated to produce material for one weapon per year with less than 0.5 MW of power, similar to many industrial operations.

The researchers then used a set of computer simulations to determine the quantities of weapons materials that could be produced with a commercial-size fusion power plant. While the production potential is significant in principle, it would be easy for inspectors to detect the covert production of weapon-usable material in a declared power plant.

The final scenario examined was breakout, where weapon-usable material is produced as quickly as possible and without concealment. The researchers estimate that the minimum period that would be required after breakout to produce any weapon-usable material in a fusion power plant would be one to two months. They also note that plants require many supporting facilities, such as power inputs and cooling towers, which could potentially be shut down without risk of nuclear contamination, and therefore prevent material from being produced.

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More information: "Proliferation risks of magnetic fusion energy: clandestine production, covert production and breakout" 2012 Nucl. Fusion 52 043004. www.iopscience.iop.org/0029-5515/52/4/043004

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User comments : 27

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DarkHorse66
3 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
Fusion...I'm surprised that a certain person's other hobby-horse hasn't caused him to notice this one yet....DH66
Callippo
1.7 / 5 (17) Mar 29, 2012
The low risk of fusion plants is given with the fact, none of them is working and it will not work so for next further fifty years.
Callippo
1 / 5 (7) Mar 29, 2012
BTW How good expert you must be for being able to get into such a conclusion? I mean, how well payed you should be for being able to issue such an opinion?
Royale
5 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
Callippo. 1) Not english. 2) Not clear. 3) Where was an opinion issued? In the above article what they did was a study. This study was based on facts. They then used said facts in the article to explain how they came to those conclusions. So, once again, what opinion?
Cluebat from Exodar
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 29, 2012
The Princeton researchers are pushing an agenda aimed at securing future grants.

Granted, the research adds to our knowledge base, but at the cost of funding other possibly more fruitful research.
eigenbasis
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
@Callipo Hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) are much more abundant than typical fission atoms materials that terrorists may use. As far as I know, no rogues have isolated these isotopes from their drinking water to blow anything up yet. This is because it takes far more knowledge, development, data, and skill to design a fusion system - which is also why we are only up to about 80% efficiency on experimental reactors so far
Cluebat from Exodar
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
Commercial power from magnetic fusion is still many decades down the road.

Even after the HUGE capital investment costs, the will be a high level of maintenance involved requiring extensive downtime.

I am interested in the tech, but very pessimistic. I learned of fusion research in grade school during the duck and cover years.

I am interested in finding out what methods have been proposed in extracting the heat from the process. Erosion is a problem.
Telekinetic
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
Callippo. 1) Not english. 2) Not clear. 3) Where was an opinion issued? In the above article what they did was a study. This study was based on facts. They then used said facts in the article to explain how they came to those conclusions. So, once again, what opinion?

Uncapitalized English is, as you say, not English.
Royale
not rated yet Mar 29, 2012
Touche, sir. Perhaps replacing 'english' with 'coherent' would work better anyway.
that_guy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2012
@Callipo Hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) are much more abundant than typical fission atoms materials that terrorists may use. As far as I know, no rogues have isolated these isotopes from their drinking water to blow anything up yet... which is also why we are only up to about 80% efficiency on experimental reactors so far


You are completely off mark to what they're getting at.

In callippo's defence, the article clearly states at the beginning that this study is based on the idea of producing fissile materials for weaponization.

Current fusion bomb designs all require a fission source for ignition. (And will for the foreseeable future)

This study only confirms conventional wisdom that fusion is a bass ackward to make fissile material for weapons. (You would do it by using the neutrons produced in the fusion reactor to 'breed' fissile materials - perhaps by making uranium reactor walls.

It's akin to making fissile material by using a neutron particle accelerator
that_guy
5 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2012
It's an incredibly inefficient method, but it is not determinate upon being successful in producing net positive power from the reaction.

Edit: the article also seems to focus on elements of a fusion reactor that can be re-purposed for fissile material weaponization. I think this is the more important part of the article.
Skepticus
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
Demonizing weapon potential of existing tech by casting doubts on the moral character of would be aspiring adopters, while promoting the safety of thermonuclear technology that is still in la-la land. Sound like an effective monopoly control technique to me. Of course, when thermonuclear tech is perfected, the whole propaganda show will be begin against in earnest, promoting antimatter reactors instead, wait for it!.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.8 / 5 (16) Mar 29, 2012
The low risk of fusion plants is given with the fact, none of them is working and it will not work so for next further fifty years.
This might, which you know:
http://www.generalfusion.com/

This also might, which you also know:
http://www.emc2fusion.org/

Callippo
1 / 5 (7) Mar 29, 2012
In the above article what they did was a study. This study was based on facts. They then used said facts in the article to explain how they came to those conclusions. So, once again, what opinion?

My opinion is, we should stop the avalanche of trivial research with firing of people, who are attempting to publish it.
rbrtwjohnson
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2012
In fact, aneutronic nuclear fusion is that presents the lowest proliferation risk, virtually zero neutron emissions.
Callippo
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 29, 2012
..which is why some of us are loving cold fusion so much.
Estevan57
1.9 / 5 (30) Mar 30, 2012
"..which is why some of us are loving cold fusion so much."

Because it keeps the house so .. cold?
I'm cold honey, can you turn up the jars?
wwqq
5 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2012
@Callipo Hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) are much more abundant than typical fission atoms materials that terrorists may use.


Terrorists haven't acquired either.

Tritium is extremely rare. Essentially all tritium on Earth was produced in a fission reactor.

A D-T fusion reactor would have to breed tritium from lithium.

Tritium is used for tritium boosting. This 'radiation-hardens' nuclear weapons so they are not sensitive to stray neutrons(e.g. another nearby nuke that recently went off) and to minimize the amount of nuclear material.

Lithium-6, the material from which tritium is bred is a key component in thermonuclear weapons. Lithium-6 deuteride is the thermonuclear fuel.

If fusion reactors become small, cheap and practical(i.e. not tokamaks), they become a cheap source of neutrons, with which to irradiate natural uranium and produce high quality plutonium-239. Pracitcal fusion reactors also means lithium-6, deuterium and tritium become commodities.
wwqq
5 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2012
In fact, aneutronic nuclear fusion is that presents the lowest proliferation risk, virtually zero neutron emissions.


If you have the capability of doing aneutronic fusion, D-D fusion is absolutely trivial and that gives you plenty of neutrons.
Gawad
4.5 / 5 (12) Mar 30, 2012
In the above article what they did was a study. This study was based on facts. They then used said facts in the article to explain how they came to those conclusions. So, once again, what opinion?

My opinion is, http://chronicle....f/65890/ with firing of people, who are attempting to publish it.

My opinion is we should stop the avalanche of trivial posts by delusional crackpots who couldn't get anything puplished if their lives depended on it and who instead spam science news forums with Cold Fusion, AWT, and religious nonsense.
Callippo
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 30, 2012
Thank you for not confusing the cold fusion and AWT with religious nonsense....
Gawad
not rated yet Mar 30, 2012
No problem. Don't let your ego lead you to believe that comment was directed *entirely* at you, it wasn't--even though I couldn't resist using your words as a launching pad. (But I TRIED, I swear I tried!)

Be grateful: you don't exhibit *all* imaginable flaws :)
that_guy
5 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2012
Thank you for not confusing the cold fusion and AWT with religious nonsense....


I think some of it was directed at the uncharacteristically absent oliver manuel.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2012
I was under the impression that there was supposed to be enough of the right isotopes available in sea water to last for billions of years of human energy consumption, but I guess that must not be the same hydrogen reaction.

Tritium has a half-life of just over 12 years, so there couldn't possibly be more than an insanely miniscule trace of tritium in nature. You'd spend far more time and energy than it's worth trying to extract it and get it in a concentrated form of .99 to .999 that would be needed to make a sustainable reaction.

As for breeder reactors to produce Tritium, most of our Fission reactors only have a couple percent efficiency, and while fusion is much more energy dense than fission, I begin to wonder if it even produces a net gain as a "system" by the time you do everything required to prepare the fuel?
ekim
5 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2012
As for breeder reactors to produce Tritium, most of our Fission reactors only have a couple percent efficiency, and while fusion is much more energy dense than fission, I begin to wonder if it even produces a net gain as a "system" by the time you do everything required to prepare the fuel?

The General Fusion reactor, as mentioned by Otto in a previous post, breeds tritium from lithium present in it's liquid lead core. Their design solves the neutron denigration problem, present in many fusion reactors, while providing an effective means of heat capture. It is an innovative reactor.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (15) Apr 01, 2012
As for breeder reactors to produce Tritium, most of our Fission reactors only have a couple percent efficiency, and while fusion is much more energy dense than fission, I begin to wonder if it even produces a net gain as a "system" by the time you do everything required to prepare the fuel?

The General Fusion reactor, as mentioned by Otto in a previous post, breeds tritium from lithium present in it's liquid lead core. Their design solves the neutron denigration problem, present in many fusion reactors, while providing an effective means of heat capture. It is an innovative reactor.
At present most commercial reactor concepts include molten lithium blankets to capture energy and produce tritium.
Sanescience
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2012
This all seems very premature. The direction a technology and/or process is going to go isn't obvious until the first couple of working prototypes are put through their paces. Were the first planes, automobiles, rockets, etc. really that practical? Of course not. Early in the 21st century everyone had an idea of what future tech looked like, BIG! But instead the future was mostly about small. It wouldn't surprise me if the same happens with fusion.

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