Potential benefits of inertial fusion energy justify continued R&D

Feb 20, 2013

The potential benefits of successful development of an inertial confinement fusion-based energy technology justify investment in fusion energy research and development as part of the long-term U.S. energy R&D portfolio, says a new report from the National Research Council. Although ignition of the fusion fuel has not yet been achieved, scientific and technological progress in inertial confinement fusion over the past decade has been substantial. Developing inertial fusion energy would require establishment of a national, coordinated, broad-based program, but achievement of ignition is a prerequisite.

"The realization of inertial fusion would be a tremendous achievement capable of satisfying the world's ever-growing need for power without major environmental consequences," said Ronald Davidson, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University's Plasma Physics Laboratory and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. "These possibilities form an extremely compelling rationale to continue R&D efforts toward this goal."

(IFE) would provide an essentially carbon-free energy source with a practically unlimited supply of fuel. IFE relies on a process in which a fuel pellet the size of a pinhead is compressed by an external energy source, raising the temperature and density enough that the nuclei of the some of the fuel atoms fuse together, releasing nuclear energy. The aim is ignition, in which the produced by the initial compression causes the remaining fuel to undergo fusion.

"The fuel used in the fusion process is lithium and deuterium; deuterium is derived from water and therefore virtually unlimited," explained Gerald Kulcinski, associate dean for research and director of the Fusion Technical Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who served as co-chair of the report committee. "And unlike nuclear fission plants, it would not produce large amounts of high-level nuclear waste requiring long-term disposal. The potential is for a sustainable energy source that could power the Earth for millions of years."

U.S. research on inertial confinement fusion has been supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy. NNSA's objective is nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, but much of the R&D is also applicable to IFE development. There are several external energy source or "driver" technologies under development: lasers, particle beams, and pulsed magnetic fields. NNSA's National Ignition Facility, located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, recently completed a National Ignition Campaign aimed at achieving ignition. While much was learned in the process, was not attained. In view of this result, the committee concluded that a range of driver technologies should continue to be pursued, rather than choosing a single technology at this time.

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User comments : 14

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CapitalismPrevails
2.5 / 5 (8) Feb 20, 2013
And the government pet projects continue.
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2013
Were there any private firms funding this stuff at any significant level that I was unaware of?
bert_buursink
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2013
Fusion power always seems to be 50 years away, no matter how much money we throw at it.

In the future people might look back at this project it as a white elephant.

Except that by then they will probably see a herd of white elephants, the way we are funding crazy projects nowadays.
Parsec
not rated yet Feb 20, 2013
The real nuclear waste problem is not the kind of very low quantity, very toxic stuff that comes from processing spent fuel rods. There are abundant technologies to deal with this, and the quality is low enough that it doesn't present much of a hazard anyway.

The problem of low level waste, generated in the millions of tons, from both coal and nuclear plants, is in fact where the real hazard lies. The quantities involved are so huge that no one has yet come up with satisfactory mechanisms for dealing with it. Yet it is still radioactive enough to significantly elevate disease risk with close contact.

The low level waste problem will still exist for fusion power plants.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
Fusion power is a convenient excuse. inertial confinement tech has direct applications in spacecraft propulsion, among other things.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
In the future people might look back at this project it as a white elephant.

Since we know it's possible I doubt we'll give up before it's achieved. And if other energy technologies are any indication it'll definitely be worth it.

If we ever want to do extended exploration in space (inter-system) then we'll have little choice, as no other technology could even conceivably sustain such long voyages.

The real nuclear waste problem is not the kind of very low quantity, very toxic stuff that comes from processing spent fuel rods. There are abundant technologies to deal with this,

Not too sure on this. I know of no currently applied technology that can handle spent fuel rods well (dumping them somewhere does not count as 'dealing with them' in my book.)
Modernmystic
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2013
Not too sure on this. I know of no currently applied technology that can handle spent fuel rods well (dumping them somewhere does not count as 'dealing with them' in my book.)


http://en.wikiped...ocessing
Thrasymachus
2 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
It still creates radioactive waste. The reaction chamber and all the control instruments in it, as well as the concrete and steel shielding surrounding the chamber, eventually become radioactive through neutron activation.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2013
It still creates radioactive waste. The reaction chamber and all the control instruments in it, as well as the concrete and steel shielding surrounding the chamber, eventually become radioactive through neutron activation.


So? You're going to get the same thing with fusion...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2013
It still creates radioactive waste. The reaction chamber and all the control instruments in it, as well as the concrete and steel shielding surrounding the chamber, eventually become radioactive through neutron activation.
Now lets tell the whole story shall we?

"The half-life of most radioisotopes contained in this waste is lower than ten years. The fusion reaction will produce no long-lived waste: within 100 years, the radioactivity of the materials will have diminished in such a significant way that the materials can be recycled for use in future fusion plants."
WillieWard
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
Fusion power would be ideal with no radioactive waste, helium-3 and p-B11 aneutronic collisions. http://youtu.be/VUrt186pWoA
unknownorgin
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
This is the new gold rush. The government has been throwing money at fusion for decades hoping to get a fusion reactor at least small enough to fit in a battleship. If all this money had been spent developing a practical energy storage system and advanced solar cells we would be very close to energy independence now. We already have a working fusion reactor for the next 4 billion years more or less.
Caliban
not rated yet Feb 20, 2013
Were there any private firms funding this stuff at any significant level that I was unaware of?


There is a Canadian company in BC that has been atteempting to acheive this via acoustic compression. An article appeared here on physorg a couple of years back.

So I guess the answer to your question is "yes", going on the assumption that they are still in operation.

Steven_Anderson
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
LFTR Nuclear reactors make waste that only lasts 300 years and is around .1% of the input volume. I challenge anyone to compare that with conventional nuclear reactors. Go to http://rawcell.com and put your vote on conversion of coal fire plants to Super Safe LFTR nuclear reactors at a cost of 1.6 Trillion. Long term reductions in costs will make us all thankful(maintenance and longevity). Solution is on par with the cost of coal and doesnt contribute to global warming and doesn't put radioactivity in atmosphere. And unlike conventional reactors it can't go boom! http://rawcell.com. I even propose a way to pay for it without taxes!

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