The well-publicized failures of cold fusion may have tainted the field's reputation, but physicists have been successfully joining nuclei with hot fusion since 1932. Today, research in hot fusion could lead to a clean energy source free from the drawbacks that dog fission power plants. Fusion power plants cannot melt down; they won't produce long-lived, highly radioactive waste; and fusion fuel cannot be easily weaponized.
At the forefront of the effort to realize fusion-based power is ITER, an international collaboration to build the world's largest fusion reactor. At the heart of the project is a tokamak, a doughnut-shaped vessel that contains the fusion reaction. In this vessel, magnetic fields confine a plasma composed of deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen, while particle beams, radio waves and microwaves heat it to 270 million degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature needed to sustain the fusion reaction. During the reaction, the deuterium and tritium nuclei fuse, producing helium and a neutron. In a fusion power plant, those energetic neutrons would heat a structure, called a blanket, in the tokamak and that heat would be used to turn a turbine to produce electricity.
The ITER reactor will be the largest tokamak ever made, producing 500 megawatts of power, about the same output as a coal-fired power plant. But ITER won't generate electricity; it's just a gigantic physics experiment, albeit one with very high potential benefits. A mere 35 thousandths of an ounce of deuterium-tritium fuel could produce energy equivalent to 2,000 gallons of heating oil. And ITER's process is "inherently safe," says Richard Pitts, a senior scientific officer on the project. "It can never, ever be anything like what you see in the fission world--in Chernobyl or Fukushima--and this is why it is so attractive."
To fully commercialize tokamak-based fusion, developers must overcome several challenges. First is the matter of breeding the tritium; there are only about 50 pounds of it in the world at any given time because it is not naturally occurring and decays quickly. (Deuterium is not radioactive and can be distilled from water.) Although ITER may use tritium produced by nuclear power plants, a full-scale fusion plant will need to produce its own supply--neutrons from the fusion reaction could be used to convert a stash of lithium into tritium. In addition, physicists must also determine which materials can best withstand the by-products of the fusion reaction, which will wear down the tokamak's walls. Finally, residual radioactivity in the device will pose maintenance problems because people won't be able to work safely within the vessel. ITER scientists must develop robots capable of replacing parts that can weigh up to 10 tons.
ITER will begin experiments in 2019 in France. If those are successful, the data produced by the project will aid the ITER team in the design of DEMO, a proposed 2,000- to 4,000-megawatt demonstration fusion power plant that will be built by 2040.
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Engineers inject two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, into the tokamak, a high-powered doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber.
A strong electric current heats the deuterium and tritium gases and ionizes them, forming a ring of plasma, a glowing soup of charged particles.
Radio waves, microwaves and high-energy deuterium particle beams heat the plasma. At high temperatures, the deuterium and tritium fuse to form a helium atom and a neutron.
If the plasma touches the walls of the tokamak, it will scuttle the fusion reaction. The charged particle is confined in a magnetic field made from 39 superconducting poloidal, toroidal and central solenoid magnets positioned around the outside of the doughnut and within its hole.
The vessel is lined with a steel blanket 1.5 feet thick to protect the tokamak walls from highly energetic neutrons.
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"ITER will begin experiments in 2019 in France. If those are successful, the data produced by the project will aid the ITER team in the design of DEMO, a proposed 2,000- to 4,000-megawatt demonstration fusion power plant that will be built by 2040."
given the timeline i'm not sure it could have as much impact as the LFTRs or MSRs as a crutch for the transition to renewables.
but as a proponent for multiple sources of energy i'm one of those who believes in the wisdom of not putting all of our egss in a single basket.
Yes, LFTRs, a proven technology, looks far more attractive. LFTRs too are inherently safe, produce almost no radio-active waste and the tiny bit produced decays to safe levels in 300 years not 10000 years like uranium based reactors. For a small fraction of the money spent on this fusion project, we could have an LFTR designed and built. See flibe-energy.com
Thorium to power LFTRs is literally free and does not have to undergo any fancy process like making tritium or enriching uranium.
"Well publicized failures"? That's an interesting take on the history of Cold Fusion. There are many in academia who's multi-billion dollar budgets depend on standing on the neck of those willing to stick it out. As a hopeful watcher of high temperature fusion developments since the beginning, I'm putting my hopes, not to mention my money as soon as possible, on Andrea Rossi's Energy Catalyzer.
Andrea Rossi is an Italian Inventor who's E-Cat has garnered the attention and support of many including Nobel Laureate Brian Josephson and NASA Chief Scientist Dennis M. Bushnell. He has obtained a patent in Italy, but for reasons known only to U.S. Patent Office officials, in the U.S., it's going to be a while! Land of the free, home of red tape!
Regardless, Rossi has announced an agreement with Defkalion Green Technologies, a newly formed Greek company for manufacturing and licensing outside the Americas. The agreement calls for delivery of a one MWt heating plant, consisting of 300 4 kW reactors. The plant is designed to supply heating for Defkalion and is to be operable in October 2011.
Rossi resides in the U.S., is a big believer in freedom, democracy and in the U.S. He has also reached an agreement with AmpEnergo, a newly formed U.S. company to receive royalties on sales of licenses and products built on the Energy Catalyzer in the Americas. An interesting point is one of the founders of AmpEnergo is Robert Gentile, former Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy at the U.S. D.O.E.
Since the development of the E-Cat has all but been ignored by the mainstream media, anyone interested may easily find it with a Google search or by starting with Energy_Catalyzer on Wikipedia.
Beginning in November, Rossi's "New Fire" could do for a world constipated by energy and economic problems what the internet has done for information exchange. I'm crossing my fingers, knocking on wood, and suggesting that everyone else do the same.
Tritium is radioactive and rare in nature, and it is not so easy to breed artificially in enough quantities. D-T fusion reaction release most of its energy in the form of fast neutrons producing heat needing steam turbines to convert it in an inefficient way into electricity.
On the other hand, aneutronic fuels are relatively plentiful, and almost does not emit neutrons, releasing most of its energy in the form of positively charged alpha particles that can be converted directly, much more efficiently, into electricity.
In my opinion, a better option is electrostatic fusion machine fueled with aneutronic fuels, because it can produce much more results with less money and in less time than a behemoth like ITER.
@Teeum...it is still up in the air whether this is a scam or a new type of energy source, it would be great if it pans out, but most of the experts think it's a scam
@rbrtwjohnson...i am amazed at people that jump on the bandwagon and claim an idea that is either theoretical or still in the research stages as a viable means of producing power, what you speak of is decades away from any success, if ever...an electrostatic fusion machine may be a good idea that never sees the light of day because it never breaks even
Someday, over the rainbow... I take heart that so many invested so much in a future so distant. I further take heart that work has begun on Thorium reactors. They offer both a transition and a supplement to renewables. Renewables are the future, and Thorium reactors will help get us there. ~gp
Isn't it interesting how the "experts" of the day, who stand to lose millions of tax payer dollars for their "expertly" designed studies and projects are the first to tell us things are scams?
Rossi isn't taking money for his "project" until he delivers a working product. ITER has consumed billions of 11 countries currencies and may never deliver a product other than research. You tell me which better qualifies as "scam: A fraudulent business scheme; a swindle. "
People, I'll say it again. Get a tent and a flint match. The oil gods will NEVER let anything threaten their business model. If this works (I believe it will) it wont matter. Oil lobbyist will strike it down before the first atom of helium is produced. They are going to wring the last drop of fossil fuels out of this planet before they die and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Enjoy the neo-Dark Age
@Teeum...if it seems too good to be true it probably is/ @old-scratch...i agree, i have been saying the same for years, people just can't face reality
"If it seems too good to be true it probably is." But that does NOT make it so. Many people use this saying and stop right there. There are exceptions. Another phrase I like better:
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."
Cool. Not only will it produce energy, but we will also obtain helium from it and use it in superconduction. Thorium-based nuclear reactors create Helium too. I think we should have both.
@Roy_H That's one of my favorite Sagan quote!
Check out: blacklightpower.com
Dr. Mills says he has licensed plants, operating and producing over 750MW of power. The process is completely green, resulting only in the releasing of oxygen from water and using the hydrogen to create heat as the electron is forced into a lower orbital.
Some of you who have a knowledge of advanced physics I hope will check the site out. Tell me what you think.
Dr. Mills has unified the forces of nature by using only Maxwell's equations, Newton's laws of motion, and Einstein's relativity theory.
I'm pretty sure Rossi's E-Cat is a hoax. This article might intrigue you: www.newenergytimes.com/v2/news/2011/37/Report2-372-EnergyCatalyzerScientificCommunicationAndEthicsIssues.shtml
I bet the final product will be a steam reservoir, a throttle and a small electric generator in a box that will work for 2 hours, giving him enough time to hide his face from America with the money.
Blacklight Power issued its first license over 2-1/2 years ago, and I have not seen any news that they have a operational unit running.
Roy_H, Thanks for your response.
I'm always looking for new science that may go somewhere and this just seems to be a good candidate.
He has 7 plants that are supposed to be in operation. One around the DC area, owned by a real estate company. There is also one in Italy in operation. All I know is what is on his website.
He states also on the website that from 2009 to 2012 will be a "proof of concept" of the technology. He has been verified by over a dozen independent labs.
I have been reading his published papers and books on his site, and there is a ton of it.
Check out He3 The Novel at Kindle. It's an ok read.
Yeah...it wasn't "cold fusion" that gave fusion research a bad name. People were only desperate enough to try things like cold fusion because hot fusion had been such a disappointing failure. That was back in 1989, when the promise of any kind of fusion power was only perhaps 40 years old. It still didn't happen in 2011 and now this article says, hey, maybe by 2040 guys. Sorry. No thanks. We can't wait all that time, only for the scientists in 2040 to say, "hummmm....maybe by 2075". The problems that fusion is supposed to be addressing, like peak oil, will have long since wreaked their havoc.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't eventually figure out how to do fusion. But it is clear that it's been a complete boondoggle in terms of providing usable energy. If any renewable power system cost this much and had such bad results it would have been discarded a long time ago.
BTW, I see a few LFTR freaks squeezed in their religious propaganda about the latest cure all. Why don't the LFTR junkies lobby the nuclear industry, not us, to get them to build some? The nuclear industry doesn't seem too interested. I wonder why that is, if it has so many advantages. Oh, and one last thing, remember, no whining. The world can only satisfy a small percentage of their energy requirements on your whining and crocodile tears about how mean people are to the poor nuclear industry.
I am reminded of the old line - Nuclear fusion is the Power of the future, and always will be. Since I was a small child in the 1960's, fusion has always been just 20 years away.
@ aarontco, the reason the nuke industry is not using LFTR is because they can't sell expensive fuel. Thorium cheap, plutonium expensive. Hate much?
You are factually misinformed about the price of Thorium. LFTR cultists claim it WILL BE $30/lb when it goes into production, but right now it's a little more expensive. Actually a lot more expensive. like $5000/lb expensive, compared to relatively cheap uranium fuel. My criticisms of LFTR have nothing to do with hate, just reality. I simply am not as willing to buy the fantasy that is being sold. I know people wish there were an easy answer, and therefore will believe lots of similar scams.
I just wanted to add that, aside from mixed oxides, very little plutonium is used in reactors for commercial power production, if for no other reason than proliferation threats. Uranium is actually pretty cheap though far from unlimited in supply. So no grand conspiracy by the plutonium cartel exists to keep LFTR down. LFTR is far from the only alternative design out there either.
Fuel has little to do with the extremely bloated cost of nuclear power these days. Of course the nuclear industry blames everybody in their excuse book (except themselves) for the high costs, but, none of that particularly matters because, at the end of the day, they still can't produce an affordable product with an acceptable level of managed risk.
The results for the Polywell fusion demonstrator
will be in shortly, and if it works, you can forget
ITER, because the same descriptive equations, per
Dr. Bussard's analysis, shows that Tokamaks cannot
be made to work; the bigger they get, the more they leak.
some time ago, another critic said something like:
'Even if it worked, a practical reactor would be
the largest structure ever built by man, and
Myself, I see far too much family resemblance to NASA
to believe anything the ITER people say.
well i found prices for uranium but couldn't find current prices for thorium i foudn one in 2007 at about $100 dollars/lbs and thats at the tail end of its demand, like 10 tons total imported to the US. And as ecomomics goes, higher demand, higher supply cheaper price....etc. and 100 is closer to 35 current market price for uranium, not nuclear reactor grade uranium just uranium, than the 500 you qouted. Can you find me a site for the current price of nuclear reactor grade uranium? http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/thorium/myb1-2007-thori.pdf
The price for thorium you quoted is not for pure thorium. It's only for ores and compounds. This site, which is highly pro-LFTR admits that the current price of refined thorium is $5000/kg, and also addresses the price of uranium in pure and fuel form. It is true that thorium can be used far more completely than uranium fuels, meaning that you get more for your money.
how is 99.9% purity an ore? "Thorium oxide prices in 2007, as quoted by Rhodia Electronics and Catalysis, Inc.’s U.S. subsidiary Rhodia, Inc., increased from those of the previous year (table 1). At yearend, the price for thorium oxide delivered, duty paid, was $200.00 per kilogram for 99.9% purity, an increase from the revised $175.00 per kilogram at yearend of 2006." pg 76.2 and how can it be biased? Its a statement of yearly trends on thorium, by the USGS? Its closer to a scientific article than anything else.
No, go to thorium.tv. It quotes a price of $5000/kg. Any prices of ore or oxides not the same as thorium itself. Iron ores and iron oxides are not the same as pure iron. Same goes for thorium. I will try to post the link again, but I think that the popsci discussion software filtered it out last time.
I'm sorry but in almost every case where someone has refused to allow independent review of a "new technology", the end result of the claim has been found to either be a hoax, or it performs far less than claimed.
When you claim to have broken a few 'laws of physics', you can expect people equally as intelligent to ask for an explanation. When you refuse to provide that explanation can you blame people for thinking of you as a fraud?
This is a lot to chew on... I'm glad we are trying to build a new source of Energy, but why undertake making such a HUGE Prototype all at the same time? Reading the comments, pretty aged really I admit, but, it's NOT breaking any Law of Physic's to harvest Energy considering also the Laws of Nature... That is to say, only Mass can be isolated into a "Closed System" and Energy cannot be isolated...
That said, many Theories have been proposed regarding the Fleicshman - Pons Effect and also many now Peer Reviewed Test reports of Consistent Processes of LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) or Transmutation Events (Fusion) have been also posted... Some 1700 replicated by last year?
More recently, Cornell University Published a PDF file of almost 30 Pages whereas several recognized Physicists conducted a Independent 3rd Party study of a few different reactors said to be Production Prototypes showing huge Exothermic Gains of Energy out vs. Energy in...
Is this not being Peer Reviewed Currently? Am I wrong to say that a few 1 Megawatt Units have been reportedly sold, Installed and currently in practical applications? Why all this Hush, Hush... If we as Academics are truly trying to increase knowledge and break thru barriers in Science and Physic's something is amiss with all the resounding gloom... I would think... YEAH!!! This is what we have been working so hard for!!! Maybe this is just not "Popular" Science to Wall Street and all those J. P. Morgan types of "What's in it for me" for agendas...
Capitalism is such a poor replacement for Democracy, being Humane requires no Dogs it's just being Human-Like or Humanitarian and Guglielmo Marconi was discredited also by Greed... What I call this is a huge failure to communicate, to educate and proliferate life on Earth.
I hope to see our Publisher start covering the ongoing Disclosures, Popular Science used to lead the way in it's coverage... Then again, Journalistic Freedom may just be Dead in America!!! No offense intended, I'm just saying!!!
I even wrote The White House, with these same questions...
Lonnie McVaigh Corpus Christi, Texas -The Paterfamilias-
With moves toward more decentralization, this super-duper, highly expensive proposed energy generation facility seems out of step. Best result is that it produces great amounts of power, half of which is dissipated in transmissions to consumers. Worse result is that it won't perform. - - Or maybe this result appraisal should be reversed.
In any event, it would seem that such an investment could be better spent in developing modest energy sources which could be utilized on demand, by consumers at their locations. Who or what authorized such an expenditure? Is this grandiose scheme being proposed for the joy of making a "tower of babel"?