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Thread: Fusion gets a step closer

  1. #1

    Fusion gets a step closer

    Energy from fusion is a major objective if we are going harvest large quantities of clean energy from nuclear power. That objective is getting significantly closer according to this report:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8485669.stm
    The controlled fusion of atoms - creating conditions like those in our Sun - has long been touted as a possible revolutionary energy source.
    However, there have been doubts about the use of powerful lasers for fusion energy because the "plasma" they create could interrupt the fusion.
    An article in Science showed the plasma is far less of a problem than expected.
    The report is based on the first experiments from the National Ignition Facility (Nif) in the US that used all 192 of its laser beams.
    Along the way, the experiments smashed the record for the highest energy from a laser - by a factor of 20.
    The plasma had been predicted to be a major problem but this now seems not to be the case:
    "For the first time ever in the 50-year journey of laser fusion, these laser-plasma interactions have been shown to be less of a problem than predicted, not more," said Mike Dunne, director of the UK's Central Laser Facility and leader of the European laser fusion effort known as HiPER.
    "I can't overstate how dramatic a step that is," he told BBC News. "Many people a year ago were saying the project would be dead by now."
    Energy from nuclear fusion may be closer than we thought:

    The current calculations show that about 1.2 megajoules of energy will be enough for ignition, and currently Nif can run as high as 1.8 megajoules.
    Dr Glenzer said that experiments using slightly larger hohlraums with fusion-ready fuel pellets - including a mix of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium as well as tritium - should begin before May, slowly ramping up to the 1.2 megajoule mark.
    "The bottom line is that we can extrapolate those data to the experiments we are planning this year and the results show that we will be able to drive the capsule towards ignition," said Dr Glenzer.
    Before those experiments can even begin, however, the target chamber must be prepared with shields that can block the copious neutrons that a fusion reaction would produce.
    But Dr Glenzer is confident that with everything in place, ignition is on the horizon.
    He added, quite simply, "It's going to happen this year."

  2. #2
    if i remember my physics correctly, the main problem with fusion was containment. i have been hoping for the problem to be solved as it changes everything about current nuclear energy (fission) plants.

    forgot to say, it seemed magnetic confinement showed the most promise but i admit, haven't read much recently on it.

    this was interesting. thx.
    Last edited by cass; 02-03-2010 at 10:32 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member rdf's Avatar
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    Thanks Adrian. I'll have to read up more on the breakthroughs and current development of a fusion reactor. I had read just a couple of years ago that it was still 20-40 years down the road before such a reactor is in use, if not longer. It will save the oil wars coming down the road if we can get it done sooner.
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by rdf View Post
    Thanks Adrian. I'll have to read up more on the breakthroughs and current development of a fusion reactor. I had read just a couple of years ago that it was still 20-40 years down the road before such a reactor is in use, if not longer. It will save the oil wars coming down the road if we can get it done sooner.
    well, except oil wars have a great deal to do with transportation. we already have some solutions to that if we would be much more proactive in promoting/supporting it

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by rdf View Post
    Thanks Adrian. I'll have to read up more on the breakthroughs and current development of a fusion reactor. I had read just a couple of years ago that it was still 20-40 years down the road before such a reactor is in use, if not longer. It will save the oil wars coming down the road if we can get it done sooner.
    I don't think the timeline you read about has changed much. Even if they do produce a fusion reaction this year, it could easily take at least 20 years before we could build an electrical plant that uses a sustained fusion reaction to produce electricity.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by t8burst View Post
    I don't think the timeline you read about has changed much. Even if they do produce a fusion reaction this year, it could easily take at least 20 years before we could build an electrical plant that uses a sustained fusion reaction to produce electricity.
    do you have a source. please? if fusion is contained (and this has been in the works since the 1950's or something), what do you see as stumbling blocks? infrastructure? btw, what do you mean, if fusion reaction is produced? it's not producing it that is in question, it's containment due to the high thermal result.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by cass View Post
    do you have a source. please? if fusion is contained (and this has been in the works since the 1950's or something), what do you see as stumbling blocks? infrastructure? btw, what do you mean, if fusion reaction is produced? it's not producing it that is in question, it's containment due to the high thermal result.
    Sorry WHEN fusion is produced, I should be more positive.

    I will look up some sources but let me explain myself (I have a degree in physics) . Fusion is simple, apply enough pressure and heat to hydrogen and they will be pushed together and form a helium atom. The resulting helium atom has less mass than the two hydrogen atoms did. That missing mass is converted to energy (e = mc^2. Hopefully it produces more energy than it took to push the two atoms together. Ideally we would take the energy produced and for example heat water, run a steam turbine and create electricity. (Cass I am sure you know most of this, but humor me, I will get to a point eventually). This is the process that powers the sun.

    - the first challenge to overcome is simply getting the heat out of the reaction to make electricity. In fission this is easy, water surrounds the fuel rods, the energy released in the fission reaction heats the water, which then goes and heats more water which runs steam turbines. This will be much harder with fusion. The environment that you need for fusion makes it difficult to extract the heat generated and at the same time sustain the fusion reaction (this is not a problem with fission, once the reaction starts particles released from that atoms being split apart in turn split apart other atoms. Aside from the heat generated, there is no other mechanism that is self sustaining for a fusion reaction. I am not saying its impossible, just a lot more challenging that fusion. You wont be able to drop a fusion reactor (imaginary at this point) into an existing fission nuclear power design and have it work.

    - second is creating a controlled fusion reaction that produces more useful energy than was needed to start the reaction. It takes very little power to produce a sustained fission reaction, fusion is different aside from pushing heavy water into a palladium lattice (remember that hoax, it was fun) all methods so far that have attempted fusion have taken massive amounts of energy.

    - last (of mine, it is late) how do you get the fuel into the chamber and regulate the fuel in and energy out? You don't want a bomb so what you want is a steady flow of hydrogen into your fusion system, helium and heat out. Maybe they drop these "small solid pellets of hydrogen isotope" in the reaction chamber and hit them with the lasers. However it would be done we aren't doing it now. I don't know how long a fuel delivery system of cryogenic hydrogen would take, but since we don't have one today I could easily see it take decades.

    I am sure there are more reasons, and I got my degree in 88 so quite possibly there are things I have missed. When I wrote the original post I actually thought I would get zapped for being way to optimistic. To engineer and build the very first fusion plant, twenty years seems pretty fast. The new engineering alone is daunting, the lawsuits and other piles of red tape will slow it down even more.

    Take care,
    Tom

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by t8burst View Post
    Sorry WHEN fusion is produced, I should be more positive.

    I will look up some sources but let me explain myself (I have a degree in physics) . Fusion is simple, apply enough pressure and heat to hydrogen and they will be pushed together and form a helium atom. The resulting helium atom has less mass than the two hydrogen atoms did. That missing mass is converted to energy (e = mc^2. Hopefully it produces more energy than it took to push the two atoms together. Ideally we would take the energy produced and for example heat water, run a steam turbine and create electricity. (Cass I am sure you know most of this, but humor me, I will get to a point eventually). This is the process that powers the sun.

    - the first challenge to overcome is simply getting the heat out of the reaction to make electricity. In fission this is easy, water surrounds the fuel rods, the energy released in the fission reaction heats the water, which then goes and heats more water which runs steam turbines. This will be much harder with fusion. The environment that you need for fusion makes it difficult to extract the heat generated and at the same time sustain the fusion reaction (this is not a problem with fission, once the reaction starts particles released from that atoms being split apart in turn split apart other atoms. Aside from the heat generated, there is no other mechanism that is self sustaining for a fusion reaction. I am not saying its impossible, just a lot more challenging that fusion. You wont be able to drop a fusion reactor (imaginary at this point) into an existing fission nuclear power design and have it work.

    - second is creating a controlled fusion reaction that produces more useful energy than was needed to start the reaction. It takes very little power to produce a sustained fission reaction, fusion is different aside from pushing heavy water into a palladium lattice (remember that hoax, it was fun) all methods so far that have attempted fusion have taken massive amounts of energy.

    - last (of mine, it is late) how do you get the fuel into the chamber and regulate the fuel in and energy out? You don't want a bomb so what you want is a steady flow of hydrogen into your fusion system, helium and heat out. Maybe they drop these "small solid pellets of hydrogen isotope" in the reaction chamber and hit them with the lasers. However it would be done we aren't doing it now. I don't know how long a fuel delivery system of cryogenic hydrogen would take, but since we don't have one today I could easily see it take decades.

    I am sure there are more reasons, and I got my degree in 88 so quite possibly there are things I have missed. When I wrote the original post I actually thought I would get zapped for being way to optimistic. To engineer and build the very first fusion plant, twenty years seems pretty fast. The new engineering alone is daunting, the lawsuits and other piles of red tape will slow it down even more.

    Take care,
    Tom
    ty, so what do you consider the best containment field? my physics is also 80's and i really haven't studied up on it like i should have. back in the 80's, it seemed like fusion technology mainly needed a high thermal containment field. i'm saddened to hear we may not have progressed as we (well, i) expected. i'll do some reading up and no need to give me sources. i thought if you had them at hand, i'd like a look see. fusion was once a passion of mine, too long forgotten due to circumstances. so now my interest is renewed.
    Last edited by cass; 02-04-2010 at 03:04 AM.

  9. #9
    Found an interesting article here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/...html?full=true talks about building a fusion plant.

    Here is a nice article with pretty pictures and everything. Annoying site, they only put a small amount on content on each page so you have to look at their damn ads:

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/fusion-reactor1.htm

    All in all, we still seem to be at the point of we know "what" we need to do, the "how" is still at an early stage. Given we have yet to create fusion outside of a nuclear bomb, I still think we are 20 years away from a commercial fusion plant. I do hope I am wrong.

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