Fusion Milestone Reached
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Fusion Milestone Reached

The Washinggton Post reports that the US will announce that for the first time nuclear fusion researchers have produced a reaction that produces more power than it uses. The article says:

In the decades scientists have been experimenting with fusion reactions, they had not until now been able to create one that produces more energy than it consumes. While the achievement is significant, there are still monumental engineering and scientific challenges ahead.

Creating the net energy gain required engagement of one of the largest lasers in the world, and the resources needed to recreate the reaction on the scale required to make fusion practical for energy production are immense. More importantly, engineers have yet to develop machinery capable of affordably turning that reaction into electricity that can be practically deployed to the power grid.

And then there is the question of whether the technology could be perfected in time to make a dent in climate change.

I am afraid that fusion energy is the power of the future and always will be. I remember seeing an earlier version of this laser about fifty years ago when I was visiting Lawerence Livermore Laboratory to talk about nuclear non-proliferation. They have made significant advances in the power of the lasers, probably the target pellet, and other factors. However, there are still many advances that need to be made before fusion can be a continuous source of electrical power. This experiment produced more power than it used, but probably for less than a second. To be a source of useful power, it has to generate enough heat to run a steam turbine for twenty-four hours a day.

I think the other process for producing fusion energy, magnetic compression of hydrogen isotopes, rather than laser compression of hydrogen isotope fuel pellets, offers a better chance of producing continuous power. Currently tokamaks, which compress the hydrogen in a doughnut-shaped reactor, seem to be the preferred design for achieving the pressure needed to produce the fusion reaction. Magnetic compression has not yet achieved the positive production of energy that the laser process has, but it seems to me that it offers a better chance of producing the continuous energy needed for electricity generation.

The possibility of using fusion in the future should not preclude using nuclear fission power now. It is a power source that is almost always available, unlike wind and solar power. We know how to build fission power plants, unlike fusion power. We see the problems facing Europe since Russia has cut off most of its natural gas. People cannot afford heat during the winter. Americans should not have to freeze in the dark to meet some artificial deadline for relying completely on non-polluting sources. Fission produces radioactive waste, but it does not produce the carbon dioxide that is causing climate change. It is a good interim solution that America should be working on.

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