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So what do you think of nuclear energy???

Post in 'The Green Room' started by Swedishchef, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Sadly, I think fusion for commercial electricity is dead as a doornail. Beyond the hurdle of getting it to be energy positive is something called cost.... Fission reactors 'worked the first time' using a design done by some (v smart) folks basically with pencil and paper. And while we have a fleet of them working now (sunk cost), the unsubsidized, amortized cost per kWh has IMO not been compelling computed anywhere I have seen. The estimates I have seen come in above wind and often above solar PV! In contrast, imagine they get a fusion plant to be energy positive tomorrow after 60 YEARS of 'almost theres', and spending 10 billion dollars on a (huge) demo scale plant. We're going to somehow manage to take that technical monster, scale it up to the GW scale, do all the engineering so it can run for 30-50 years and multiply that 1000x fold and the result will be juice at an amortized cost of $0.15/kWh?? Really? ON the bright side...I guess its a heckuva jobs program.

    I guess that for fission, I think the cost and safety concerns can be allayed by a 'standard design' or a family of them, using modern metallurgical and modeling know-how. The waste issue in my opinion can be handled by the existing pools til the daughters decay, then dry casks. Not rocket science. If folks in 1000 years want to move/bury the dry casks, they can, in the meantime they don't take up a lot of space (compared to the amount of real estate available on earth, or say, a single big strip mine). As I said before, I think the jury is still out on fuel breeding and reprocessing and thorium. The costs for a single pass U reactor are marginal, and reprocessing is very difficult/expensive. Hmmm.

    Beside costs, there is still the issue of duty cycle. Ironically, if all your generators ran at constant output all the time, that is also a problem for grid management. The existing fleet of N reactors don't throttle well if at all, whereas demand has daily and seasonal cycles. I got my juice at a 50% discount in the winter (up until last year) because my utility had a lot of N plants that exceeded demand in the winter. All those pumped hydro storage facilities that folks want to store wind and solar....go check...most of the existing ones were built to store nighttime power from N-plants!

    So, a grid based solely on solar/wind and nuclear is not manageable with current technology (no storage)! Dispatchable hydro and geothermal might help, but seldom are all these resources located in the same region. A future decarbonized energy system will still need massive energy storage even with all the N-plants you want. Or N-plants with new designs that can be throttled on something like a diurnal cycle. Or both.

    Lest you think I am too negative...I'm not. Storage and distributed load management 'smart grid' technology might, worst case, double the price of a kWh. And that is not the end of civilization.

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  2. raybonz

    raybonz Minister of Fire

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    OMG are you a physicist or similar? Very impressive knowledge of the subject matter! Nuclear power is scary due to unforeseen disasters that can happen and when things go wrong a nuke plant can destroy a massive area plus they tend to located in populated areas placing a huge number of people at risk. I feel there is no safe storage for nuclear waste either plus you have to deal with it for eons and that can't be cheap either! Pilgrim nuclear plant is close enough to me that if something were to go wrong could force me out of my home if not kill my family! Can you imagine America's hometown being laid to waste?? These risks are totally unacceptable and how this country allows this is beyond my imagination boundaries. We have enough proof that nuclear power is unsafe it's time we learn from history or suffer the consequences.

    Ray
  3. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    For the purposes of of the OP, I will clarify issues....

    Assuming that safety concerns can be addressed, the question with nuclear is the extent to which it would 'help' with a future decarbonized 'ecotopic' energy grid. 'Help' could be defined as (i) simply providing large amounts of needed power or (ii) helping with grid management through provision of baseload while doing these at (iii) costs that are competitive with alternatives.

    The ability of N-plants based on existing technology to do (i-iii) is debatable.

    For single-pass U plants, (i) might be an issue...many think there is not enough U to last that long for a ramped up fleet. A 'bridge' but not sustainable.
    For breeders/thorium, (i) is aok, but (iii) has yet to be demonstrated, and new safety issues are raised.
    For both, (ii) is a actually a problem, since they don't throttle. Not intutive to someone afraid of the lights going out when the wind stops blowing, but there it is.

    IMO there are a lot of (amateur) N-boosters out there. Frankly, I think a lot of them are responding to perceived problems with other renewable energy technology, which are themselves being promulgated by think tanks and other bad-faith actors, not engineers. These critics of solar and wind power argue inadequate scale (i) and intermittency (ii). Utilities with N-plants helpfully point out that there reactors are BIG (i) and NOT intermittent (ii), yay! And an armchair N-booster is born.

    There is a lot of talk about 'solar break-even' on cost. Clearly, a loose concept that has already been achieved for unsubsidized grid-tie in some areas and markets and assumed discount rates. I find it significant that no-one ever requires such cost break-even for N-power. If it is cheaper (really), show me the numbers and round up some private investors and lets go. The stunning lack of private investment would suggest that the real numbers suggest even single-pass U plants are not a good ROI. If the problem is legal costs rather than engineering costs, show me the numbers, and I will happily call my congressman a tell them they need to get lawyers of the poor N-plant investors back.

    I think the bigger issue is 'break-even' for _stored_ and dispatchable wind or solar power, currently about 2X that of grid-tie solar per kWh. If THAT were cheaper than your N-plant power, why would anyone build or even invest in an N-plant? It would be obsolete and expensive technology. IOW, whale oil. A carbon tax would raise the cost of FF electricity to the point where storable wind/solar could be cost competitive today, and ready for mass rollout (also a jobs program). Since the carbon tax would not hit the N-plants too hard, they can still play in this future, if they can compete in terms of dollars and cents and ROI.
  4. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Yes.

    My heart goes out to those victims of N-plant disasters. Just like all those folks killed by steam boilers in the 1800s, or skewered by their steering wheel rods in 1950s cars. Bad engineering.

    Should we discuss the idea that existing coal plants kill more people in a month than all N-plants have in their entire history? Its statistical, so it doesn't play well to journalists. And people are dying.

    Whether there is a role for civilian nuclear power (i.e. outside of the military and naval/space applications) will likely be decided in the next 10-20 years. I _personally_ don't think the 'anti-nuke movement' and politics of nuclear power are helpful in deciding its fate...its an engineering issue. If nuclear makes cheap safe power, people will build it; if it can't they won't.
  5. raybonz

    raybonz Minister of Fire

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    I agree that coal is not the answer either. I like hydro-power as it uses a force that exists naturally however it is disruptive to nature so that won't happen in USA anymore. Another great prime mover would be wind with storage but of course that's debatable. Solar with storage would be great employed on a local level such on rooftops of homes factories etc. but cost is the issue. The best part of wind and sun is they do not destroy anything. Bottom line is we need a prime mover that doesn't go away, is economically feasible and doesn't destroy the environment. The problem is that profits will override plausibility and this will dictate the direction we take.

    Ray
  6. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    Thorium in a LFTR reactor:

    You can throttle the output to demand, so you can respond in minutes rather than days. That makes it much easier to scale up/down vs. a 1GW coal/nuke plant. It's also incredibly safe because the fissionable materials are kept at 1 atmosphere, so there's no chance of the reactor vessel explosion/rupture.

    The safety features are real. No triple redundancies, no 3' thick reinforced concrete containment vessel, and a negative coefficient of re-activity: As it gets hotter, the liquid expands and the extra space in between the molecules slows down the neutron collisions so it can only get "so hot", well below the reactor temp limit. It's capable of much higher temperatures, which dramatically increases efficiency ratios and gives us the chance to do reformation of natural gas and even coal into clean liquid fuels. No more turning food into gas.

    And we'll never, ever run out of it, and it's abundant and very easy to mine/process. That may in fact be what it keeping it in the dark, because the money to made in nukes is all about the supply chain. Nixon administration was the ones who squashed it, so I'm guessing it clashed with plans for the petrodollar.
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  7. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Can you rec some good sources of info on this to get started?? AFAIK, Thorium tech was discussed at the dawn of the nuclear age....do you have any insights why they didn't build 'em? I might **guess** that they ran with U reactor tech from bomb building, rather than starting from scratch?
  8. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    The amateur part probably applies to me, maybe not the booster part. I'm kind of ambivalent. I used to really like the idea of nuclear - the potential to supply really large amounts of power in a small space.. But given the waste issue and various accidents, and the fact that solar and other things are really improving by leaps and bounds Im not so sure anymore. And from what little Ive read it seems the cost was nowhere near as cheap as was promised at the dawn of the nuclear age.

    I should probably read up on it a lot more... heck read up on a lot of things a lot more... before making a decision. I just hope the people who are making these decisions are giving all the options a fair look.

    At a very high level, it does seem to me that we are going to need/want a very diversified strategy - solar, wind, hydro, tidal etc each in places where its most effective. Possibly some nuclear to handle base load. ANd I wouldnt rule out keeping NG for load balancing. If we were able to cut out all the coal and oil maybe we could reduce carbon emissions enough that retaining some NG for electric generation is not a problem.

    I'm totally speaking out of my rear here... no research just rambling.


    Off topic- woodgeek just curious what do you do for a living? you mentioned physics.
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  9. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I have a friend that has a business based on plasma control, fascinating stuff.
  10. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I can't emphasize enough that the main issue with current nuclear energy is waste. No matter what industry sugar coating says, no one has a great long-term (10,000 yr) storage plan. The interim plans are turning into local disasters, often political, that keep kicking the can down the road at huge taxpayer expense. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in our state is a prime example. This is the elephant in the room. Pointing to another dirty fuel issue is a strawman, it doesn't change the facts. I'm not anti-nuclear, but it will take a much smarter solution than the currently used technology to sell me. Fusion seems like the best bet so far, but it still is a lab experiment.

    All parts of lead acid batteries are recycled. Here's what happens to your recycled lead-acid battery. http://www.batteryrecycling.com/battery recycling process
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  11. woodchip

    woodchip Minister of Fire

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    Safety concerns in nuclear reactors will always be the number one thought in people's minds.

    In fact, many more people have died in coal mining accidents than in any nuclear reactor accident.

    The worst disaster recently was that of Fukishama in Japan, where an old fashioned out of date reactor was caught up in the tsunami.

    The tsunami killed well over 15000 people, but there is no record of anyone yet dying as a result of the nuclear catastrophe.

    Fear rules above all else............
  12. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    There's more than fear of death, though death by radiation can be slow and painful. I think Chernobyl is an example of what can go terribly wrong. Long term effects of chromosomal damage may last generations. The long term evacuation of millions of people from good farming land around Fukishima is not trivial. Death of people, wildlife and land are real risks with older technologies. When you are dealing with toxic materials that have side-effects measured in hundred and thousands of year, extraordinary caution is prudent.
  13. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    BG: thanks for the video for battery recycling. Things are moving along nicely!

    I agree that waste is a big issue with current nuclear technology. However most people don't see that. They see the pictures of Chernobyl. Fukushima. The spent fuel rods and contaminents are a pain in the ass to deal with. But that is not why governments are getting rid of them. They are getting rid of them based on the fear of nuclear meltdowns. When all the people get scared, the government responds as they want votes long term.

    Woodgeek: I like your point about more people killed in coal mining accidents in 1 year than all nuclear disasters in history. Since you're a phycisist (I am a chemist), what's your thought on TLFR??? Did you watch the video I posted? I think that TLFR was not pursued as the technology was developped for N-bombs, why develop a new one? The governments of the day would not get on board. They had cheap oil, nuclear energy already researched...with oil reserves starting to run low, things are changing....

    BTuser: I think you're right. It all came down to oil and oil prices.

    jharkin: I am also talking out of my rear a bit..I am a chemist that took 8-9 physics classes in University. Did you get a chance to watch the video I posted?

    Living in a province that has some of the most advanced hydroelectric projects in the word and is developing windmill farms 700 MW at a time I know there are other great technologies out there. But here's a question: what do you do if in 20 years the wind stops blowing in the areas where the windmill farms are built? A friend of mine works for the local utility company and put it simple: "when the wind blows, we close down our dams. when it stops blowing, we open them up".

    Here's a quote about my utility company: "On December 31, 2011, Hydro-Québec Production owned and operated 59 hydro plants—including 12 of over a 1,000 MW capacity—and 26 major reservoirs.[136] These facilities are located in 13 of Quebec's 430 watersheds,[137] including the Saint Lawrence, Betsiamites, La Grande, Manicouagan, Ottawa, Outardes, and Saint-Maurice rivers.[138] These plants provide the bulk of electricity generated and sold by the company.
    Non-hydro plants include the baseload 675-MW gross Gentilly nuclear generating station, a CANDU-design reactor slated for closure by the end of 2012[4] and three gas turbine peaker plants, for a total installed capacity of 36,971 MW in 2011.[139] Hydro-Québec's average generation cost was 2.11 cents per kWh in 2011.[140]" Attached is a graph that represents how my province's electricity is generated...

    FWIW, they decided to close the nuclear plant last month.

    A

    Attached Files:

  14. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Chef-

    haha not accusing anyone else of talking out their rear. I'm a Mech.E I took physics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluids etc. but in engineering school its more about practical applications of these concepts to design challenges rather than the raw science. I remember doing the calculations for things like sizing steam turbines and such based on the heat output but I know nothing about how the actual reaction works or other issues in nuclear.

    Needless to say this stuff does fascinate me though so I try and add something of value to the discussion :)
  15. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    You know what I wish I had taken: mechanical or chemical engineering. Ugh. :) I am simply admitting that I am not overly familiar with the topic, I was curious to see what people thought of nuclear energy!

    Andrew
  16. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    Nope. There is currently **one** machine in the world that could theoretically generate fusion power (as it happens, I work on it), and it is next likely to use the Tritium fuel which would enable it to generate power in 2015 or possibly later.

    Ummm... Right now reactors are limited to about 10-20 second pulses. ITER is planned to be able to pulse for 600 seconds, although once you get to that duration extending it further isn't all that hard. It isn't clear that this is a good idea though - right now the deigns for DEMO/PPP I've seen are split between pulsed and steady state operation.

    JET set the record of Q=0.7 return on energy (you get back 70% of what you put in) back in 1997. JT-60 have claimed Q=1.25 but that's a bit artificial as it's based on pure Deuterium fuel which doesn't actually release energy while the JET record was with a Deuterium-Tritium mix which does. ITER is currently predicted to give Q=10 when it eventually starts Deuterium-Tritium operations in about 15 years time.

    Ummm... again sort of half true. They're safer provided you've got a nice big bioshield as the prompt radiation from the reaction is actually rather more dangerous than inside a similar nuclear reactor (much higher energy neutrons and the plasma is glowing in the X-ray region). The burnt fuel itself is inert after the reaction stops, but the reactor vessel becomes activated and is actually very hot - so everything has to be done by remote handling. Tritium has some security risks associated with it (it's used in nuclear weapons but is of no real use to a terrorist without one).
    HOWEVER, unlike fission plants it doesn't produce actinides so the waste is very short lived. Turn the plant off and within 100 years or so everything is safe for reuse or recycling. It's much safer and cleaner than a fission plant, and will release less radioactivity than say a coal burning power station, but it isn't magic.
  17. Delta-T

    Delta-T Minister of Fire

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    my first guess would be political cronyism was the killer of thorium. He who passes the most cash under table gets sweet government contract.
  18. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    Those are the estimates I've seen (actually a little lower - most recent estimates for the whole lifecycle of a fusion plant based on what we think it would look like have electricity being generated at a little less than combined cycle gas plant cost (sample report here - http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rc...noHgCw&usg=AFQjCNHpszDnh2q12l0hwL5Ag0qNWnJ7jg - read 10 different reports and you'll get 10 different estimates, but they broadly agree that it's roughly cost competitive).
    The reason it's getting so much cash in Europe is that long term we're faced with either importing all our fuel while emitting a LOT of CO2 (global warming is much more accepted here than in the US, so this is politically unpopular), trashing lifestyles to get consumption down to the level renewables can generate in Europe, covering a bunch of unstable countries in North Africa in PV panels or making fusion work. The first two are politically unacceptable and the third is deeply risky (we may be faced to recolonise some of the countries or let them turn out the lights to a continent _g ), so fusion is getting a lot of support and funding.

    Fusion takes to being turned on/off rather better than fission plant, although since for both the fuel is essentially free you don't want to turn them off if you can get anything at all for the electricity. Having said that, my personal opinion is that the storage problem will solve itself with the advent of electric cars and smart metering - they should level off diurnal demand quite nicely, coupled with a big chunk of solar PV which also matches summer peak loads quite well. That leaves interseasonal variation, which isn't a problem as plants will need to be shut down for maintenance on a fairly regular basis.

    Disclaimer: I'm an engineer on JET, so will tend to be quite positive about the future of Nuclear Fusion!
  19. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    The first nuclear power stations were thinly disguised plutonium factories - the steam turbines were added on to find something to do with the waste heat and convince the public they weren't just about preparing for nuclear war. This did mean however that the vast majority of the design work and operating experience for uranium-reactors had already been built up and paid for by the military, so making uranium plant a lot cheaper to build than thorium. Since thorium can't be turned into plutonium, nobody spent money on that up front and until uranium prices go up a lot there is no incentive for anybody to do so.
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  20. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    haha me too. You know funny thing is when I got out of school mechanical jobs were a bit slow and I ended up in software.. Now its a bit late to change back but I do miss it. Some of my internships actually involved shop time prototyping things were where designing, that was fun. Always liked hands on.
  21. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    That's what I heard. The government wasn't interested in LFTR reactors running on thorium because you couldn't use them to make a bomb. Another piece of the puzzle is the US attempt to consolidate the oil markets and peg our currency to it. Possible, plausible, yeah I believe it. I think there's some pretty daunting technical challenges, the first of which would be how do you process the fuel so you maximize the desirable U233 and not just get stuck with the byproducts you don't want. That seems to get glossed over in the 30 minute videos plastered all over Youtube. Another concern would be crashing prices putting people out of business. I'm not kidding. High prices will kill high prices, but low prices can be deadly to a technology too. No reason to build a nuke plant when gas is $2/therm.

    Thorium is everywhere and reserves of even .5% are worth it to mine. You can't corner that market, so why would you try? As far as the reactor, heck anyone can build a reactor. But then there's coal, or wood, or oil, or a land resource you can really OWN. There's no reason to support a technology (like solar, and to a certain point wind) that isn't "manageable".
  22. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    I would think those N African countries would be happy to let you have some desert for solar panels if you pay them enough.

    An interesting paper you linked to, but assumes what now seems like rather expensive natural gas and expensive PV, and the fusion was still rather expensive. It's clear that the Europeans are making a lot of bets on new energy technology...and that's all good, research of plausible ideas is a good idea. The US is happy to keep a little skin in the game by contributing money and some researchers (rather than building duplicate machines).

    But it does appear that fusion is just that...a bet. Might not work out. Or it might work, but be 2 or 20x more expensive than wind or solar + storage (at the same point n development, fission looked like it would be 'free'). Or it could be the big solution. I personally think it is looking like a worse bet every year, as the other technologies mature and get fielded, and fusion is still in the lab. Kinda like betting on a horse race where one horse is not only in the barn, it's still lying down. When fusion was 30 years in the future during the last energy crisis 30 yrs ago it looked a lot better. It is still 30 years away from the field? Where will solar or wind be then and how will fusion catch up?? I think unless you get sustained operation demonstrations in 10 years, the govts will likely pull the plug. Members of the american NAS are already starting to grumble.
  23. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    pdf27, thanks for jumping in with some knowledgeable details about fusion. This is an interesting thread.
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  24. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    Right now they would. And if they were stable, friendly places (governed something like, say, Canada) we might even take them up on the offer. Unfortunately, they're a mix of absolute monarchies, tribal revolutions and military dictatorships, with a whole bunch of Salafists thrown in. In the circumstances, nobody would build mass PV down there without keeping an equivalent amount of backup plant idle in Europe - which puts the price right up.

    Natural gas is actually pretty expensive over here - prices have crashed in the US due to fracking, but that hasn't happened in Europe and it's probable that it will not. Current gas prices are sufficiently high that where allowed generators are burning coal and turning their gas plant (brand new CCGT) off. Add in a legal requirement for carbon capture and storage (looking probable over those timeframes) and high prices for gas generation don't look implausible at all.
    PV is one I'm not sure about. Some places like Italy, Spain and Greece I would expect (if they get the cash) to see it becoming the dominant form of generation over the next few decades, probably with gas plant for overnight. The problem is latitude - I'm at the southern end of the UK, and I'm level with the southern end of Alaska where I'm sitting. Additionally, peak demand is shortly after sunset and just before dawn in winter - the very worst times of day and year for PV given that you'll probably need interseasonal storage. That pushes you back to either looking at putting the PV in North Africa where they're close enough to the equator that they can provide sufficient power in winter, or looking at non-solar options.
    My best guess is that most houses in northern Europe will be fitted with solar PV over the next 10-30 years, probably to about a level where peak demand is during the night in summer but not winter. In the near future most of the residual demand will come from gas and offshore wind, with fusion supplanting the gas and maybe some of the wind from around 2060.

    See above. As we see it, our options are rather limited. The US is less worried about CO2 emissions, has more domestic gas supply, and is a LONG way further south so solar PV is substantially cheaper - and hence has a lot more options that don't apply to us.

    The fission point is a little disingenuous - governments knew it wasn't that cheap, they just hid the subsidies to get their Plutonium production. We also know for certain that a lot of the high cost areas on a fission plant (secondary containment, "insurance" against accidents, high level waste disposal) are either much cheaper or not required at all for fusion. That makes the cost estimates rather more reliable. In terms of getting it to work, the following graph should be illuminating:
    [​IMG]
    In blue is Fusion Triple Product, which is a measure of Tokamak performance (the dotted line is that expected from ITER, which will be the first self-sustaining fusion reaction). The red is Moore's law. From 1970-2000, fusion did better than the semiconductor industry - and I'm fairly sure nobody is going to claim them to be a failure or predict they will be unable to improve beyond current levels due to the laws of physics.

    See above - it's still been on a lab scale (a very BIG lab scale - the machine I work on is the size of an apartment block and the supporting buildings take up most of an old airfield) because there has been so much to do. It's kind of like racing a horse against a motorbike you've never seen before with the back wheel off - you're pretty confident you'll beat the horse when you get the back wheel on, it looks like it ought to fit but you've never actually seen it on so can't be certain.

    Fusion was only that close if it had been given far faster sustained funding than it ever got, and if there was another breakthrough along the lines of the invention of the Tokamak. Neither have happened.
    Wind is getting pretty close to it's maximum theoretical efficiency right now, the only way it will get cheaper is if build costs go down. As (in Europe at least) it is heading offshore into deeper and rougher waters, the reductions in cost will probably not be all that big over time. PV is probably capable of 2-3 times the power output per unit area, and cost is limited by land and raw materials. Land probably won't get any cheaper (hence my view that it will tend to be on the roofs of buildings rather than a solar farms, at least in Europe) but materials probably will. The issue then becomes the electricity price - PV costs the same whether it is producing or not, and with smart metering coming in will in the long run be paid whatever the spot market price for electricity is. At some point that will drop low enough that even very cheap PV will be unviable, while fusion (not limited by weather/season) can get significantly higher prices for the power it generates. Hence, there isn't really a requirement for it to be cost-competitive with very cheap PV - the two should be seen as complementary in many ways, given the need early fusion stations will have for regular maintenance outages.

    Grumbles from the American NAS are likely to be related to NIF - that's a laser confinement fusion experiment (like the early fission plants, built for military purposes) and the Deuterium-Tritium experiments they did recently were a bit of a failure. Off the top of my head they got Q~0.001, compared to JET's record of 15 years ago of Q=0.7 and JT-60's claim of equivalent to Q=1.25. Worse, as they cranked the power up the Q-value got worse, not better. If they follow the same track as magnetic confinement fusion has, they're roughly 25 years of development behind. In a country much less dependent on fusion working (see above) and which is trying to cut budgets, that's a very hard sell.
    Incidentally, where I work the UK government has been robbing just about every other research budget going to pay for an upgrade of the smaller (UK-only) fusion machine I work on. If they weren't convinced it was worthwhile they wouldn't be doing that.
  25. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Great discussion pdf. Sounds like a fun and exciting project you're working on. I would love for fusion tech to work out, whether it turns out cheap enough for civilian power or not. Imagine the spinoff tech and other things you could do with it.

    I am just trying to think of another transformative technology....ICEs, internet, indoor plumbing, microprocessors, mobile phones, civilian aviation, electrical grid, etc that took 90 years (60 behind, 30 ahead) of multi-billion $/yr of public funding to develop. I guess we can say that microprocessors have been at it for 40 years now, and that current fabs cost as much and are every bit as complex as your machine. But they are not competing with some guy digging up fossil processors and selling them by the tonne.

    OK, got one....electric cars.

    I don't really buy your 'past funding was inadequate' explanation for the slow progress (a small chunk of my national debt paid for the first part of your curve), but I will offer this explanation to take its place. To take your side, we can say that every technology requires other technology as prerequisites, and your machine prob relies on large scale computing and advanced instrumentation and materials to work, and those technologies were not available until, say, 10-15 years ago. The 'mistake' isn't to fund fusion now, but to try to have tried it 30,40 or 50 years ago. IF someone had the bright idea of building a moon rocket in 1860, all that money would have been wasted too. Apple wasted billions trying to invent the iPad in 1992 (they called it the Newton). But it was quite a smash 15 years later.

    I still think you're a bit behind the curve on your competition, though. I appreciate your concerns with PV, the solar resource in the UK (or Germany for that matter) is pretty sad, and it is a long way to the Sahara. In the US years ago, there were naysayers that insisted that solar only made sense in the desert southwest (Arizona), when in fact it is quite viable over much of the US (my PV solar resource is only about 30% less than the sunniest spot in Arizona). Similarly, you don't need the Sahara, Spain will do quite nicely and they have plenty of open space for large-scale PV and a democratic govt friendly to the UK (for the time being). As for the intermittency and/or mass storage issues...I think those are a smaller engineering challenge than (commercially viable) fusion....e.g. large flow batteries are simpler tech than tokamaks. Current estimates are that multiple storage technologies would increase the delivered cost by <$0.10/kWh. There is little incentive to field these technologies---at current solar/wind penetration the electricity can just disappear into the grid. So your competition isn't PV or CSP plants in the Sahara delivering intermittent power in 2050...it is a huge PV plant with mass storage selling you cheap **dispatchable** power from a friendly Spaniard. Doesn't exist in 2012 but I wouldn't bet against it in 2030, when your future machine is still in field tests.

    And if I lose that bet (no cheap dispatchable solar in 2030) it would only be because something cheaper came along to kill it...like frack gas. My natural gas was as expensive as yours in 2007, and forecast to get more expensive all the way into the future or disappear altogether ('Peak Gas'). And then it wasn't. Europe and Asia both have large shale gas resources too. While not popular politically, and far from ideal from a CO2 perspective, if the US shale gas experiment works out favorably (i.e. commercially viable over a sustained period with well regulated, minimal environmental impacts) then it is just a matter of time before European and UK public opinion will demand its development there too.

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