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Nuclear fusion – not really close at all

How Close Are We Really to Achieving Nuclear Fusion?, 29 Dec 17  Nuclear fusion has been the practical Holy Grail for clean, sustainable power for decades. Based on the same process that powers the sun, a controlled, human made nuclear reactor could solve a lot of Earth’s biggest problems. One plant could power a significant percentage of the US, and a few more — each of which only need small pellets of cheap, plentiful fuel to operate — could run the planet. And all without any extra greenhouse gas emissions, or the risk of a catastrophic meltdown. So… what’s stopping us from putting these things everywhere? Well… unfortunately, the laws of physics.

That’s not to say that building a fusion reactor is impossible (though that may well be, at least for cheap power generation), just that it is very, very hard. Scientists have been working on this since the 50s and, at the time, they suspected the final breakthrough wasn’t too far off. But then, as now, the running joke is that fusion is still a staggering 50 years away. But is that even true? How could it be?
Because we aren’t working with stars, humans have some major hurdles in fusing atoms and creating the tremendous amounts of energy we see in the sun. Most of those come from the incredible heat involved. Hot gasses and plasmas expand, but to keep the reaction going, you need the atoms to keep smashing together. You can use magnets to force the material to stay contained, but that uses a lot of power. That’s the fundamental problem with fusion as it stands today.
Reactions can be started, but, thus far, they’ve all taken more energy to control than we get out of them. In fact, starting that initial fusion reaction is quite easy, but it can’t just be the spark. That spark has to stick and kick up a nuclear furnace that yields enough to operate what are, in essence, force fields to contain the reaction and send the excess to the mains.
So what exactly is so hard about that?

Well… a lot, unfortunately. That’s the part we’re stuck on now. Containing the tremendous power involved. …….


December 30, 2017 - Posted by | general

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