Nuclear Fusion and Global Health
It looks as though nuclear fusion is about to become a reality, and if this is the case then it is probably the single biggest step towards improving the health and prospects of the planet since the big bang. Following the biggest ever multinational investment, in fact so big that a whole new global currency has had to be created (The Iter Unit of Account) this is not a project that scientists and global investors are taking lightly. There would now seem to be sufficient evidence that managed fusion-generated power is a reality. At a cost of £13 Billion the first plant is now being constructed in the south of France.
The problem with traditional nuclear power plants is that they generate power from nuclear fission and this produces highly toxic waste and the core has a nasty tendency to meltdown, or as some euphamistically describe it 'go pop'. The difference with nuclear fission is that under the right conditions, (similar to those on the sun) two isotopes of hydrogen combine resulting in a massive emmision of energy.
So, it is believed that nuclear fusion is the only realistic alternative to our global reliance on fossil fuels.and other energy sources.
Enter the Tokamak Reactor
So, the question is, how long will it take before fusion can 'go nuclear'? The fact of the matter is that although construction is very visibly underway it is estimated that the build will take another ten years, and then the unique plant will need to be tested. For untried technology this is a massive gamble, because if it fails it is unlikely that there will be any further investment.
However, this project has been a long time coming and was initially kicked off by Gorbachev and President Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterand, when they signed an agreement to cooperate on nuclear fusion.
At that time the Russians had made a number of technological advances using a fusion reactor called a “tokamak'. Creating and containing conditions similar to those of the Sun on Earth requires some pretty advanced kit, but the tokamak appeared to be able to hold super-hot fusion fuel using a “magnetic bottle” within the reactor’s vacuum vessel.
Experimental tokamak reactors including one in Oxfordshire, have shown nuclear fusion is theoretically possible, but to date these have required more energy than has been produced. What you need is something a bit bigger. The scale of the construction at iter and the new tokamak will be the first to generate more power than it needs to attain the conditions required for nuclear fusion. In fact the Iter tokamak, which has 10 times the volume of its parent in Oxfordshire, will produce temperatures of well over 100 million Celcius, hotter even than the centre of the Sun. The forecast is that for every 50 megawatts of electricity it uses, it should generate up to 500mw of power output in the form of heat.
If the iter tokamak can show that fusion works, the next stage will be to build a demonstration reactor to start generating power for the grid. However, the scientists first have to get over a number of untested challenges not least of all the injection of plasma, which is the superhot gases of the atomic fuel into the reactor’s vacuum chamber.
The atomic nuclei within the plasma when heated to 300 million C become close enough together to cause them to fuse into helium, which is the inert waste product.The plasma is trapped within giant electromagnets within a spinning vortex held by the 'magnetic bottle' of the tokamak reactor.
Here is a link to the ITER website and for understanding the science
This is potentially a safe, limitless source of energy and subject to a huge number of proviso's will eliminate the need for powerstations producing toxic waste and our dependence on fossil fuels.
Another power station in Oxfordshire has recently been in the news for all the wriong reasons when it was reported that they were now resorting to burning trees imported from the Carolina's. You know you are in trouble when you start burning the furniture. So, it would seem appropriate if Oxfordshire can make amends via their contribution to ITER.
As ITER state, "ITER, which incorporates the experience of all previous fusion machines, will take fusion to the point where industrial applications can be considered for providing mankind with a cleaner, safer, and unlimited source of energy."