Nuclear fission reactors are building up quite a bad reputation at the moment. Instead of dissecting the flaws and strengths of our current nuclear power plants, I like to focus on the near future, perhaps as close as the 2030's, where nuclear FUSION plants might reign. With fusion technology, nuclear plants vastly different than the current fission nuclear plants will produce essentially no waste, and remove the global reliance on fossil fuels. There's an overwhelming safety advantage in fusion reactors. In case of emergency such as in Japan after the tsunami, stopping the fusion process is as easy as flipping a switch.
The snowballing chance of nuclear meltdown that we're currently dealing with in the case of Japan's fission plants is only inherent with fission reaction, and not applicable with fusion.
Fission is the splitting of an atom's nucleus, where as fusion is literally fusing two separate nuclei into a single heavier atom. This phenomenon is the same phenomenon that the Sun and other stars employ, causing them to shine. The process releases a truly tremendous amount of clean energy.
A clear and succinct idea of the fission process can be found quoting from the Institute of Particle Physic's Michael Dittmar in his scientific paper on arXiv, "The Future of Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fiction: An update using 2009/2010 Data" Cite:See Bottom
Dittmar on Fission:
"Nuclear energy is released by the neutron induced fission of the uranium isotope U235, 0.71% of natural uranium, and the plutonium isotope Pu239. The released energy per nuclear fission reaction is about a hundred million times larger than in any chemical molecular reaction. The released fission energy is carried by the fission products and is then transferred to water molecules by elastic collisions within the reactor. The resulting heated water is used, similar to fossil fuel
power stations, to produce electric energy..."
Investment in fusion power plants is an investment in the holy grail to the energy crisis. To quote the video posted below,
"As little as 2 liters of water and 250 grams of rock are enough to cover a European family's demand for electrical energy for an entire year."
Mind you, streamlined and finalized fusion plant technology is not quite there yet. However, when it comes, it will be here to stay. Research and development are making strides, but funding is causing problems.
Dittmar speaks negatively on a leading project in the field, the ITER plasma physics project:
"The 2009 and 2010 news about the ITER plasma physics project, known also as the path to commercial nuclear fusion energy, a multi billion dollar/euro dream project of all larger countries, demonstrates that it is becoming nothing short of a financial nightmare for high level powerful bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels and elsewhere."
Variety of Projects:
As he points out though, there are other projects running with the same basic goal. Different developing technologies employ an interesting variety of resources, from extraction of materials from simple water and stone found everywhere, (which you will see in the video posted below) to the extraordinarily rare Helium 3, found most plentifully on the moon of all places.
Dittmar has little faith in nuclear fusion. The paper focuses on fission reactors of many different flavors and corresponding analysis of input/output. In regards to fusion, he provides a cynical counter-opinion to mine:
"We can thus safely predict that the belief in commercial nuclear fusion on our planet will end once the younger generation of scientists sees that plasma fusion research is a dead end career path and turns its talents to other research projects."
With optimism for fusion's potential, this 10 minute video by the German Institute for Plasma Physics shows the research in progress and explains a great deal.
After watching it, it's hard to imagine Dittmar's vision of our future scientists adopting a defeatist attitude toward the technology.
Video Credit: Institute for Plasma Physics, Germany. | YouTube user stevibd1
Mounting fear is rising surrounding nuclear technology. In coming years, we will have to educate the public in the phenomenal difference between fusion and fission in order for politics and funding to continue with confidence and turn the vision of this new technology into a reality.
If all goes right...
Bye bye fossil fuel! Bye bye nuclear fission!
Hello Nuclear Fusion!Let's stride forward. Our future is as bright as the sun!
Michael Dittmar (2011). The Future of Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fiction: An update using
2009/2010 Data arXiv arXiv: 1101.4189v1
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