08.04.2019_No69 / News in Brief

Nuclear Fusion ‘Ticks All The Boxes’ For A Future Energy Source, Says Paper

Research & Development

8 Apr (NucNet): The world is running out of options for generating sustainable, safe, CO2-free, baseload electricity, but the one option that “ticks all the boxes” for the future is nuclear fusion, a paper published in the UK says.

Construction at the Iter nuclear fusion site in southern France. Photo courtesy Iter.

The paper, funded by private fusion company Tokamak Energy Ltd and published by The Royal Society, says fusion reactors do not have any of the problems that led to the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima-Daiichi.

A fission reactor carries within its core a great deal of fuel, which in the wrong circumstances can lead to a catastrophic criticality, as at Chernobyl, the paper says.

After a fission reactor has been running for some time it contains appreciable quantities of highly radioactive fission products. If their containment is breached, as at Three Mile Island, serious contamination can result.

After a fission reactor is shut down for any reason, there is a good deal of “delayed heating” as its fuel continues to produce enough heat to melt the core, as at Fukushima-Daiichi.

Fusion power does not suffer from any of these three possibilities, the paper says. “The tritium/deuterium fuel is continuously injected into the reactor, so there is only enough fuel to sustain the reaction at its current level.

“The fusion products are the relatively benign helium nuclei and neutrons.

“There is no possibility of delayed heating when a fusion reactor is stopped. The high-energy neutrons cause damage to materials and activation, but these are not life-threatening issues.”

The paper notes that “none of us quite expected the very rapid decrease in solar panel costs that has taken place over the last decade”.

But it concludes that the intermittent nature of both sources makes them unable to contribute to the baseload on cloudy windless days. Such days can persist for months.

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