RE: Fusion Reactors

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Sun Sep 08 2002 - 00:01:43 EDT

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    I wrote:
    >Given what I know about world oil production, I would prefer to
    >spend our money on something that will make a difference--fusion, not wind
    >energy or a Mother Jones contraption.

    Iain replied:
    >This is true and shows the immense potential for fusion, but you omit to
    >mention that Tritium
    >is also needed for a nuclear fusion reactor, as I pointed out in another
    >post to the group.
    >The problem is that the temperatures required for a sustained D-D fusion
    >reaction are far
    >too high.

    I think George Murphy got it right when he noted that I had pointed out that
    the world will _NEED_ fusion energy for civilization to survive. My point
    above was not to outline the technical details and problems with that energy
    source. If we can't solve the coming energy problem (and we may only have
    20 years rationally to do it and then get it on stream so that we don't have
    major disruptions to the world, our children and grandchildren will have a
    society which looks much like the Middle Ages. We are living in the golden
    age, unless we solve fusion. If we do that, then we can indeed go to the
    stars. If we can't, we go back to the Middle Ages where travel to the next
    town was tough much less to the next star.

    Think of the things for which petroleum or natural gas is the base.
    Airplane travel, Fertilizers(made from petroleum and natural gas) and
    insecticides(made from petroleum) for crops, plastics, distribution of food
    and raw material. Consider:

    ìPetroleum fueled much of the vast transportation network which spanned the
    globe by rail, road, sea and air as part of the increasing integration of
    the world economy. By the second half of the twentieth century, even such
    commodities as basic foodstuffs were frequently produced far from their
    place of consumption. Cheap supplies of petroleum made this possible but
    contingent in this dependency was that a sharp rise in the price of
    petroleum would necessarily have an impact on the price of any commodity
    transported even a short distance.î Fiona Venn, The Oil Crisis, (London:
    Pearson Education, 2002, p. 2

    Hydrocarbons make 42% of the world's electricity. It is the basis for energy
    required in the manufacture of just about everything we use (Steel still
    uses coal but that is about it). Tourism is based on it--without it no one
    will take a vacation far from home. Without it, hotels and out of home
    restaurants far from residences go broke.. Oil taxes provide the basis for
    the socialist states of Europe to keep public services going. The UK makes
    about $96 per barrel sold here! Without it, the National Health Service and
    other government social programs will sink causing public disorder. Angry
    mobs without heat or jobs will overthrow governments and demand that the
    governments go conquor whoever has the last of the oil. Saudi Arabia thinks
    having all that oil is God's blessing. It may end up being their curse when
    the have-nots take over the haves.

    I agree with George about the technological optimism which permeates our
    society, especially the West. The Roman world was an enlightened and
    civilized world. I have stood on Hadrian's wall and been to Wall's End in
    Newcastle where the wall reached the sea. Standing there one realizes that
    north of that wall was barbarism and south of it was civilization. But,
    civilization came to an end. The Romans left Britain and eventually much of
    Europe leaving a huge dark age as the ignorant Germanic peoples (the have
    nots of that age) conquored the haves beginning during a severe winter (See
    How the Irish Saved Civilization). People say Saudi Arabia has lots of
    excess capacity but if you dig a bit and ask about their shut in wells
    things like: 'What can that well produce?' Answer: 20,000 barrels per day.
    'When did you last have it on line?' Answer: 'About 20 years ago!'

    It is amazing to me that people who have lived through the rise and fall of
    the American oil industry don't stop to think about why we now produce about
    half the oil we used to produce in this country. It is amazing to me that
    intelligent people seem to have difficulty applying that lesson to the world
    at large. They don't understand that there is no oil (in significant
    quantities) in the onshore US anymore and that absolutely NO price will
    cause production there to rise to its old levels. The last billion barrel
    field found onshore lower 48 was in 1948. None since. Consider this:

    "Whereas just before the Second World War the US produced 62 per cent of the
    worldís oil, by 1972 that figure was down to 21 per cent.î Fiona Venn, The
    Oil Crisis, (London: Pearson Education, 2002, p. 115

    Want to know why the US became a military power? Because we had OIL. Want to
    know why Japan lost in WWII? We sank all their oil tankers. To me it is
    very, very clear that the world had better figure out how to build a fusion
    reactor or our children--my children, will live the second halves of their
    lives in economic straits. God does not promise us continued technological
    innovation and improvement. But several things can stretch our energy out a
    bit. Superconducting wire has the potential to reduce energy loss due to
    the heating of the wires when they carry electricity. Better computers which
    use less energy are coming along. Things like this will delay the day of
    reckoning, but they will not help us avoid the issue..


    for lots of creation/evolution information
    personal stories of struggle

    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: Glenn Morton []
    >Sent: Saturday, September 07, 2002 7:11 PM
    >To: Glenn Morton
    >Subject: RE: Fusion Reactors
    >for lots of creation/evolution information
    >personal stories of struggle
    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: Iain Strachan []
    >Sent: Saturday, September 07, 2002 8:18 AM
    >Cc: ASA list
    >Subject: RE: Fusion Reactors
    >Glenn wrote:
    > In 1% of the world's deuterium, there is 500,000 times
    >more energy than is contained in all the worlds fossil fuels that will ever
    >be burned.
    >Tritium does not occur naturally and has to be "bred" from Lithium
    >(something like Li + neutron ->
    >Helium 3 + Tritium + neutron). I have a colleague who worked on the NET
    >design team, who is
    >of the opinion that this is an immense problem, over and above the problems
    >of containing a
    >high temperature plasma for long enough. (Toroidal plasmas are subject to
    >instabilities, and requre complex systems of feedback coils to keep them
    >Various breeding schemes have been explored, but none, I think, have been
    >finalised. Additional problems exist in that Tritium is extremely nasty
    >stuff, with a half life of 12.8 years.
    >Another common misconception (I think) is the idea that fusion is a "clean"
    >source of energy because there are no radioactive fission products to
    >dispose of. But as my colleague from NET pointed out, although the public
    >perception is that the fission products (i.e high-level waste) is the real
    >problem, in fact the real problem is the huge amounts of low-level waste
    >that still have to be disposed of. For example, the JET experiment is
    >encased in 2.8 m concrete walls, to contain the neutron radiation.
    > A gap in
    >that wall would have caused an instantly lethal dose of neutron
    >radiation on
    >the site perimeter fence during a fusion shot. Hence, eventually the
    >concrete will have to be disposed of, and the amount of such waste is
    >comparable with a fission reactor. I'm all in favour of fusion, but don't
    >get any ideas that it's a clean source of energy.
    >It's my feeling that scientists continually underestimate the difficulty of
    >solution of the problems that
    >are considered subsidiary to the main target (i.e. to get
    >sustained fusion).
    >This syndrome occurred
    >with the Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) at Dounreay. As I recall, there was
    >absolutely nothing wrong
    >with the basic physics, and the reactor core worked perfectly. It was at
    >this stage that the beaurocrats
    >in the funding bodies decided that since they'd cracked it, that funding
    >would be cut. As a result corners
    >were cut in the conventional design of the cooling systems, and they never
    >worked reliably. The problem
    >being that a fast reactor requires liquid sodium as the primary
    >coolant, and
    >water as the secondary.
    >If water hits liquid sodium it's major bad news. As I recall it was the
    >welds in the secondary heat exchangers
    >that caused problems, and this was down to cutting corners in the design.
    >People ended up getting PhDs studying
    >the weld problems in the secondary heat exchangers!
    >I say all this to reinforce the case; one must put proper funds into it at
    >the moment. Current experiments are just aimed at getting the fusion
    >working (I understand that TFTR at Princeton has now overtaken JET
    >in length
    >of fusion shot). But it takes so long for all the other
    >technology problems
    >to get solved that we must act now. I doubt if it will happen; the cost of
    >experiments is so high, that it requires international collaboration big
    >time. The NET experiment never materialized, because Europe isn't big
    >enough to put in all the funds required. There is talk of ITER, which is a
    >collaboration of several countries (something like Europe, Russia, America,
    >Japan). The problem is that for such long term projects, there is
    >never the
    >political will when governments are short term.
    >(Excuse the post from a different email from the one that I'm
    >subscribed to.
    >I set up the Eudora mail account for posting to public forums but
    >have found
    >that there are delays of over 48 hours on incoming mail. I shall in due
    >course change over to a hotmail account).

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