Imagining Fusion Power

Guest post by Robert L. Hirsch, Ph.D. Senior Energy Advisor, Management Information Services, Inc.

Imagine you’re an electric utility executive with a strong background in a range of electric power generation technologies. As such, you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various options, and you have some “scars” from dealing with the challenges associated with nuclear power. Like many in your industry, you hope for a new electric generation technology that will make life better for your company and your customers. Hope springs eternal!

Let’s assume that you’ve not paid much attention to fusion energy research and want to update your knowledge. You Google “fusion research” and start with an article in Issues in Science and Technology, a publication of the prestigious U.S. National Academies. The title of the article is “Fusion Research – Time to Set a New Path” by Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, an old hand in a number of energy technologies, who once headed the U.S. federal fusion research program and later served as a Vice President of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an organization with a very high standing in the industry.

In his article Hirsch refers to a 1994 EPRI panel report that spelled out three major criteria for practical, acceptable fusion power. Those criteria were Economics, Regulatory Simplicity, and Public Acceptance. You agree with the criteria, but you would have liked to have seen “Environmental Attractiveness” explicitly stated. However, after a little thought you recognize that environmental attractiveness is in fact an element of each of the three EPRI criteria.

The Hirsch article tells you that worldwide fusion energy research is almost totally focused on a concept called the tokamak, a toroidal (donut) shaped system, which uses the deuterium-tritium (DT) fusion fuel cycle. You are reminded that the DT cycle is characterized by the copious emission of neutrons, which will result in the creation of large quantities of radioactivity, no matter what materials are used to build such a system. Opps! Managing large quantities of radioactive material raises a huge red flag with you, based on the experience with nuclear power plants. Not good!

Further along in your reading, you’re told that world fusion research programs have banded together to build a very large DT tokamak experiment that that will produce 500 megawatts of thermal energy. That machine, called ITER, is being built collaboratively in France. As an electric utility executive, you know that building utility-scale power plants is the only way to recognize and address the “real world” issues that are inevitable, so the ITER project sounds like an appropriate step. However, you are told that the cost of ITER has apparently escalated by roughly a factor of ten to over $50 billion and its initial operation has been significantly delayed beyond early target dates. Again, not good!

ITER represents the most realistic embodiment of ITER-Tokamak fusion power, so Hirsch uses it to extrapolate to how a DT ITER-Tokamak power plant might measure up to the EPRI Criteria. First, you are told that the projected capital cost of an ITER-Tokamak power plant core compared to the core of a PWR (Pressurized Water Nuclear Reactor) is inferior by roughly a factor of sixty! That comparison is astonishing to you because a factor of sixty in the cost of a power plant core has essentially no chance of being reduced to an acceptable cost! You almost stop reading, because what is being described is of no practical interest in the highly competitive electric power industry. Nevertheless, you read on.

Next comes Regulatory Simplicity, which will involve nuclear power regulators, who tend to be very cautious, as they should be. Again, ITER-Tokamak reactors appear to be seriously wanting, in part because of the massive amount of radioactivity that will be produced and in part because its massive superconducting magnets could suddenly go normal, resulting in an explosion of the magnitude of a World War II blockbuster bomb. Wow! The regulators will have fits with that situation and will surely demand a hemispheric containment building, which will be enormous and very costly, because of the huge size of these ITER-Tokamak reactors.

You really don’t need to read about Public Acceptance, because what you’ve already read tells you that the public is going to recoil in shock, when they wake up to what world fusion researchers are pursuing. Where are the engineers in this endeavor?

The article ends with some lessons learned from ITER-Tokamak research, which sound useful. It’s clear that fusion research is extremely complicated and has been difficult for outsiders to understand. You can’t help but feel that it’s tragic that fusion research had to go as far as the ITER-Tokamak before the almost certain commercial unacceptability of the concept became so clear.

So why are they still building ITER? Apparently fusion researchers “circled the wagons” and kept the realities of their preferred concept obscured or hidden. Also, responsible people must not have been paying attention. Clearly, U.S. Department of Energy management has not been doing its job of overseeing fusion research; if it had, the U.S. would not have participated in ITER. The media must not be paying attention either. When the truth regarding current fusion research is recognized, embarrassment will be widespread, not only involving fusion program management but also government managers and the Congress.

So at this point you wonder whether there is any hope for fusion power. Continuing your reading, you come across another article by Hirsch entitled “Revamping Fusion Research” in the Journal of Fusion Energy. What he does in that article is to open up fusion power opportunities to other fusion fuel cycles. Of particular interest is the proton-boron 11 (p-B11) fuel cycle, which apparently involves more difficult physics but produces no neutrons directly, thereby dramatically enhancing regulatory simplicity and public acceptance. Thankfully, a few privately funded projects in the U.S. are pursuing the p-B11 fuel cycle, which provides some hope for acceptable fusion power.

After your reading you ask yourself what you should do with your newfound understanding. As an electric utility executive, the first thing that comes to mind is to share and discuss your insights with your company colleagues. Second, you will ensure that that your company’s corporate planning does not include anything related to fusion power in its plans.

Next comes a dilemma. You could bring your new fusion insights to the attention of your company lobbyists or maybe NEI (Nuclear Energy Institute) or maybe EEI (Edison Electric Institute), any of which could bring the issue to the attention of responsible managers in the government. However, the result would likely result in an avalanche of fury, finger pointing, budget cutting, and ill will. But as a utility executive, you and your company have more immediate problems to worry about, and the downsides of speaking up on fusion, however noble and responsible, might be much bigger than any gain. So you let it drop. It’s someone else’s problem.

End Note: The foregoing is admittedly an unusual way to frame an awkward situation. While two of my recent fusion articles were highlighted, there is additional information and insights from others that supports the technical case against the current approach to fusion power. This author continues to have hope for practical fusion power, but it’s clear that a dramatic change in fusion research will be needed for that hope to have a chance of becoming something of commercial
value.

The two articles Dr Hirsch refers to:

Fusion Research: Time to Set a New Path
Revamping Fusion Research

Biographical Sketch
Dr. Robert L. Hirsch

Dr. Hirsch is a Senior Energy Advisor at MISI and a consultant in energy, technology, and management. Previously, he was a senior staff member at SAIC & RAND (energy analysis), Executive Advisor at Advanced Power Technologies, Inc. (environmental and defense R & D)), Vice President of the Electric Power Research Institute, Vice President and Manager of Research and Technical Services for Atlantic Richfield Co. (oil and gas exploration and production), Founder and CEO of APTI (commercial & Defense Department technologies), Manager of Exxon’s synthetic fuels research laboratory, Manager of Petroleum Exploratory Research at Exxon (refining R & D), Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration responsible for renewables, fusion, geothermal and basic research (Presidential Appointment), and Director of fusion research at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and ERDA.

He has served on advisory committees for Department of Energy programs and national laboratories, the General Accounting Office, the Office of Technology Assessment, the Gas Research Institute, and NASA. He holds 16 patents and has over 50 publications. He is past Chairman of the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems of the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academies, has served on a number of National Research Council committees and is a National Associate of the National Academies.

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42 Responses to Imagining Fusion Power

  1. Daniel says:

    Brilliantly presented, thank you!
    What is your take on Lockheed Martin claims on compact fusion?
    http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/innovation/2016/05/03/lockheed-nuclear-fusion-generator-investment/83870398/

  2. Peter Lang says:

    Great article and great CV. Yes, unusual approach, but very well written. Thank you.

    What’s happening to the SkunkWorks “fusion on the back of a truck” prototype development?

    • ristvan says:

      After the Goggle talk, gone completely dark. That could mean a number of different things. I do a thorough net search about twice a year, since wrote about it (and NIF and ITER) in essay Going Nuclear in my last book.

  3. Jim Brough says:

    I went to work at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission 40 years ago and fusion was in the air, only 30 years to supersede nuclear fission for nuclear electricity without the production of nuclear waste.
    Seems that goal is still 30 years away.

    • Greg Kaan says:

      Sadly, that seems to be true with all the brute force approaches being taken today.
      I wonder if a breakthrough in particle physics will be required for earth based fusion to contribute to our energy production.

      This a terrific article presented from a novel perspective

      • robertok06 says:

        “I wonder if a breakthrough in particle physics will be required for earth based fusion to contribute to our energy production.”

        Fusion could contribute a lot more if only someone would build a hybrid fission-fusion reactor, which doesn’t need to reach break-even-point, like ITER and the like will need to, and simply generates a copious amount of neutrons which, bombarding a natural uranium temper, generate enough U-235 to run conventional fission reactor for the remainder of the life of planet earth.
        Such a scheme, which is being pursued by the Chinese and the Russians, would reduce the costs of the fusion reactor by a lot.

        In addition to that, a hybrid fusion-fission reactor would allow burning all present (and future) transuranics, as explained here:

        http://ralphmoir.com/media/kotschFusFis.pdf

        “The number of hybrids needed to destroy a given amount of waste is an order of magnitude below the corresponding number of critical fast spectrum reactors (FRs) as the latter cannot fully exploit the new fuel cycle.
        Also, the time needed for 99% transuranic waste destruction reduces from centuries (with FR) to decades.”

        Sadly, mankind is (forcefully in my opinion) being bent in another, diametrically opposed vehemently anti-nuclear direction, based on useless intermittent renewables.

        Tough times ahead!

  4. Alex says:

    Nice article.

    But imagine you’re an engineer – perhaps a mechanical or structural engineer, and that you’re familiar with large building design and the capabilities of materials.

    In which case, you could take 5 minutes to look at the ITER design and conclude that it will never be economically viable. You can assume the physics will work – or take Dr. Hirsch’s word for it. In fact, all these scientists say it will work. But how many of them understand engineering from a commercial perspective.

    More uncertain are the fusion start ups like Helion Energy. From an engineering perspective, they will make cheap electricity and blow apart all our current models of electricity generation. From a science (fusion) perspective, I have no clue. Perhaps Dr. Hirsch can comment? That would be appreciated.

    • robertok06 says:

      @Alex

      “In fact, all these scientists say it will work. But how many of them understand engineering from a commercial perspective.”

      Many of them do understand this kind of issue, Alex!

      Take a look:

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092037961300656X

      LCOE analysis of fusion systems, including all phases of the project, from green field to green field, exist already.

      Talking about fusion start ups… this one is well advanced, on private investors money:

      http://www.trialphaenergy.com/

      They are upgrading now the neutral beam injector of their demo, as far as I know.

      The interesting thing is that they are exploring a neutron-less channel, the p-B11 one in a linear geometry, which removes the constraints of a toroid-like one, where parts are nested inside each other in such a way that removing, e.g., a defective toroidal magnet becomes impossible.

      Cheers.

      Note: I am in no way associated to TriAlpha Energy, although I’ve been associated to ITER in the past.

  5. steve says:

    I’m not qualified to comment, but it always seemed to me that the problem with fusion is it is too hot. Too hot to keep in and too hot to get the heat out. Even the idea of running a pipe in and out of a star seems far too difficult.

  6. Ajay Gupta says:

    What about the fusion project at NIF? It is not a tokamak. Thanks for the piece and any insight into NIF.

    • ristvan says:

      NIF’s inertial confinment as zero chance of success. The focusing optics need >4 hours to cool between shots. The bestnthey have done is 28 shots in one month. To generate commercial power they need a shot about one per second.

  7. pyrrhus says:

    Two questions. Is there any hope of solving the containment vessel issue, to deal with this massive neutron flux? How is the net energy converted into electricity?

  8. Jan Steinman says:

    they will make cheap electricity and blow apart all our current models of electricity generation — Alex

    Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. — Paul Erlich

    The present exponential growth can not continue for the next millennium. By the year 2600 the world’s population would be standing shoulder to shoulder and the electricity consumption would make the Earth glow red hot. — Stephen Hawking

    Given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation. — Garrett Hardin

    As soon as mankind reaches a population level where agriculture, as opposed the hunting and gathering, is necessary to provide enough food, collapse of the civilization is inevitable. — Gene Logsdon

    If a person doesn’t understand what the problem is, it is easy to come to the wrong conclusion. — Gail Tverberg

    Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it! Ecologists know that energy makes people, not the other way around. And then more people demand more energy. “Cheap” energy means lots more people.

    I have seen the future, and it is powered by photosynthesis. I’m just not sure humans are actually in such a future.

    • billbedford says:

      “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it! Ecologists know that energy makes people, not the other way around. And then more people demand more energy. “Cheap” energy means lots more people.”

      Not true. All energy rich western countries have native fertility rates much less than the replacement rate. In deed the population of most such countries is only maintained by immigration from countries that are energy poor.

    • oldfossil says:

      +Jan Steinman: All predictions of the future seem to ignore AI, which by mid-century could already have made humans redundant.

      Only AI will be able to solve the physics problems of fusion energy that are beyond our limited human intelligence. And a couple of years after the first fusion plant goes live, the robots could already be using antimatter energy. Machine learning and AI development are both exponentially faster than anything humans could achieve.

      Clean energy is a chimera. We’re wasting time and energy on a futile project.

  9. Jan Ebenholtz says:

    A recent presentation of fusion from MIT promising smaller cheap modular fusion reactors.
    https://youtu.be/KkpqA8yG9T4

    • Nador says:

      That was interesting. If they can increase the magnetic field as advertised then ITER would become obsolete before it is finished.

      • Jan Ebenholtz says:

        Decrasing the size makes it also possible to build prototypes for research all over the world to solve the remaining problems. In MIT a student might have helped to solve a problem with the instability of the magnetic field.
        New finding may explain heat loss in fusion reactors | MIT News
        http://news.mit.edu/2016/heat-loss-fusion-reactors-0121
        Nuclear is the only way to go. It seems USA is wakening up finaly. Both Hillary and Obama have endorsed nuclear as a clean source of energy. A bill presented by a joint group of republicans and democrats have been passed in congress endorsing nuclear ending the comittment on renewables only.
        After to many decades of delay we might heading for an atomic age leaving 1900th century behind but will we do it fast enough? Let us hope for a Hollywood miracle

        Ps We must remember that coal and oil took human civilization further avoiding the deforrestation of the world. But now it is time to move on.

      • robertok06 says:

        “promising smaller cheap modular fusion reactors.”

        No way.
        For magnetic confinement fusion to work, size DOES matter!… because there is a physical limit to the amount of energy in the DT plasma, a fraction of a W per cm3.
        Smaller reactors will need MORE wall material, because volumes grow with the cube of dimensions, areas with the square… a cube of 1 m3 volume has 6 m2 surface, while 8 cubes of 1/2 m side have a total surface area of 12 m2…
        Eight smaller reactors will need 8 control systems, practically every other item will need to be scaled up numerically by some factor.
        A bigger size of the reactor gives economies of scale which cannot be had with smaller “equivalent power” units… the only advantage of the latter is that they allow a faster deployment, due to a shorter construction time.
        But in the long term, as a solution for the next 60 years (whatever the lifetime of the reactor may be), the time lost to construction doesn’t matter much.

        • Alex says:

          Is there a difference between pulse fusion and steady state fusion?

          Developers like Helion are pursuing pulse fusion, where the plasma can be temporarily compressed until fusion ignition. Does that make it easier?

          We already have highly effective pulse fusion devices. We call them H-bombs. The trick is scaling these down to a few Megajoules per pulse, and getting the pulse frequency up.

        • Nador says:

          My impression from the video was that the primary reason for preferring smaller reactors was that it helps development, not economies of scale when the technology is (will be, if and other caveats) mature.

          • Jan Ebenholtz says:

            Yes you are tight. Fusion will require a lot more affordable research. An “ITER” in every labatory might get us to the goal eventually. In the mean time go for fission in a large scale. We know how to do fission.

  10. clivebest says:

    DT Fusion reactions like those in ITER or JET produce 14MeV neutrons and 3.5 MeV He4 nuclei. The neutrons escape the plasma and absorbed in a surrounding blanket to breed tritium and extract heat to eventually drive turbines. The He4 nuclei are confined inside the plasma heating the D and T ions. Ignition occurs when the He4 heating is sufficient to keep fusion reactions going indefinitely.

    The escaping neutrons also bombard the inner wall and the vessel itself so once the plant is decommissioned the site will be radioactive. However the radioactive products are relatively short lived (50-100 years). That means that radioactivity produced is on a different scale compared to that from a fission powerplant (which lasts thousands of years). Furthermore, the radioactivity in a fusion powerplant is confined to the powerplant itself. There is no need for waste to be transported long distances for reprocessing, storage or disposal.

    It is unlikely that any commercial Fusion powerplant would ever be based on ITER. ITER’s main purpose is to prove that all the steps needed to get fusion power to work can be mastered. More compact spherical tokamaks with higher magnetic pressure look to be much more economic power-plants long term. A UK startup is already pursuing this approach http://tokamakenergy.co.uk

    Aneutronic Proton-Boron fusion sounds very attractive but in reality is even more difficult because it requires about 10 times higher temperatures than DT with simultaneously better confinement times.

  11. ristvan says:

    French Physics Nobel laureate deGennes said of fusion generation, “We say we will put the Sun in a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don’t know how to make the box.”

    • robertok06 says:

      I can confirm that deGennes, a Nobel laureate for a completely different branch of physics, was WRONG.

      • ristvan says:

        If you mean TAE, they haven’t proven key essentials like their ‘temp scaling law, and their own website says they won’t have experimental evidence for 3-4 years. Evidence for the scaling law is not the same as having scaled. And having scaled is not the same as producing lab scale hydrogen boron fusion (which requires 10x the temp of H-H fusion). And having that at lab scale is not the same as extracting the heat to continuously generate electricity. We still don’t know how to build the box. TAE thinks it might. I am not cautiously optimistic.

        • RDG says:

          But But But “its on private investors money”!!!

          Formerly pensioner money.

          I predict 100% guaranteed failure.

  12. PhilH says:

    If I were an electric-utility executive (or a banker lending the money to one), rather than worry about what flavour of fusion might be the cheapest some decades in the future, I’d be anxiously scanning the technology horizon to see when, in my distribution territory, the following are likely to occur:

    a) Self-generated PV becomes cheaper than retail electricity, when my daytime demand starts evaporating.

    b) Self-generated PV becomes cheaper than the difference between wholesale and retail electricity, when I can no longer compete in the daytime with self-generation, even if I can generate for nothing.

    c) Self-generated PV with self-storage becomes cheaper than retail electricity, when my nighttime demand starts evaporating as well.

    d) Self-generated PV with self-storage becomes cheaper than the difference between wholesale and retail electricity, when it’s the start of ‘game over’ for my business.

    From now on, I’d increasingly need flexible generation from low-capital-cost plant, like gas, and decreasingly need generation whose high-capital-cost finances rely on long-term 24/365 generation, like fission or fusion. Counter-intuitively this is more important in high-latitude countries with little PV generation in winter, as the long daylight hours of summer make the storage required for (c) smaller and cheaper, and will sooner result in months over the summer with completely evaporating demand. So I don’t think fusion with either fuel nor large-scale fission reactors nor SMRs are the generation I need to meet my declining demand and its timings, so in order not to lock myself into long-term financial losses I can’t imagine building (or financing) any.

    • Leo Smith says:

      and since the answer to all of those is ‘never’ i’d build a ccgt or fission plant…

    • Alex says:

      (a) is already the case thanks to subsidies, so we can see the effect. Our house uses 4,500KWh per year. Despite producing 6,000KWh of solar, we still buy close to 3,000KWh per year. So we see a 1/3 reduction in sales.

      At the turn of the Century, I probably bought £20 worth of phone calls per month. Now I buy zero. But I’m still spending just as much on telecoms as I did before, and a substantial part of that is line rental.

      Electricity retailers will do what telcos have done: Up the monthly charge, and lower the KWh charge. My home produces more electricity than it consumes, but I still need – and pay for, the security of the line.

      Electricity generators are going to have to invest in gas turbines at one tier, and probably diesel generators at another tier. Markets need to split into payment for capacity and payment for delivery. The capacity payment will be set by the cost of installing and maintaining diesel generators that expect zero revenue from sales of MWh.

      And exported solar will be – already is at some times – essentially worthless. So you might get something like:
      Retail cost of electricity: 5p/KWh
      Monthly standing charge: £30
      Export value of solar: 0

      That would make it hard for solar to compete. You may get some cases where people can then cut the chord, and go with batteries, solar, and a diesel generator. In that case, the state should require that the diesel generators are at least as clean as Euro 6 car, and pay the price for their fuel that motorists do, and are quiet enough.

      Another scenario – which I would like to do in Germany – is ditch electricity and get a gas powered fuel cell. But that is because of the high cost of electricity.

    • Alex says:

      (a) is already the case thanks to subsidies, so we can see the effect. Our house uses 4,500KWh per year. Despite producing 6,000KWh of solar, we still buy close to 3,000KWh per year. So we see a 1/3 reduction in sales.

      At the turn of the Century, I probably bought £20 worth of phone calls per month. Now I buy zero. But I’m still spending just as much on telecoms as I did before, and a substantial part of that is line rental.

      Electricity retailers will do what telcos have done: Up the monthly charge, and lower the KWh charge. My home produces more electricity than it consumes, but I still need – and pay for, the security of the line.

      Electricity generators are going to have to invest in gas turbines at one tier, and probably diesel generators at another tier. Markets need to split into payment for capacity and payment for delivery. The capacity payment will be set by the cost of installing and maintaining diesel generators that expect zero revenue from sales of MWh.

      And exported solar will be – already is at some times – essentially worthless. So you might get something like:
      Retail cost of electricity: 5p/KWh
      Monthly standing charge: £30
      Export value of solar: 0

      That would make it hard for solar to compete. You may get some cases where people can then cut the chord, and go with batteries, solar, and a diesel generator. In that case, the state should require that the diesel generators are at least as clean as Euro 6 car, and pay the price for their fuel that motorists do, and are quiet enough.

      Another scenario – which I would like to do in Germany – is ditch electricity and get a gas powered fuel cell (with battery and solar). A 1KWe fuel cell and 10KWh battery would suffice (we would have to top up the battery before a sauna). But that is because of the high electricity prices.

    • Peter Mott says:

      I would also lobby for the removal of any feed-in-tariff and perhaps taxation of self-generation.

  13. RDG says:

    Revamp fusion? No, we’re too broke to build ITER-like test machines so Hirsch wants to force economics onto physics until it bends under our will. But whats the difference, right? All we get in the end is another lousy centralized electricity generator with fixed costs higher than hydro. That certainly cannot support this current monstrosity.

    What really pisses me off is that when the commoners ask the politicians what to do about the fossil fuel depletion problem they always defer to the geniuses at CERN who don’t want nothing to do with the real world in the first place. They are the “smartest guys in the room” as long as the room is locked and barricaded.

    • Peter Lang says:

      RDG,

      Do you really think you are smarter. Advocating for distributed power shows you haven;’t a clue what you are talking about – you clearly haven’t the most basic understanding of the costs of powering a modern economy with distributed power.

  14. Robert L. Hirsch says:

    Responses to Energy Matters Fusion Article Comments from Robert L. Hirsch

    I appreciate the interest and thoughts provided. Here are some brief responses, tracking in the order they were received.

    There are a number of innovative fusion concepts being pursued outside of the DT tokamak family of concepts. The Lockheed Martin concept is interesting enough to receive corporate funding. While the concept has a number of potentially attractive features, I have not seen enough to be able to provide informed commentary.

    Yes, many decades ago fusion was forecast to be ready in 30 years, and it still may be that long before it’s realized. Killing tokamak research and using the money for more commercially credible proposals would be appropriate, along with major changes in management and program content.

    One respondent asked about fusion-fission hybrids, which are occassionally mentioned. Hybrid concepts are almost as old as fusion research itself. I’ve had serious doubts about hybrids, because they are often a way to potentially “save” subpar fusion concepts and because all seem to be extremely complicated with minimal advantages beyond straight fission systems.

    Another respondent noted, “…you could take 5 minutes to look at the ITER design and conclude that it will never be economically viable.” In my experience it takes longer than five minutes to understand ITER, but when “a good engineer” does and asks questions of clarification, the foolishness of ITER as a potential commercial entity becomes obvious.

    The respondents noted three alternate fusion concepts. One was the Helion Energy concept of which I know little, so I cannot comment.

    A second is the Tri Alpha concept to be fueled with p-B11. I’ve had an opportunity to better understand this program and believe that their concept has considerable potential merit. Tri Alpha’s early experimental results were promising, and the company is in the process of building a new, more capable experiment, the results from which could go a long way in solidifying their concept’s potential.

    The third alternative mentioned concept is NIF, which stands for National Ignition Facility, a very large laser system, whose purpose is to achieve extremely rapid ignition of tiny fusion pellets to better understand the physics of thermonuclear weapons and to potentially open a fast ignition approach to fusion power. Based on decades of research, the hope for the achievement of pellet ignition in NIF was high. However, early results were disappointing, so physicists are doing further research to understand and to hopefully establish a potentially viable approach to fusion power. Even if successful with NIF, the development of lasers or other drivers for a practical pellet-fusion power system will be a major task.

    A question was asked about how the net energy from fusion would be converted into electricity. If a deuterium-tritium concept were to prove viable, electricity would be produced from the heat associated with slowing down of the resultant 14 Mev neutrons. That heat would be used in a thermal conversion process, like raising steam and running it through turbines connected to electric generators. In the p-B11 cycle, a heat cycle may be used or direct conversion of energetic fusion products may be possible.

    One respondent noted “A recent presentation of fusion from MIT promising smaller cheap modular fusion reactors.” From what I’ve found in my studies of standard tokamaks, the MIT concept could provide some improvements but would appear to magnify various concerns. I fail to see the dramatic improvements needed for commercial viability.

    A question was posed: “Is there a difference between pulse fusion and steady state fusion?” The answer is that both represent families of potentially interesting concepts, each with pluses and minuses. That’s all that can be said in the little space available here.

    My apologies to respondents who raised other points and some important questions. Time and space have overtaken.

    In closing if I may, let me note the provided quote from Paul Erlich: “Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” Not to worry! I know of nothing that exists or is on the horizon that might qualify. Maybe someday but not likely soon.

    Best to all.

    Bob

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