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Romalino Caraig

Jun 20, 2014
10:08

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Hi team, The proposal is quite promising and innovative, but I'm wondering how is this different from nuclear fusion? If they're the same, how would they fare compare with existing nuclear power plants from an energy production point of view, since existing nuclear power plants already have much higher yield than, say, coal or geothermal or natural gas. Let me know how I could help. Regards, Romalino

Howard Hornfeld

Jun 20, 2014
11:02

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Hi Romalino - Thank you for your positive interest. Indeed this is "conventional" nuclear fusion, and from the energy and climate change aspects the differences are as follows: 1) per lb or per kg, fusion fuel would produce ca. eight times more energy than fission systems 2) there is essentially NO waste product (radioactive or not) except helium 3) there is very minimal transport of materials using fossil-fueled trucks (no waste and minor quantities of raw materials) 4) as with present nuclear fission facilities there are NO greenhouse gas or other toxic gaseous products I don't know who you are and your background, so answering the last question is difficult, but we are certainly open to help - particularly on the financial side! Best regards, Howard

Dennis Peterson

Jul 27, 2014
12:29

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Interesting plan. But is another tokamak really the best way to go? I advocated alternative fusion research in this 2013 entry: https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/10/planId/1304168 Several of those approaches have venture capital investment, and have the potential for lower-cost energy production than tokamaks are likely to achieve. Two I missed in that proposal are UW's Field-Reversed Configuration, and the Spheromak: https://www.llnl.gov/str/Hill.html One of the researchers on UW's spheromak program told me they need $6 million for a proof-of-concept experiment. If that works, it's just straightforward engineering to a production reactor with a factor of ten cost reduction compared to ITER.

Dennis Peterson

Jul 27, 2014
12:40

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Here's that researcher's paper covering the economic advantages of spheromaks: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0920379614002518

Howard Hornfeld

Jul 27, 2014
01:07

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Interesting stuff, Dennis, and I fully agree that we should not close any doors before we get fusion happening commercially. My point for starting a ca. 100MW pilot plant using convention advanced tokamak technologies is to use the most well-researched and well-documented techniques around, to fly a propeller plane (i.e. a simple aircraft that actually flies)- we'll make the jet planes in the next steps. The economics question is extremely difficult to answer fgr several non-obvious reasons: 1) tritium is an incredibly expensive raw material (30-100 thousand dollars per gram!), but one can (will!) make it in the reactor. But we could make more than we need, and sell it on the open market, especially for new fusion plants which will all need start-up materials. How do you factor that in to the cost? 2) deuterium is cheap, but what does that mean? How much will deuterium cost when it becomes more than a laboratory reagent? 3) how does one factor in the cost of waste treatment/storage for fission systems? Also, the world has made an enormous investment in ITER, and technically the results are really useful (management, not technology, is ITER's problem). But the research data for tokamaks is very valuable, considering the US paid only 9% of the cost. I know it is terribly inefficient, but still --- the data and techniques are well developed. Let's take advantage and go the next steps, now, to prove the concept.

Dennis Peterson

Jul 31, 2014
08:07

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It's definitely the more conservative approach. MIT's Alcator C-Mod group has done some work on making tokamaks more economical. Here's a document about it: http://fire.pppl.gov/FPA12_Whyte_SS.pdf I wouldn't think deuterium would ever be expensive, considering there's enough in an average American's shower to provide all his energy for a year: "The average American demands 10,000 W of continuous power, or 3×1011 J of energy per year. At 20 MeV per whack, each person needs 1023 reactions per year. In the D-D case (requiring twice the deuterium as D-T), this means we need 2×1023 deuterium atoms—coming from 2×1027 hydrogen atoms at a fractional abundance of 0.01%. Sounds like a lot, but it’s 3,300 moles—amounting to 60 kg of ordinary water. 60 liters is similar to the amount of water used in a typical American shower." - http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/01/nuclear-fusion/ But of course capital expense will be the main portion of the cost, like it is for renewables. And maintenance. Taking care of fission waste could be a way for fusion reactors to earn a little extra profit.
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