Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fusion Symposia

Physics Essays has a symposium every two years to discuss the status and interesting papers dealing with fusion research.

Here is a description of their purpose in relation to the Seventh Symposium
The objective of this series of Symposia is to assess the benefits, applications, and spin-offs of nuclear fusion research, including both conventional and alternative approaches......

A Seventh Symposium is scheduled for 5-9 March 2007. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, Osaka University and Sandia National Laboratory endorse the Symposium. Invited and contributed papers will be part of the Symposium. Invited observers will also be included.
Vincent Page of GE wrote a very interesting paper on the commercialization of fusion energy for the Sixth Symposium.
  • Fusion reactors must be sized reasonably.

  • Current cost estimates for the ITER project are approximately $6 billion.

  • GE’s present quarterly earnings are “only” $4 billion.

  • We don’t want governments to build fusion reactors, we want private industry to build them.

  • Designs need to be feasible with power output in the 15 MWe to 1500 MWe range and cost < $6700 per KWe.

  • (MWe = MW electrical, KWe = KW electrical)

  • More expensive machines will not be commercially viable.

  • Competition will only occur if private industry is involved.
Page has a lot more details on the economics, but those are his main points. One other important point he makes is that the real target is coal base load plants at $1,000 capital costs per KWhe or gas turbine peakers (without a steam cycle) at about $500 KWhe.

I think his main point is correct. Other than the physics, ITER and other similar tokamak fusion reactors are a waste of money. It will not lead to viable fusion power plants even if it works, because working size is estimated to have to be in the 10s of GWe range. Even if the fuel is free capital costs are a killer. On top of that you have to figure out how you are going to get all that electricity from where it is generated to where it is used.

Dr. Robert Bussard makes the same point in his video "Should Google Go Nuclear" which you can watch here. He gets a good laugh from the audience (about 12 minutes into the video) when he says about physicists working on ITER, " they don't think it will ever work, but is really good science". His friend, Plasma Physicist Dr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good."

ITER is costing the USA $400 million a year. It would seem to me that it ought to be possible to come up with $20 million in government funds to try out some of these other ideas.

One thing that gives me hope is that private venture capital is supporting Tri Alpha Energy. I expect to see more venture capital in the field over time.

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