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Fusion or Fission?

  1. May 23, 2013 #1
    Hi everyone,

    First, I would like to thank all of you for helping me with my research paper. The paper was a big success!

    As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm about to start my college education as a nuclear engineer. I am debating between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.
    I understand the scientific difference between the two but I'm not sure about other aspects. I would really appreciate if you could give your opinion on this.

    1/Will commercial nuclear fusion be feasible in the few decades? I heard that the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory failed the nuclear fusion experiment. They said their goal, in four or five years, is to figure out what went wrong in the experiment. Is it really feasible when they have to spend that much time to figure out what could have gone wrong?
    2/How much does the government care about commercial nuclear fusion? Do they spend a lot of money on this area?
    3/Will I be able to get a decent job in this field?
    4/I just read something really interesting about cold fusion. Here's the link:
    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/...ied-has-10000-times-the-energy-density-of-gas
    Is it true?
    5/As for nuclear fission, I know that Berkeley University is working on a new model of fission reactor which could reuse spent fuel and minimize nuclear waste. So I think nuclear fission is also a good solution to our energy crisis.
    6/ If I decide to go into fusion, I would minor in EECS. If I decide to go into fission, I would minor in ME. I'm pretty sure that both fields need knowledge of MSE so I will major in MSE in either case. What do you think?

    Thank you very much!
    Xholic
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2013 #2

    mfb

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    We'll have to wait a few decades to know that.
    My guess: probably yes, but not with laser-driven fusion. I think tokamaks or (maybe) stellarators will lead to the first fusion power plants.
    Which government?
    ITER costs more than 10 billions, and it is under construction, together with some smaller fusion projects elsewhere.
    How could we know that? There are jobs I would call "decent" in this field.
    It violates the forum rules to discuss cold fusion here.
    The author of that article makes some obvious mistakes in the description... probably something for a bet.


    I think so, too.
     
  4. May 23, 2013 #3
    Thank you! I'm sorry for not being clear.
    2/ I mean the United States Government.
    3/ Let me rephrase that question. Would it be harder or easier to find job if my specialty is nuclear fusion?
    4/ Sorry about that.

    xholic
     
  5. May 23, 2013 #4

    mfb

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    That is not obvious in an international forum ;).
    <- not from the US.

    Relative to what?
    I don't know.
     
  6. May 23, 2013 #5

    jimgraber

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    I am not knowledgeable and just guessing, but I think that right now there are far more people employed in fission than in fusion. So I guess studying fission would be the safer choice. The knowledgeable people here can correct me if I am wrong.
     
  7. May 24, 2013 #6
    Nobody knows when commercial fusion will be feasible. 30 years is a reasonable number but it is just a guess. The answers depends on a number of scientific, technological, and political factors.

    The National Ignition Facility, NIF, is at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory not Lawrence Berkeley, In my opinion it is a great experiment. The people using it doing good science and they are learning a lot. That fact that it didn't ignite is disappointing, but it means that there is still something we don't understand. Remember that the whole purpose of building experiments and doing science is to enhance our understanding. It is also not clear if NIF will be able to ignite pellets in the future. They are close (within ~10-15%). My one complaint is that the management at NIF really oversold their hand and proposed an extremely aggressive time line for achieving ignition. We have been doing Fusion research for 60+ years and it is not easy. The idea that they could ignite a pellet in 3 years was overly ambitious and frankly dishonest.

    The use DOE Office of Fusion Energy Science budget hovers around 500 million dollars. There have been a few studies that argue this is not enough money to develop fusion energy into a cost competitive source of energy. There are other countries that take fusion more seriously than the US. For example China and Korea are really ramping up their fusion programs.


    The field is competitive, but you can get decent paying jobs in fusion. (There is a huge demand for Materials people in fusion. If this is your speciality, then you should have no problem finding a job).

    Fusion attracts a lot of pseudo-science. When somebody makes a claim that sounds too good to be true, its better to be sceptical. This is especially true when they refuse to share the details of how their experiment works.

    A number of Universities and labs are doing research into closing the fuel cycle, reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, and building fast breeder/burner reactors.

    The solution to the energy crisis involves an investment into many different energy technologies. There is not a one size fits all solution! I strongly believe the fission is going to be an integral part of the solution, but it not THE solution.

    Remember that each EE, ME, or MSE course you take is one less NE course that you take. It is true that having a strong background in one of these fields can give you an advantage over someone who does not, but you also want a strong NE background. There is certainly a trade off that you have to consider. Also you can take courses in these fields with out going for a minor.
     
  8. May 24, 2013 #7

    mfb

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    In addition, ignition alone is far away from a power plant. The lasers used there are very inefficient (grid power -> laser power), fusion would have to have a giant energy gain to counter that. And then you need some way to fuse several pellets per second. Currently, the lasers need hours to cool down after a single shot. And I did not even take the costs into account here.
     
  9. May 24, 2013 #8
    Thank you very much everyone!
    It is very true. You're absolutely right. It's nice to have a minor but it's more important to understand well nuclear engineering. I just took a look at the joint major NE / MSE schedule plan, and it notes that one only need to take certain NE classes + 9 units NE electives in order to satisfy major requirement. I looked at the course catalog and realized that nine units are too little. So my plan now is to take all the NE electives that are related to nuclear power (19 units total) and if I still have some free slots in my schedule, I would take either EE or ME courses.
    http://www.mse.berkeley.edu/undergrad/mse-ne-joint
     
  10. May 24, 2013 #9
    I found another option.
    I can minor in physics (by taking upper division courses that are related to fusion). What do you think?
    Here are my planned upper division courses:
    Physics 137A - Quantum Mechanics: Introduction to the methods of quantum mechanics with applications to atomic, molecular, solid state, nuclear and elementary particle physics.
    Physics 137B - Quantum Mechanics: Introduction to the methods of quantum mechanics with applications to atomic, molecular, solid state, nuclear and elementary particle physics.
    Physics 110A - Electromagnetism and Optics: A course emphasizing electromagnetic theory and applications; charges and currents; electric and magnetic fields; dielectric, conducting, and magnetic media; relativity, Maxwell equations. Wave propagation in media, radiation and scattering, Fourier optics, interference and diffraction, ray optics and applications.
    Physics 110B - Electromagnetism and Optics: A course emphasizing electromagnetic theory and applications; charges and currents; electric and magnetic fields; dielectric, conducting, and magnetic media; relativity, Maxwell equations. Wave propagation in media, radiation and scattering, Fourier optics, interference and diffraction, ray optics and applications.
    Physics 142 - Introduction to Plasma Physics: Motion of charged particles in electric and magnetic fields, dynamics of fully ionized plasma from both microscopic and macroscopic point of view, magnetohydrodynamics, small amplitude waves; examples from astrophysics, space sciences and controlled-fusion research
     
  11. May 25, 2013 #10
    Just a FYI, there is no real private industry for fusion reactors and that doesn't look like that will change any time soon. Most fusion work is still on a very academic/research level and mostly dependent on government funding with no promise of that funding being there forever. I'm not saying it's not possible to make a career in it, but you are heavily specializing yourself if you do a nuclear fusion focused NE undergraduate degree. Nuclear Engineering is highly specialized already and the job market for BS level NE engineers is pretty awful right now.

    To add to this, make sure you minor in something you actually enjoy/will need for your subfield of NE. Such as getting a minor in MSE/Physics/ECE would be useless if you end up doing thermal hydraulics work. Make sure you don't waste time with course work you won't actually need or find interesting.
     
  12. May 25, 2013 #11
    Thermalne: Thank you very much for the information
    For the record, I consider double majoring in MSE / NE. The adviser at Berkeley told me that the joint majors in MSE / NE "will successfully compete for positions in the energy sector."
    Do you mean that graduate students will have a hard time finding jobs? Could you elaborate more on this?
    What minor would be beneficial if my subfield is nuclear fission?
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2013
  13. May 25, 2013 #12
    Then I would focus on your MSE/NE degree then and not try to add minor. Additional majors/minors aren't going to be that useful past the course applicable to your subfield. Honestly, I don't know where your adviser came up with that opinion. I don't know of many companies that would want someone with both a major in NE and MSE. They would want either a NE or MSE but not for the same jobs. Of course this is just my personal opinion based off my own experiences.

    No the job market for undergraduates in NE is awful right now. The majority of companies that hire NE s are not hiring and there are very little job postings for Nuclear engineering positions. I've actually seen a lot of masters and PhD level students get jobs recently.
     
  14. May 25, 2013 #13
    I see. So the majority of companies only hire masters and PhD level students. I heard the same thing too. Graduate NE students have a hard time finding jobs in California. I'm not sure whether your info is true everywhere but thanks for the insight. I would talk to my adviser about this.
    By the way, do nuclear engineers still get high pay like in the past?
    http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172161.htm -it's 2012 report
    Thanks!
     
  15. May 25, 2013 #14
    That's not what I said or didn't try to say. I said the job market for bachelors level NEs is really bad, but the job market for Masters and PhD level is better right now. A majority of companies hire all levels of NEs, but right now the market is dictating that there is not a great need for bachelor's level vs. graduate level. There are very few companies that hire only masters and PhD students and actually many hire only bachelors level students.

    You are also in a state that is extremely anti-nuclear energy or nuclear anything. I doubt that will change any time soon. The southeast will be a great place for nuclear engineers when the market picks up in the future. The demand is down because there are not a lot of new reactors being build and everyone who was suppose to retire a couple of years ago did not. This mostly applies to the nuclear energy field and not representative of nuclear medicine or nuclear detection/security fields.

    That's still pretty representative of the pay scales you'd see as a nuclear engineer. Also, thank you for not linking those awful yahoo articles.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2013
  16. May 25, 2013 #15
    I see. Thank you very much for your information.
    "You are also in a state that is extremely anti-nuclear energy or nuclear anything."
    Now I understand why a lot of people call me crazy for following my dream of becoming a nuclear engineer. sigh....
     
  17. May 25, 2013 #16
    I'm really sorry you have to deal with that. Trust me, that is not the majority of responses you will get outside of California. I'm on east coast and I've never actually gotten that response... ever.
     
  18. May 25, 2013 #17
    Thank you.
    I'm planning to move out of California when I graduate.
     
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