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Fusion power, economics

  1. Jun 13, 2015 #1
    Dear PF Forum,
    Can anyone give an idea.
    Supposed fusion power is available. With its limitless fuel source from the ocean. What would happen?
    How much would this energy cost in term of money compared to gasoline and electricity?
    In fission, the fuel is expensive (uranium).
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2015 #2


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    That is the (possible) trillion-dollar question ITER and DEMO are supposed to answer. There are multiple estimates, but without a demo power plant it is impossible to get a reliable number.
    Per kilogram, but not per kWh. Fuel is just a few percent of the total cost of fission.
  4. Jun 13, 2015 #3
    I mean comparing 1 Kg U235 vs (3250 * 18+1) / 2 Kg of sea water. Plus 1.5 Kg Litium or Tritium. Perhaps Litium, it is much cheaper.
  5. Jun 13, 2015 #4
    (different estimates in the article, also one with less than 10%)

    Assuming that powerplants cost per kwh would be the same (looks as more complicated and more expensive, though maybe there would be some economics of scale) the result is similar like cutting nuclear energy cost by 14%. Does itsound like impending revolution? ;)
  6. Jun 13, 2015 #5
    That's an interesting link that you give.
    I mean the fuel cost of fission power plant (uranium) vs the fuel cost of fusion power plant (sea water, or just water, where we get deuterium)
  7. Jun 13, 2015 #6
    My point is (mfb tried to say that too ;) ) that fuel cost for nuclear energy production is a small part of bill. The main part is capital cost (read: construction cost and paying off the mortgage ;) ).

    In most calculation it leads to nuclear energy being already quite cheap source. (there is a tricky part of how high interest rates and how many decades the power station would work, which is a bit guessing incoming safety regulations).
  8. Jun 13, 2015 #7
    Yes, I think you're right in that point. Reading from your link, fuel cost is relatively small compared to construction and operating cost.
  9. Jun 13, 2015 #8
    So is your question, concerning result of a bit cheaper nuclear (assuming no longer any phobias related) valid? Because I see a few results, but not sure whether it would be interesting for you.
  10. Jun 13, 2015 #9
    I don't know about the cost of power plant. But if I remember back then in 1990's. The price of Intel 486 processor is $400 to $500. Now it cost nothing ($400 if you consider it antique :smile:). Perhaps the cost of power plant will dramatically decrease? Or it's not the case with power plant.
  11. Jun 13, 2015 #10
    I'd say it's not the case for anything except electronics.

    Progress more realistically:
    Fuel efficiency:

    Thermal power plants:

    (I picked up those indicators, because I could easily found data)
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2017
  12. Jun 13, 2015 #11
  13. Jun 13, 2015 #12
    Except electronics! Yes, yes, it's clear now for me!
    Okay, can I ask a personal opinion?. I'm dreaming about a bright future in human civilization. One of the important key is the energy.
    A Russian scientist, I think, I forgot the name that once set the level of civilization.
    The level of civilization is determined by how the civilization uses/consumes energy.
    Level 0, just like on us, now.
    Level 1, just like at Star Trek
    Level 2, just like Star Wars
    Level 3, ...?
    It seems that energy plays a very important role in civilization.
    What do you think of the future of fusion power for human civilization in the NEAR future? Is it going to be cheap if in operation at all?
  14. Jun 13, 2015 #13


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    1 kg of deuterium is much more expensive than 7000 kg of sea water as you have to separate it from protium ("regular hydrogen"). Still negligible compared to the cost of fusion reactors.

    Power plants are not semiconductors, their price does not go down like that. You can make a billion transistors in parallel (scaled up from a million a while ago), but not a billion power plants.

    Kardashev scale
  15. Jun 13, 2015 #14
    A billion power plants parallel production!
    LOL, Okay, okay I've got the point.
  16. Jun 13, 2015 #15


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    No. A computer chip is a piece of technology, not a building. The cost of buildings and non-technology products do not follow Moore's Law, never have and never will. The materials and labor that go into them always get more expensive over time, not less.

    Fundamentally, I see no reason why a fusion plant should be less expensive than a fission plant, especially since fusion is proving to so difficult to make happen (unlike fission, which was immediately commercially deployable). So the economics works like this:

    1. If the fuel for fusion power were free and the plant cost the same to build, fusion power would cost 14% less than fission power.

    That's not a very compelling promise for something we've been waiting for decades for and spending enormous sums of money for without success.
    For the above reasons, I think fusion power is near totally irrelevant for the near and long term future of civilization. And if it ever gets in operation at all will not be any cheaper than fission power.

    Remember: pretty much the only thing we know for sure about fusion power is that it is a lot more difficult to do than fission power.
  17. Jun 13, 2015 #16
    I couldn't agree more.
  18. Jun 13, 2015 #17


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    Quick additional explanation and caveat to this:
    A nuclear plant is somewhat of a piece of technology and the first fusion plants will be technological marvels as well. But the vast majority of the of the construction will be mundane: men pouring concrete and welding or bolting-together steel.

    That said, the first plant will be unique, so at leaste the second, third and fourth should be less expensive. But after a few, the price will level off and go back up.
  19. Jun 13, 2015 #18
    You meant:


    I'd just say, that in last years development looked in the following way:
    -you use roughly the same amount of energy;
    -thanks to using it more efficiently you produce higher GDP.

    I've heard that is joked that nuclear fusion is that is supposed to be workable in next 20 years, and that was being said for over last 30 years ;)

    I see 3 realistic scenarios:
    a) still unworkable at reasonable price
    b) works fine but free neutrons produced by fusion irradiate the reactor, which means that nuclear waste has to be stored. Technically - no big deal, politically - same Greens/Luddites protesting as usual.
    c) Works fine - energy might be a bit cheaper.

    - roughly counting 1/3 of energy bill in the USA is cost of energy distribution (building and maintaining cables), that would be unchanged;
    (source: http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/electricity-distribution/ )
    -those power plants are going to be really expensive, so one would build them only if expecting to get money from his investment back. And he would only get it back if the energy price would not be drastically lower...

    So my hopes in near future are somewhat limited.
  20. Jun 13, 2015 #19
    Okay, okay. Electronics are much different than buildings.:smile:
  21. Jun 13, 2015 #20


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    The first one will certainly be more expensive than the 10th one and that more expensive than the 100th (in case we build 100), because you don't have benefits from mass production, you want larger safety margins everywhere and you don't know many clever ways to save money yet.
  22. Jun 13, 2015 #21
    Wow, what a nice graph you send me. Thanks.
    Yes, yes. I just remember that the name sounds like Kim Kardashian, but forget the actual name is.

    There's a peak in US graph in 1970's for oil needs but descends later. Why is that? Fission plant?
    They say France is 100% fission dependent, yet the oil needs do not descend. Why is that? Transportation?

    Yeah, fusion is the energy of the future! And in the future, fusion is STILL the energy of the future :frown:

    I have this from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Waste_management
    It looks like the waste is much less dangerous then fission power plant.

    Waste management
    The large flux of high-energy neutrons in a reactor will make the structural materials radioactive. The radioactive inventory at shut-down may be comparable to that of a fission reactor, but there are important differences.

    The half-life of the radioisotopes produced by fusion tends to be less than those from fission, so that the inventory decreases more rapidly. Unlike fission reactors, whose waste remains radioactive for thousands of years, most of the radioactive material in a fusion reactor would be the reactor core itself, which would be dangerous for about 50 years, and low-level waste another 100. Although this waste will be considerably more radioactive during those 50 years than fission waste, the very short half-life makes the process very attractive, as the waste management is fairly straightforward. By 500 years the material would have the same radiotoxidity as coal ash

    Additionally, the choice of materials used in a fusion reactor is less constrained than in a fission design, where many materials are required for their specific neutron cross-sections. This allows a fusion reactor to be designed using materials that are selected specifically to be "low activation", materials that do not easily become radioactive.Vanadium, for example, would become much less radioactive than stainless steel. Carbon fiber materials are also low-activation, as well as being strong and light, and are a promising area of study for laser-inertial reactors where a magnetic field is not required.

    In general terms, fusion reactors would create far less radioactive material than a fission reactor, the material it would create is less damaging biologically, and the radioactivity "burns off" within a time period that is well within existing engineering capabilities for safe long-term waste storage.

  23. Jun 13, 2015 #22

    USA supported (saved?) Israel during Yom Kippur War, so Arab countries retaliated by slashing production to increase prices.

    Later - better technologies and regulations intended to stop CO2 emissions.

    My guess is that anyway, regardless of politics the economy would become more fuel efficient, just the demand for energy would not be just flat.

    France? Political decision. Plus I think that they had their own nuclear program that was dreamt to stop communist single-handed helped to provide technology and enough engineers.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking here about technological factors, but about psychological ones. In case of fission that was the problem. People who protest against nuclear energy are not good enough at math, to appreciate that according to wiki page that you quoted, nuclear garbage would have shorter half lives.

    One more thing - concerning of potential impact on economy of nuclear fussion, you may look about a different one that's now happening in the USA:

    Yes, shale gas. So it might give you rough idea, how such energy driven tech revolution may look like.
  24. Jun 13, 2015 #23
    oOo, that's why. Yes, I remember something about oil crisis, and OPEC and Henry Kissinger all in the 70's. The 80's belonged to Reagan, Berlin Wall, Gulf War. I didn't know that Kissinger was the negotiator. So it was all started by "Yom Kippur". Just didn't realize that the peak and drop was caused by this.

    Shale gas? Wow that's new, at least for me. Thanks for your article.
  25. Jul 7, 2015 #24


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    Russ a question: I have read that the Chinese are going to mine the Moon for Helium 3 for fusion energy. Why are they doing this? Why don't they just built a bunch of nuclear reactors? Are there other goals to this project?
  26. Jul 7, 2015 #25


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    Where did you read that?
    That might be a concept, but I doubt they'll do that in the next decades. There are not even the fusion reactors available that could use the helium.

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