# Nuclear fusion power plants - why is it taking so long to make them?

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1. Jan 1, 2016

### SpaceBear

Hello everyone and happy new year!

I would like to ask why it takes so long to create nuclear fusion power plants.

The world's first nuclear fission power plant to generate electricity was started in 1954, some nine years after the nuclear fission bomb was detonated.
Now we are more than 50 years after the first nuclear fusion bomb was detonated and still, not even the test nuclear fusion plant was completed (ITER). The first nuclear fusion plant to supply energy to the grid will be after 2050 (PROTO), some almost 100 years since the first detonation of a thermonuclear bomb.
This is ridiculously slow. What takes them so long to make such power plants?

Thanks

2. Jan 1, 2016

Staff Emeritus
That's awfully judgmental, don't you think? Gunpowder was invented 1200 years ago and we don't have gunpowder-based power plants, do we? (Indeed, in the 1600's Huygens tried exactly that)

Last edited: Jan 1, 2016
3. Jan 1, 2016

### SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
The mechanics of fission and fusion are radically different, for one thing.

In order to produce a successful atomic bomb, a functional fission reactor was required to provide design information to construct the bomb and to produce the nuclear fuel used in more advanced weapons designs.

In order to produce a successful fusion bomb, it was not necessary to demonstrate fusion reactions in the lab, only to provide the requisite conditions, i.e. high temperatures, primarily, which made fusion reactions more likely to occur when a bomb was detonated.

In order to harness fusion reactions to produce electricity, the energy release must be gradual over time, something which is directly opposite of what makes for a successful fusion bomb. The development of methods and materials to contain the high temperature plasma used in most fusion designs has been the chief obstacle to constructing an efficient fusion reactor, i.e., a reactor which produces more energy than it consumes.

To emphasize, nuclear fission can occur at room temperature and otherwise normal conditions. Nuclear fusion requires either fantastically high temperatures, high pressure, or a combination of the two, like one would find at the center of a star, which conditions are much more difficult to produce and sustain on earth.

This also illustrates that even though some things seem like they should be capable of being invented or developed directly from another idea or ideas, invention doesn't always proceed on a fixed schedule.

Last edited: Jan 1, 2016
4. Jan 1, 2016

Staff Emeritus
And, in fact, we could have a fusion reactor today. Blow up a tiny bomb to melt a bunch of salt, and then extract the heat from the salt to drive a turbine. This technology exists. But you probably want to build it far away from people, and make sure that the bomb builder is someone you really, really trust.

5. Jan 1, 2016

### SpaceBear

How much money anyone invested in the first century after the invention of gunpowder, in order to create a gunpowder-based power plant, in order to understand if it's possible or not to create such things?
And you can't compare nuclear fusion with gunpowder explosion. It is very well known that nuclear fusion can be used in a power plant to produce energy and heat - since a long time ago.

6. Jan 1, 2016

### SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
The harnessing of electricity and the use of power plants for its generation came loooong after gunpowder was discovered.

The central electricity generation concept was only first developed and demonstrated a little over 130 years ago, in 1882 at the Pearl Street Station in New York City by Thomas Edison.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_Street_Station

Don't you know any general history of technology?
It is widely thought that fusion can be used in a power plant to produce energy and heat, but for all the time and effort and money put into various fusion projects, it has not been demonstrated that a practical plant can be designed and built, let alone operated economically.

Like I mentioned previously, it is difficult, if not impossible, to invent on a schedule.

7. Jan 1, 2016

### SpaceBear

And it is not an obstacle anymore. ITER and Wendelstein 7-X already have those materials.

ITER has a cost of US$14 billion, which is some 70 times less than the cost of the war in Iraq. Several rounds of quantitative easing (= printing money) in America have increased the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet—the value of the assets it holds—from less than$1 trillion in 2007 to more than $4 trillion now. Bank of England has created £375bn in quantitative easing (QE); the Federal Reserve bought$1.25tn worth of mortgage-backed securities in its first round of QE;

So the materials are not the problem. Also money are not a problem - it's worth investing in it since it will help us save a lot of money by not buying oil and gas.
And then, what is the problem? What makes them move so slow like a snail?

Last edited: Jan 1, 2016
8. Jan 1, 2016

### SpaceBear

Sorry you did not understood what I meant.
Once the nuclear fusion bomb was created, there idea of making a nuclear fusion power plant was quickly explored and invested into.
Once the gunpowder was invented, nobody invested or even explored the idea of creating energy and electricity for domestic use. Simply because electricity was not even invented yet.
So there are very good reasons why it took 400 years from the moment the gunpowder was invented to the moment when someone (Huygens) tried create a gunpowder powered plant.
Which is not the case with the nuclear fusion - electricity and power plants already existed at the time the nuclear fusion bomb was created and tested.

9. Jan 1, 2016

### SpaceBear

Only the Catalan president Pujol has some 2 or 3 billion euros hidden in offshore accounts.
http://www.laprensasa.com/309_america-in-english/2762420_spanish-police-arrest-son-of-former-catalonian-president-in-corruption-probe.html [Broken]

The 500 largest American companies hold more than $2.1 trillion in accumulated profits offshore to avoid U.S. taxes and would collectively owe an estimated$620 billion in U.S. taxes if they repatriated the funds, according to a study released on Tuesday.

There are plenty of money out there to finance 100 projects like ITER in the same time. Investing more would not accelerate the process of creating nuclear fusion power plants?

Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
10. Jan 1, 2016

### SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
The people in charge of these projects think they have the materials, but as yet, neither of these projects has undergone any long-term testing to prove this assertion.

Question: how fast the US would have developed the first atomic bomb if, instead of investing $2 billion, they would have invested only$200 million and if they would have hired only 10% of the specialists they did? Same speed they got with $2 billion? Last edited: Jan 1, 2016 13. Jan 1, 2016 ### SteamKing Staff Emeritus Your cynicism is clouding your judgement. The Manhattan project succeeded because it was a national effort. The program received a priority allocation of men and material in order to be completed on time. But one of the surprising things about the project, which you have accidentally hit on, is that only about 10% of the total expenditure, coincidentally about$200 million, was actually devoted to uncovering the science behind the bomb. The vast majority of funds expended, or about 90% of that \$2 billion, was spent on mundane things, like constructing the production reactors in Washington state to make plutonium and building the separation plants in Tennessee to produce U-235 isotope; in other words, the Manhattan Project was a gigantic civil engineering works project spread across the U.S. which just happened to make an atomic bomb. Put another way, it was also unnecessary, since both Japan and Germany abandoned their atomic projects before making significant progress toward developing a working bomb, or even a nuclear reactor. This is not to say that dropping the bombs on Japan didn't hasten the end of the war, but the conclusion to the conflict was foregone by the time the bombs were used.

People have always claimed that fusion reactors will be much cleaner than fission reactors because the former does not generate nuclear waste like the latter. That claim does not withstand scrutiny, since there are parts of a fusion reactor which undergo intense neutron bombardment when the reactor is operating. That can make a lot of regular material radioactive, which material must be disposed of carefully. At this point, no one is certain of the total cost of building and operating a fusion plant for an extended period of time, while the costs of building and operating conventional power plants are well-known.

14. Jan 2, 2016

### jim hardy

Spacebear

did you as a kid never play the riddle
"If i make an acid that's strong enough to dissolve anything
whatever will i keep it in ?"

Fusion requires heating "stuff" to temperature hot enough to melt anything
so whatever are you going to keep it in ?
That's why they're trying magnetic fields, magnetism doesn't melt
but magnetic fields are squishy and the "stuff" leaks out.
And they've been trying to make a leakproof magnetic container since i was in high school
And that's why there's not yet a continuous duty fusion machine.
Well, except maybe the Farnsworth Fusor - but it doesn't make enough power to run itself.

You sound like a manager. Management types think if they put nine women on the job they can make a baby in one month.

Science types are still working on how to keep those big electromagnets from blowing up.
https://inldigitallibrary.inl.gov/sti/4192221.pdf [Broken]

Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
15. Jan 2, 2016

### SteamKing

Staff Emeritus

Throwing manpower at a project which has fallen behind schedule often makes the project fall further behind schedule.

16. Jan 3, 2016

### gmax137

Start voting for people who think this way. Convince your friends to vote for them too.

Stop voting for these people.

17. Jan 3, 2016

### dlgoff

Thanks for posting this report. Very interesting.

Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
18. Jan 4, 2016

### jim hardy

There are reports the Japanese developed one
but i dont know if on the budget you suggest

Here's that David Snell article from 1946

for the general area
paste into google maps 39°07'57.9"N 127°44'36.7E

Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
19. Jan 4, 2016

### gmax137

Last edited: Jan 4, 2016
20. Jan 4, 2016

### jim hardy

I can't vouch for it of course .
It sounds plausible.
If true there should be a crater someplace in that bay

where i lived in Florida Keys old WW2 bomb craters were good "lobster holes" .
Local kids should know.