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

  1. Jan 1, 2016 #1
    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. jcsd
  3. Jan 1, 2016 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    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
  4. Jan 1, 2016 #3

    SteamKing

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    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
  5. Jan 1, 2016 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    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.
     
  6. Jan 1, 2016 #5
    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.
     
  7. Jan 1, 2016 #6

    SteamKing

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    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.
     
  8. Jan 1, 2016 #7
    Thanks for your answer but I already had an idea how nuclear fusion works.

    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
  9. Jan 1, 2016 #8
    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.
     
  10. Jan 1, 2016 #9
    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
  11. Jan 1, 2016 #10

    SteamKing

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    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.
    Not relevant to this discussion. The US spent some $2 billion on the first atomic bomb project (equivalent to about $26 billion in current dollars) and it wasn't even looking to start generating electricity using a new method. BTW, the price of oil during the war was less than about $2.00 a barrel, even though demand went through the roof to support military operations.
    [/PLAIN] [Broken]
    Not sure what this has to do with making fusion power plants more widely available.

    I could print a piece of paper which said "Worth US$1 trillion" on it and put it in my drawer at home. It doesn't mean I actually have $1 trillion to spend.

    All that paper being held by the Federal Reserve is just that: paper. That money has been borrowed and spent already on other things. It can't be spent again until it is borrowed from someone or extracted in the form of higher taxes from the public.
    I think you are minimizing the obstacles to the practical construction and operation of the ITER facility for one thing. Spending the money and having the materials on hand are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for a successful project to occur.

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

    You may think ITER is something like a done-deal, but it's not. No one has ever constructed a closed containment device to handle fusing plasma before on this scale. The torus for the reaction chamber alone is more than 5000 tons of precisely manufactured sections, which is something that's not easy to guarantee perfect assembly in the field. There's a separate cryostat of almost 4000 tons which must be constructed for fuel storage.

    Like I mentioned previously, it's thought that this device will work once it gets built, but no one AFAIK has ever tested anything even a fraction of its size.

    Unlike fission power, which basically involves shooting neutrons at a hunk of fissile material, there are a number of competing theories and processes which promise fusion power, and the governments and agencies backing the research and development are understandably concerned that once chosen, a particular process might prove to be obsolete and be supplanted relatively quickly by another process.

    As far as the Wendelstein device is concerned, it is still undergoing development and testing, just not on the scale of the tokamak being constructed for ITER.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendelstein_7-X
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  12. Jan 1, 2016 #11

    mathman

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    The main problem is the engineering, not money.
     
  13. Jan 1, 2016 #12
    If they (governments, central banks) would have spent on research projects like this, it would have created jobs and increased the speed of research. And the money would have returned into economy in the form of taxes and wages. Instead, they give credits to all kind of companies who, instead of creating jobs and paying taxes, transfer the money into fiscal paradises, and like you point it out, the money has to be extracted again in the form of taxes, and that can't be done with the money hidden in fiscal paradises.

    I understand.
    So investing twenty times more the money (money that they can clearly afford) and involving twenty times more people into research and development would have no significant impact on the speed of developing and implementing nuclear fusion power plants. Twenty research teams working together surely can't discover things faster than a single one.
    Because I never heard about research and development going faster and better when investing more money in it.
    Thanks for making it clear to me.
    So I suggest they should invest only 1-2 million $US in the future DEMO project, since the problem is only the engineering, not money. That would also save money for buying more oil. Or natural gas. Or coal.

    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
  14. Jan 1, 2016 #13

    SteamKing

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    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.
     
  15. Jan 2, 2016 #14

    jim hardy

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    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]

    Learn more about fusion.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  16. Jan 2, 2016 #15

    SteamKing

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    :oldlaugh:

    Throwing manpower at a project which has fallen behind schedule often makes the project fall further behind schedule.
     
  17. Jan 3, 2016 #16
    Start voting for people who think this way. Convince your friends to vote for them too.

    Stop voting for these people.
     
  18. Jan 3, 2016 #17

    dlgoff

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    Thanks for posting this report. Very interesting.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  19. Jan 4, 2016 #18

    jim hardy

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    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

    https://news.google.com/newspapers?...AAAIBAJ&sjid=-2YFAAAAIBAJ&pg=942,188126&hl=en
    upload_2016-1-4_8-9-4.png

    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
  20. Jan 4, 2016 #19
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2016
  21. Jan 4, 2016 #20

    jim hardy

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    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.
     
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