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Fusion power a reality within 20 years?
In Some thoughts about the universe, I said a bit about the potential of nuclear fusion as a clean, unlimited energy source.
According to a Sunday Times article on the 21 February 2010, things are moving.
It all sounds pretty complicated. The plan - already well advanced and producing some energy (though only a fraction of what has to be put in, which seems to be the problem with all the projects mentioned in Brian Coxís programme) - you have to freeze hydrogen gas into 2mm pellets and bombard them with a battery of immensely powerful lasers. These heat and compress the hydrogen to the point the hydrogen atoms fall apart, forming a íplasmaí in which the nuclei begin to fuse, producing helium nuclei - in effect tiny hydrogen-bomb explosions. Spare neutrons are ejected, passing through the chamber wall into an outer coating of lithium, which absorbs the neutrons, generating heat. That is used to generate steam and drive a turbine.
It works, it seems. But whether it can be controlled remains to be seen. The 192 lasers used can generate up to 500 trillion watts (1000 times the power of the UK National Grid) for a tiny fraction of a second. Obviously the first barrier to be passed is making the system efficient enough to power itself and leave a useful íprofit marginí in terms of energy.
Sounds like a pretty tall order, but letís hope.
The irony is that, being a US project, the first priority was to push forward nuclear weapons technology. Ah well - if it took that end to justify what turns out to be the means of saving the planet...
Odd, though, because I read today in The Observer that President Obama has sent back his nuclear strategy document because it doesnít move the world towards nuclear disarmament.
Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.
This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.