MOTHERBOARD says the nuclear fusion arms race is underway. (with video)
…scientists today are much closer to creating fusion energy than they were 40 years ago. And while most large public research projects are still decades from producing a reactor that can compete in the marketplace, a number of private companies have jumped headlong into the fusion race. Propelled by advances in engineering and science, changes in public funding, and tens of millions in high-risk high-tech investment dollars, they’re betting they can create a scalable, sellable reactor in less than a decade.
The UK Guardian explains nuclear fusion and wonders if it is our road to a cheap energy future and Knovel asks: Is the dream of nuclear fusion close to being a reality?
ars technica tells us that a Chinese fusion reactor achieved a tenfold increase in plasma confinement time. The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) in Hefei, China achieved a plasma pulse lasting over 30 seconds, a record achievement that simultaneously demonstrated improvements in heat dispersal.
While fusion is relatively easy on a small scale, researchers have yet to produce a reliable chain reaction that safely yields more energy than is required to sustain it. Ultimately the problem is one of plasma confinement: holding the nuclei within a limited space at sufficiently high temperature. Hot gas expands rapidly, so energy is required to force the plasma back together…EAST achieved more than 30 seconds of a sustained pulse, an improvement of 10 to 20 times beyond anything achieved at other reactors. Thirty seconds may not sound like much until you realize this is plasma at more than 100 million degrees, more than five times the core temperature of the Sun.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) forecasts the world’s nuclear power generating capacity is projected to continue to grow by 2030. daily fusion notes growth in nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan is expected to continue, however at a rate lower than estimated prior to the accident.
“Nuclear energy can be viewed as a critical component of a country’s energy infrastructure, providing a clean and dependable long-term source of energy,” says David Shropshire, Head of the IAEA’s Planning and Economic Studies Section.
In the long run, nuclear power generating capacity is expected to play an important role in the energy mix due to growth in population and in demand for electricity in the developing world, as well as climate change concerns, security of energy supply and price volatility for other fuels.
In the IAEA’s 2013 low growth projection, the world’s installed nuclear power capacity grows from 373 gigawatts (GW(e)) today to 435 GW(e) in 2030. In the agency’s high growth projection, it grows to 722 GW(e) in 2030 (A gigawatt, or GW(e), equals one billion watts of electrical power).
The strongest projected growth is in regions that already have operating nuclear power plants, led by Asian countries, including China and the Republic of Korea. Eastern Europe, which includes Russia, as well as the Middle East and South Asia, which includes India and Pakistan, also show strong growth potential.
The UK Guardian has an interactive map showing how nuclear power is growing around the world.
In related posts Deutsche Welle writes about how nuclear power is growing in Eastern Europe and Time tells us what China’s growing nuclear power means to the world.
From GIZMODO we learn the UK is building its first nuclear reactor in a quarter century. To meet its lofty carbon emission reduction target the UK has decided to build its first nuclear power plant since 1995 as wind, solar, wave, and other alternative energy sources are unable to keep up with the country’s electricity demands. To be built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England, the proposed reactor will produce 1.6 GW of electricity or 7% of the UK’s energy needs—enough to power about 5 million homes. It is scheduled to begin operation in 2023. The reactor does not come cheap. To keep the Chinese and French investors on board, the UK government had to guarantee a price for the electricity of £92.50 per MWh for 35 years. That is almost double today’s price. See also The Express, More huge price hikes as Government claim nuclear is the answer.
A nuclear power plant is under construction in Pakistan reports PennEnergy. The proposed 8.8 GW nuclear power plant is being built in Karachi and will take 7 years to start producing electricity with full operation scheduled for 2030.
Energy Tribune writes about mini nuclear reactors and the new power game. The post believes big nuclear power projects are very costly and take a long time to come on-line. Meanwhile, big wind projects are very expensive requiring massive public subsidies and are unable to produce anywhere near the power of a typical nuclear power plant. Instead, the post suggests governments should be supporting less costly small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Costing 1/10th that of a typical nuclear power plant, SMRs also produce between 1/6th and 1/10th of the electricity. Moreover, they only require about 1/10th of the land and can be constructed much nearer to electric power grids. Their size, scalability and production process allows them to be rolled out much faster than traditional nuclear plants and are more reliable than wind. “Plug and play” SMRs are expected to be commercially viable in a decade.