New Energy Times tells us it will be another 30 years before the world benefits from commercial fusion power. This is the message of an October 2012 report issued by the Electric Power Research Institute entitled “Assessment of Fusion Energy Options for Commercial Electricity Production”. The report concludes: “…although significant progress is being made in many areas, commercial application is not likely for at least 30 years — if the concepts prove feasible.”

The October report reviews a variety of “hot” fusion concepts and recommends that more research should focus on practical engineering and power applications. While there are several promising technologies, the study finds that no “near-term” fusion options are in site for the power industry. However, the $24 billion now being devoted to fusion research worldwide “might lead to breakthroughs.”

At present electricity generation appears to be an “add-on” to fusion research largely due to the challenges of developing a fusion device that produces more energy than it consumes. The study recommends that more should be done to assess the engineering and operational challenges of an electric power plant and how to maximize the value of the fusion power produced.

Along with addressing more practical technological issues, work should begin now on the regulatory requirements for commercial fusion power plants including safety and licensing standards.

The report did not assess low energy nuclear reactions (LENRs). LENRs were reviewed in an August 2012 report, “Program on Technology Innovation: Assessment of Novel Energy Production Mechanisms in a Nanoscale Metal Lattice.” That report concluded: “Continued independent experimental work is recommended in this area. The exact physical mechanisms are still unknown, and a reliable and robust experimental system test is warranted to gain further understanding of the commercial viability of this possibly new energy production mechanism.”

New Energy Times also commented on the failure of the largest inertial confinement fusion research project in the US. “The National Ignition Facility (NIF), in Livermore, Calif., failed to ignite by its September 2012 goal for generating more energy from fusion that is inputted. Although the federal government has spent $3.5 billion since beginning the project in 1997, the facility did not produce one Watt of excess heat.”

As a result of its failure to achieve its goal, NIF officials will shift more of the project’s focus from peaceful uses of nuclear energy research to nuclear weapons research. See also DVICE World’s largest laser now researching weapons instead of energy. NIF failed to achieve “at least getting to the break-even point for laser fusion, and it’s now expected that the time that the NIF is allowed to spend on fusion research will be cut to just 50%. The other 50% will be used for weapons research…the NIF will be simulating what happens inside nuclear weapons, to improve simulations of how our stockpile of warheads is aging and making sure they all go off properly when we tell them to.

 

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