back to article UK, US ink boffinry pact on laser fusion 'star power'

Using nuclear fusion – star energy – to power the world's dishwashers, TVs and servers has long been a twinkling in the misty eyes of physicists, but it inched closer to reality this week as the American National Ignition Facility (strap line: "Bringing Star Power To Earth") struck a deal with the UK company AWE and Oxford-based …

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Gold badge

"No matter what fuel we use to power our power plant we will eventually run low unless it's a renewable."

By renewable, I assume you are referring to either the sun's fusion source (solar, wind, tides, etc) or the Earth's fission source (geothermal). Funny that you should regard it as renewable to harvest from nature's reactors that wastefully spew 99.99999% of their energy into the blackness of space and finite if we build our own ones that don't.

Oh, and learn to count. For any reasonable definition of limitless, the universe has limitless supplies of hydrogen.

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Silver badge
WTF?

Are you kidding?

Renewable energy: Energy derived from a fusion reactor 93 million that is totally unshielded, out of control, and whose radiation kills 3000 people a year from skin cancer in the UK alone. A source that is venerated by primitives.

Nuclear energy: Energy derived from a fusion or fission reactor 60 miles way that is so well shielded and controlled that it kills no one. A source that is reviled by primitives.

So called 'renewable' energy

(a) is not renewable - the sun will run out of hydrogen one day.

(b) is nuclear energy - the sun is a pretty nasty nuclear reactor.

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Anonymous Coward

Good to see that the timeframe for achieving fusion

hasn't slipped any

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Meh

So just to confirm, fusion power is still 20 years away?

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Silver badge

CHAOS Power Orders. Seventh Heaven Catch 22 for SMART Turing Machines BetaTesting Virtual Protocols*

"So just to confirm, fusion power is still 20 years away?" .... Sulehir Posted Friday 9th September 2011 13:05 GMT

Confusion is a CHAOS Power. Is it Global Operating Systems Default Driver, with, or without Absolutely Fabulous Controls? And why would it really matter who's pushing buttons and pulling levers at such exalted levels of Great AIGame Plays..... for where is the enemy other than in your hairy scary past ...... and thus is it naught but a figment of your amazing imagination.

* Crude Cloud Crowd Craves

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Black Helicopters

wot no scare story

Where are the armageddon stories about a run away reaction causing a small sun to be created which will then consume us all in its cleansing fire ?

does the daily fail know about this yet ?

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Daily Fail

Last I checked the Daily Mail they were marvelling over the amazing moving pictures aka the mythical “gif” image so don’t think they’ll likely catch on to this anytime soon. I’m sure once they do find out; this information will only confuse and scare them… (What doesn’t) and they’ll blame it on witchcraft, the left and probably the BBC.

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Silver badge
Boffin

The Title is Optional

AWE? That would be the Atomic Weapons Establishment then? Methinks that maybe the net gain of energy they wish to get from this sort of experiment would be several orders of magnitude above the net gain required for powering dishwashers...

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Facepalm

"its just around the corner"

Another Friday BBC article.

*yawn*

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Happy

88mph here I come!!

I have a car and a flux capacitor. However as I am scared of lightning, they have been languishing in a lock-up just outside Woking for years. All I needed was a working Mr Fusion unit, and now the end is in sight!

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Joke

And, evidently, now you can get your Nike MAG shoes too!

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Silver badge

Sir

What's wrong with uranium fuel rods?

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Stop

I'm sure it was plutonium

Libyan or perhaps Iranian IIRC.

Anyway as I said: I'm scared of lightning; I hardly think I'm going to take to radioactive fuel rods.

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Go

What's the catch?

Come on, there must be one.

Cool that it'll produce helium too, what with the shortage lately. Where's the fun in unlimited cheap energy if we can't all have airships too?

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Gold badge

Re: the catch

As far as anyone can tell, the only catch is that we don't know how to do it yet. Even the waste is just light nuclides with consequently short half-lives, making it rather cleaner than the output of a coal or oil power station.

Of course, maybe we have the whole approach wrong and the only methods that actually work have a catch, but we won't know that without doing the research.

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Meh

In 50 years...

It'll still be 50 years away (I hope not)

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FAIL

50 years..

50 years ago there was the C-Stellerator (US) and Project Zeta (UK) fusion projects, both of which were promising electricity too cheap to meter in the late '50s. Whatever happened to these?

TheZetaStellerator 2.0 will probably also go the same way for this discussion to be repeated in 50 years time.

Wouldn't it be better for the boffinry to concentrate their efforts on the JET tokomak rather than fragmenting / forking?

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Boffin

Interestingly

The NIF project is the one less suited for non-war applications. It essentially started as research for cleaner H-bombs.

The ITAR Tokamak is more suited for peaceful use.

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rav
Thumb Up

Why?

The Andrea Rossi ECat Cold Fusion Reactor will be demonstrated in the U.S. next month and NASA right now is testing a unit.

Why are we trying to build massive, big science power plants when LENR and fuel cells for individual use truly bring power to the people?

Oh gee whiz I know... MONEY. Somepbody has to spend it so somebody else can rake it all in.

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WTF?

Rossi's ECat? Bwahhahahahahaha. Its got scam written all over it, 0 verified experimental results, he dodges even the most basic questions on his device functionality. Its snake oil.

These demonstrations just keep being promised, don't they....link from NASA please verifying the testing which is currently occurring.

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Facepalm

Snake oil

Amusingly, snake oil is actually a very healthy substance to consume. Its got lots of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that help a person keep on ticking. Especially used an arthritic relief.

The 'snake oil == bad' thing came because quacks in the old west were selling random lotions and curatives to heal everything. Mostly bogus.

Their biggest competitor were the chinese immigrants, selling snake oil as an arthritis relief and general pick me up, which it will function reasonably well as. They started the 'that's snake oil' propaganda, which has carried on till this day.

So, snake oil is good, Cold Fusion is bogus. The world is put to right.

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Joke

Snake oil#2

Consumption of snake oil is no good if you are a snake!

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FAIL

cynicism

Fusion power has been 10-15 years away for almost 60 years now.

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Silver badge
Thumb Down

Real Soon Now

Somewhere upstairs I have a book I was given when I was about 8, with a series of articles about various scientific fields. Amongst them was an article about fusion power which could have been used more or less intact as background for this article. I think they were expecting commercial fusion reactors within 25 years.

I'm now 58. Commercial fusion is still at least 25 years away. I'll believe it when the "too cheap to meter" electicity arrives at a socket near me.

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Happy

@Len Goddard "Real Soon Now"

I am only a couple of years younger than you Len and I think that I must have read the same book - and I'm chuckling at the memory as I write this. It is rather like the traditional expression my dear lady's family use when they celebrate Passover - "next year in Jerusalem".

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Thumb Up

Thank goodness

Whilst it might still be a way off I look forward to the day we can stop arguing about AGW and get back to a good old fashioned scrap about whose god could kick who else's god's arse.

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Mushroom

"the UK company AWE"

lovely marketing coup they've pulled off there - AWE = Atomic Weapons Establishment. And they are soo interested in cuddly 'leccy production, oh yes.

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Boffin

You forgot to mention what the "pact" is about.

You mention this world-changing pact, but have no details or overview of the link. So I looked around and found out the following:

The Americans (at NIF) have concentrated on the Laser fusion concept, which was thought to be slow acheiving 'ignition' (getting much more power out than you put in). Lately the advances have come thick and fast, and ignition may only be a few years off.

The Europeans (at ITER, and previously at JET), thought that the more expensive and difficult to control Torus magnetic containment acceleration would get faster results. The Brits new collaboration with the Yanks can be seen as backing the horse which is likely to cross the finiash line first. We want in, and will contribute supercomputer and boffin time to the American thrust, in return for consideration.

I should be a journalist, me.

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I see it more as the UK and US are friends. The EU and the UK are friends. So why not stick are feet in both ponds an hope we can make money from both.

Also as far as I understand France and Jupan get the majority of the technology and patents from the ITER as compensation for the funds they put into the project. An get first dips on commercial applications of technology developed on the project.

It seems to me that the UK has negotiated itself a similar deal with America, where we and the Americans get first dip on commercial applications developed at the NIF facility and I believe the UK did have plans to build our own experimental Laser ignition fusion reactor as well. If this is the case this would be change to a test demonstrator for a commercial reactor now, with NIF doing all the experimental work needed to refine the technology and design a commercial reactor.

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Unhappy

clean power huh

So I'm no closer to getting any super powers then?

FML

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Mushroom

Fusion power? Easy!

All you need to do is gather together a lot of ordinary hydrogen gas and fusion will start automatically. About 1.5 nonillion kilograms should do it.

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Mushroom

From the BBC story - "and produced for a tiny fraction of a second more power than the world was consuming", is that a bit fanciful, how can they contain all that energy?

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Gold badge
Boffin

Power is energy per unit time.

If you make the "fraction of a second" sufficiently tiny, the total amount of energy involved needn't amount to much more than a gnat's fart. (I suspect that the amounts involved here are slightly larger, but not by much.)

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Go

"in essence, creating a miniature star on Earth"

If the project isn't being run by a with wearing robot arms, grafted on to his spine, then I'm going to be very disappointed.

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Happy

Thorium's a better option

Cheap, cheerful, orders of magnitude safer, available since the 40s, not in hock to the warhead or the fuel rod makers, can be used to get rid of radioactive waste and the fuel stockpiles already exist.

What's not to love about Thorium reactors?

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Silver badge

Plenty

Thorium isn't a nuclear fuel. It's fertile.

You transmute Th-232 into fissile U-233 inside a fission reactor.

You then require the economically dubious process of reprocessing to separate U-233 from Th-232 and fission products. Which produces huge amounts of actinide waste that has to be disposed of - hopefully not by pouring it into the Irish Sea.

U-233 makes for fabulous bombs. Don't we have rather too many nuclear weapons states as it is?

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Anonymous Coward

You also make

tritium out of lithium "in nuclear reactors by neutron activation of lithium-6". Ordinary hydrogen is fine for fusion in the sun, but for power stations you would need heavier isotopes.

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There something wrong with your comment. As the thorium reactor was abandon in the US as it served no purpose to there weapons programme. If U-233 is fabulous for bombs we would have had thorium fuel base reactors now, given how cheap and plentiful Thorium is.

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Silver badge
Childcatcher

U233 does not make faboulus bombs.

Is a nasty tricky thing to make go bang. Plutonium makes fabulous bombs.

Anyway with advanced enough fission products we can in theory 'fissilate' anything unpleasant down to something relatively boring like iron.

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Silver badge
Mushroom

Guide to fusion projects

ITER - . The 1960s design, conservative and you can't be blamed for backing it. Unlikely to lead to anything and mostly a big backhander to Eu engineering and construction companies. Costs $12Bn (8 months of Afghan tent A/C, or a carrier load of stealth fighters)

Wendelstein 7-X, a different kind of Tokomak - bloody difficult to build but more likely to work if you managed it . A good backup plan and only costs $1Bn

NIF - not at all a justification for keeping doing nuclear weapons research, no not at all. The funding from DoE, AWE and LLNL is just a coincidence. About as practical a solution as dropping bombs in front of a row of wind turbines. Cost - that's classified - although of course there are no links to anything secret, like designing nuclear weapons, no not at all.

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Silver badge

Thorium can arrive sooner and requires no drastic advances

So its definitely the better option in the short to medium term, but fusion ought to be cleaner and with any luck the raw fuel could be seawater...

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Silver badge
Unhappy

Problem is

A working fusion reactor is a mechanism for producing energetic neutrons. We have no idea how such neutrons can be converted into usable energy safely and effectively (i.e. over the decades long lifetime of a power plant). There is little research going on into this topic, because no-one has yet built a working fusion reactor. Once they do, we'll be into another (probably decades long) research programme.

There was a good article on this topic in the March 2010 Scientific American (behind a pay-wall):

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fusions-false-dawn

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Gold badge
Joke

Fusion will give the world an *inexhaustable* supply

of plasma physics PhDs.

As it has for the 60+ years.

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Facepalm

Has anyone ever done a cost comparison

between trying to create fusion at LLNL and implement it elsewhere, versus using this technology called "solar cells" to use energy generated every day by a large fusion reactor approximately 8.3 light-minutes away from us?

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Silver badge

I have..for fission..

And its only about 20 times more expensive to generate, let alone STORE solar power than to have a nice uranium cooker in your back yard.

A fission reactor is a very simple thing. Throw some radioistopess into a cauldron, stir gently and add or remove neutron moderators, and it boils like granny's kettle.

The rest is all about doing that in safety.

a PV panel is hugely complex, inefficient and uses energy that is actually better left to do what it always did: grow crops.

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Anonymous Coward

hmmm

Don't we gave one great big fucking massive pellet called the sun? why can't we get battery spaceships to fly closer, fix a close orbit near mercury, get a big solar charge, and laser beam it back to earth in concentrated form? Its free no? apart from the big mirrored ships.

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Stop

Yanks need some help - yet again

I bet they the Yanks are up to no good again!

They have done this at least twice before, supersonic flight and the atom bomb.

They pretend they are going to collaborate on a project. They come over here steal all our ideas and research. When it is time for them to share their ideas they say that they are not allowed to do so.

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Mushroom

Come on!

Its got frikin lasers people!

LASERS! THAT GO BOOM!

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Anonymous Coward

Truly Environmentally Friendly

The future will be aneutronic fusion, just electrostatic acceleration instead of brute force, no radioactive waste.

http://www.crossfirefusion.com/nuclear-fusion-reactor/overview.html

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Pirate

remind me...

... again what the downsides to fission reactors are? The US does not re-process spent fission fuel, currently. About 90% of our spent fission fuel can be reprocessed and used in reactors for another 50+ years. Instead, we bury it if lead / concrete containers somewhere in Colorado... which isn't a bad idea, because one day we'll run out of uranium and dig all that spent fuel up, reprocess it and prolong the inevitable for another 100 or so years. Fission is pretty darned safe. How many "chernobyls" have we had in the open ocean? Nimitz class carriers have 2 reactors on them... I'm not saying we shouldn't be pursuing alternative energy sources, but compared to the impact (both environmental and economical) of fossil fuel energy, fission is a far better source of energy. I think the problem lies in the millions of people that think high-fructose corn syrup is going to kill them and that somehow we should feel guilty for heating the planet a degree or two... which is debatable in its own right. (somehow the term climate deniers reminds me of the spainish inquisition, which no one can escape, by the way)

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