Really Clean Nuclear Energy for the Near Future

After all the bad press nuclear power received after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011 the world community has become paranoid about the use of nuclear power in spite of the rarity of nuclear accidents.  But far more people die as a result of auto accidents worldwide every week than directly or indirectly by nuclear accidents in all of history yet we haven’t banned the further sales of cars.  Things should be taken in perspective.  Because of the fear of accident related radioactive contamination nuclear power has been completely removed from this discussion.  But there are several old but newer technologies for generating nuclear power that are even safer.  I have already written about breeder reactor technology (post:  Nuclear Power Alternative – Less waste disposal problems).

There is another developing nuclear technology called Fusion that emits almost no radiation while producing power and produces zero radioactive byproducts.  There are a number of way Fusion can work.  The following is the simplest method to explain.  Two deuterium atoms, a heavier isotope of hydrogen having one neutrons instead of none, fuse together (Fusion) to produce ordinary helium gas releasing millions of times more energy than the most powerful conventional explosive.  So only extremely small quantities of deuterium can run high pressure steam turbines to generate large quantities of electricity.  Chemically deuterium has the same properties of hydrogen.  A small fractions of all water molecules, called heavy water, contain one deuterium atom and an ordinary hydrogen atom combined with an oxygen atom.  There is almost an endless supply of deuterium extracted from ordinary sea water.

This sounds simple enough but there is good reason this nuclear power source has not yet been exploited.  Deuterium atoms must first be ionized by stripping off their electrons leaving a cloud or plasma of positively charged deuterium nuclei which is then compressed by powerful electromagnetic fields into a tiny suspended stream or clump of super-compressed plasma bringing the deuterium nuclei billions of time closer together so that they can readily collide.  This plasma must also be heated to a couple hundred million degrees by powerful pinpoint lasers initiating a super-plasma reaction which fuses pairs of deuterium nuclei together (Fusion) into helium nuclei and releasing huge quantities of heat.

But this extremely unstable super-plasma wants to escape from its imperfect confinement.  The strong electromagnets are as yet unable to adjust quickly enough to contain this super-plasma from instantly escaping the confines of the imperfect magnetic field.

Also enormous electrical power needed for firing the powerful lasers to ignite this nuclear inferno (Fusion reaction) and run the powerful electromagnets needed to contain the super-plasma also needs to come from somewhere.  After the Fusion reaction has ignited the lasers are no longer needed, the reaction being self-sustaining generating enough electrical power to provide continuous power to the powerful electromagnets.

Such a Fusion generating plant could be quite small because the reaction chamber can in principle be smaller than a basket ball. The nice thing about Fusion is that if there is an accident or anything goes wrong to upset the delicate balance of the reaction it will instantly self-extinguish. This may result in the suspension of power but it will not have any runaway reaction posing a danger to local residents.  So residents are able to live within blocks of such power plants since they are quite safe, small, and pollution free.

On October 15, 2014 Lockheed Martin announced that it believes it can have an ultra-compact 100 megawatt Fusion reactor and generator that could be transported on a semi-trailer flatbed operating in ten years.  This would generate enough electricity to run a very large aircraft carrier or thousands of homes.  They have now made their research efforts public because they need far more government and public funding.

Given the progress they have made I wonder how much time it would take to develop a working Fusion reactor if we were to place the same amount of money into its development as our government now spends on wars?  Perhaps it would take five years to become totally energy independent of coal and oil with a Fusion nuclear source of energy as safe or safer than that generated by coal and oil that uses water from the sea as fuel.  It would be completely green totally eliminating the largest source of greenhouse gases thus reducing Global Warming.

There is a problem with developing such a technology.  Oil and coal producing companies would throw up all kinds of roadblocks to slow down or halt its development.  Of course if they were smart they would heavily invest it such a technology and own it once developed to sell to the highest bidder but that would be so uncharacteristic of them.

Maybe if it can’t be developed here in the U.S. perhaps China could invest money into this technology and clean up its own pollution as well as sell these compact mega-generators to the highest bidders.  Nuclear power needs to be placed back on the discussion as a viable and safe option to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to solve Climate Change so that it can be funded and further developed.

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One Response to Really Clean Nuclear Energy for the Near Future

  1. Pingback: 100 Years from Now: The Complete Series | ouR Social Conscience

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