Breakthroughs that Could Make Nuclear Fusion Sustainable

al fin next level 22 June, 2015

On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, Dr. Dennis Whyte, the Director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center showed that a series of scientific and engineering breakthroughs could enable fusion to become a feasible a power source faster and cheaper than anyone had thought possible. These technological breakthroughs were not originally developed for fusion, but they could revolutionize the development of fusion energy. __

See Slideshare presentation:

Using 3D Printers to Speed Nuclear Reactor Development

Whyte explained how new 3D printing techniques are being applied to metal. He showed how 3D printer using new high-temperature steel alloys can build metal in complex shapes that cannot be machined. This will allow components of a reactor to be built quicker and cheaper than ever thought possible. It will also allow production of components once impossible to fabricate. For instance, cooling channels formed inside solid metal parts will allow exposure to hot fusion plasmas at many thousands of degrees.

… Whyte cited a new liquid salt material that can surround the plasma in a fusion power plant … to capture heat energy and produce fuel. He discussed how FLiBe, a molten salt made from a mixture of lithium fluoride (LiF) and beryllium fluoride (BeF2), could act as a liquid blanket would immerse the fusion core in a cooling bath. It will reduce construction costs, simplify heat transfer, and allow for the breeding of new fuel.

Finally, Whyte discussed how all of these breakthroughs come together to allow for a modular design that will speed up the design-build process for a new fusion reactor. This will allow scientists and engineers to accelerate the maintenance and upgrade cycles.

Put together, these breakthroughs could mean that demonstration-level amounts of fusion power could be put on the grid far sooner than many had thought. __

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In total, we have found nearly 50 projects in companies and organizations working on small modular reactors based on the current light water reactor technology of today’s reactors, advanced reactors using innovative fuels and alternative coolants like molten salt, high temperature gas, or liquid metal instead of high-pressure water, and even fusion reactors, to generate electricity.

These companies are being built and funded because the innovators and investors see profit in creating an answer to the global energy paradox – there are 1.3 billion people in the world without access to reliable electricity; they will get that electricity, and advanced nuclear can provide it to them while cutting global carbon emissions. Our table and map of the advanced nuclear industry in North America is the most comprehensive listing to date of who is working on these reactor designs. __

Note the several advantages of advanced reactor designs. Scalable, safer, more efficient, potentially less expensive to build and operate, etc. With advanced nuclear reactors, humans can provide safe, affordable electric power and process heat for tens of thousands of years — and that is just using fission. With the addition of controllable and affordable fusion reactors, humans can expand into an abundant future lasting hundreds of thousands of years — long enough to acquire new energy sources and new raw materials.