3/08/2017

Pull the Plug on Fusion



Fusion was supposed to be the source of cheap electricity for humanity. Back in 1955, Homi Bhabha said: "I venture to predict that a method will be found for liberating fusion energy in a controlled manner within the next two decades. When that happens the energy problems of the world will truly have been solved forever."

Well, after more than 60 years and billions upon billions of funds coming from Russia, the US, Europe, Japan and even Argentina, fusion has gone nowhere. Today, fusion doesn't even produce 1% of world's energy. Hey, it doesn't produce even 0.1%. It produces a big fat nothing.

The Manhattan Project achieved its objectives in less than four years. The Apollo Program achieved its objectives in less than a decade. Fusion, on the other hand, continues burning billions of dollars (euros) every year and not one lousy power plant is still in operation.

Why the fixation with fusion?

Some are expecting a breakthrough at any moment, but the real breakthrough would have to be on the cost of the reactor itself more than on achieving a constant and long lived fusion reaction. ITER is not scheduled to ever produce any electricity, but if it did, the cost of the reactor per GWe of capacity would be more than 100 billion euros. This is more than one order of magnitude above the current cost of fission reactors.

Simplifying a little bit (OK, a lot), a fission reactor is a pressure cooker. On the other hand a fusion reactor is a magnetic plasma levitator. The former will always be much cheaper than the latter.

So yes, eventually fusion will be mastered but it will be a Pyrrhic victory: the reactor will be too expensive to matter.

Solar and wind energy are intermittent and unreliable and thus expensive. But even these so called renewables may be producing 10% of global electricity by the middle of this century. Fusion will continue producing a big fat nothing.

Is it time to pull the plug on fusion reactors?

I would argue this should have been done decades ago.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram




1 comment:

Lars Boelen said...

Trying to build a fusion reactor is really stupid, we already have one, just look up