So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

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So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Crossroads Inc. » 2011-07-07 07:23pm

Ok, so for what seems like the past 40 years, viable Fusion Power has been a sort of holy grail for energy production.
We have been told it will change the world, free us from oil and fossil fuels, that it will be safe and clean forever!
Of course, at it's core, it is yet another way of just heating water into steam to turn turbines.

Now technically we HAVE Fusion Reactors now, they just happen to use far more energy going in then going out.
So... What happens if tomorrow, some scientist wakes up and says "AHA! This is what we've been doing wrong all this time!"
And suddenly we can make reactors that are viable economically.

What changes? Would Fusion truly be a revolutionary change?
Would we be able to replace oil and coal plants?
Would it truly be safe and clean?
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Magis » 2011-07-07 09:42pm

Crossroads Inc. wrote:What changes? Would Fusion truly be a revolutionary change?
Would we be able to replace oil and coal plants?
Would it truly be safe and clean?


We already have the technological capability to replace oil and coal plants with fission stations. The reason we don't is because oil and coal are a little bit cheaper than fission in the long run, because the capital costs of oil and coal are a lot cheaper than fission, and because the public has an irrational fear of nuclear waste.

So it would really depend on whether the hypothetical fusion plant was merely economically viable, or if it was cheap enough to compete with oil and coal even better than fission can already. I can't imagine that the capital costs of a fusion reactor will be less than a fission reactor. Assuming it's a Tokamak-type fusion reactor, the superconductors are very expensive, the fusion target nuclei (especially tritium) are very expensive, and their likely outage/maintenance schedules would be intense.

Fusion plants will also generate an enormous amount of nuclear waste due to the activation of reactor core materials. In terms of volume, the waste will be substantially more than a fission plant of similar power.

The biggest advantage to fusion plants that I can see are: there's no chain reaction, so a power excursion is basically impossible (but I don't think this would matter because fission plants are already plenty safe, and people just don't care); and that it alleviates the pressure of running out of fissile fuels for use in traditional nuclear plants 50+ years from now.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby someone_else » 2011-07-08 03:21am

Yeah, "power too cheap to meter", as we have been told that Men would colonize space by 2000. All bullshit and propaganda from Cold War.

I think liquid-core thorium nuclear reactors look much better, but yeah, fusion is still far from anything, it's hard to say if it will be better than anything else.

and because the public has an irrational fear of nuclear waste.
It's more a fear that it could end up in sunk ships in the mediterranean, or similarly dumb places (germans can cite other examples). Which is a justified fear.

Fusion plants will also generate an enormous amount of nuclear waste due to the activation of reactor core materials. In terms of volume, the waste will be substantially more than a fission plant of similar power.
Should be stuff that does last for 200-300 years right?
Although probably that's not only the current core, but all the pieces that in 10-20-30 years of operation have to be replaced.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Eulogy » 2011-07-08 12:46pm

Fusion, upon being discovered, will be used because of the simple fact that coal and oil are not renewable and will run out, and thus fossil fuel plants will not be viable no matter how cheap the plants are.

Nuclear power will be used and shoved up the ass of know-nothing NIMBYs, simply because the second law of thermodyamics will manifest itself harshly in the face of governments and said governments will not want the lights to go out.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2011-07-08 12:51pm

Eulogy wrote:Fusion, upon being discovered, will be used because of the simple fact that coal and oil are not renewable and will run out, and thus fossil fuel plants will not be viable no matter how cheap the plants are.
If fusion is not cost-competitive with wind turbines, you're wrong, fusion will not be used (except perhaps in a handful of specialist applications); wind turbines will.

Nuclear power will be used and shoved up the ass of know-nothing NIMBYs, simply because the second law of thermodyamics will manifest itself harshly in the face of governments and said governments will not want the lights to go out.
Ditto. Also, there are a lot of governments that have many, many other choices they'd rather take for keeping the lights from going out- energy conservation measures (buy dimmer lights). Or tidal/geothermal/wind/solar/whatever power which has very real advantages like not rendering thousands of square kilometers uninhabitable if something goes badly wrong.

Atomic energy is all very well, but let's not make a fetish out of it.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Lord of the Abyss » 2011-07-08 01:35pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
Eulogy wrote:Fusion, upon being discovered, will be used because of the simple fact that coal and oil are not renewable and will run out, and thus fossil fuel plants will not be viable no matter how cheap the plants are.
If fusion is not cost-competitive with wind turbines, you're wrong, fusion will not be used (except perhaps in a handful of specialist applications); wind turbines will.

You're presuming that wind turbines can actually meet demand, which seems unlikely. If they can't do the job then yes, fusion or fission will be used even if it's more expensive.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Luke Skywalker » 2011-07-08 01:46pm

Crossroads Inc. wrote:What changes? Would Fusion truly be a revolutionary change?


The oil and coal company CEO's would have simultaneous heart attacks as their lobbyists vehemently oppose the construction of fusion plants by trying to chalk up stories of how dangerous and "nuclear" they are.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Eulogy » 2011-07-08 07:11pm

Simon_Jester wrote:If fusion is not cost-competitive with wind turbines, you're wrong, fusion will not be used (except perhaps in a handful of specialist applications); wind turbines will..

Prove that wind can meet demands. Prove that wind can be built and maintained on the scale it needs to actually matter, while not breaking the bank.

Simon_Jester wrote:Ditto. Also, there are a lot of governments that have many, many other choices they'd rather take for keeping the lights from going out- energy conservation measures (buy dimmer lights). Or tidal/geothermal/wind/solar/whatever power which has very real advantages like not rendering thousands of square kilometers uninhabitable if something goes badly wrong.

Atomic energy is all very well, but let's not make a fetish out of it.

I didn't say that alternatives won't be used. However, will they be enough to satisfy demands? Will they be reliable enough?

Not to mention that using less power still means you're using power. Can they pony up enough green power (and get more people to conserve more power) to stop brownouts and intermiittent outages? If they can't, they will need to use some sort of fuel, and there are only so many dead dinosaurs in the ground.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Darth Tanner » 2011-07-09 06:06am

If wind is cost-competitive with the alternatives, that means it can meet demand by definition. If there's more demand than supply, costs go up, and if the other guy doesn't have that problem, you aren't competitive any more.


Thats... not how an energy market works. Capacity can not be expanded instantly and the cost disadvantage is more or less irrelevant to meeting demand.

If wind costs $5 per mwh and fusion $6mwh it has no effect if A can only be build in certain locations and generates very low levels per site while B produces in more locations and produces vast amounts of energy. The demand must be met so fusion will be built regardless of wind because there simply is not enough of it.

Wind is already cost-competitive with existing tech (be it because of subsidies or high fuel prices) but we simply cannot install the capacity to run even a small percentage of the demand because it takes time and money, in the meanwhile we still need the generation capacity or the lights go off so we continue to build gas, coal and nuclear despite cost and other disadvantages because wind cannot meet demand in a sufficient timescale.

Prove that wind can meet demands.


If we chose to build the turbines most countries could easily run off wind power - it would simply take ages to build all the required turbines and be expensive as hell. The actual capability to do so is there however.

The reason we don't is because oil and coal are a little bit cheaper than fission in the long run, because the capital costs of oil and coal are a lot cheaper than fission, and because the public has an irrational fear of nuclear waste.


Also because nuclear is a very inflexible generator, you can run your base load off it but it’s not much use for rapid scaling to meet peak demand or scaling down during the night. Gas turbines are here to stay for that.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Starglider » 2011-07-09 09:03am

Darth Tanner wrote:If we chose to build the turbines most countries could easily run off wind power


How do you propose to deal with the extreme variation in output, especially the considerable amounts of time when the windspeed is not appropriate for power generation (i.e. horrible capacity factor)?

Also because nuclear is a very inflexible generator, you can run your base load off it but it’s not much use for rapid scaling to meet peak demand or scaling down during the night. Gas turbines are here to stay for that.


That's the first time I've ever seen ability to run base load (which wind completely lacks) portrayed as a bad thing. How exactly do you think nuclear ships and submarines work if you believe that nuclear reactor output can't be throttled as required?

Of course wind can't replace gas turbines for peak generation either since wind doesn't blow on demand. All wind can do is somewhat reduce gas consumption by sometimes removing the need to fire up the gas turbines.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby madd0ct0r » 2011-07-09 10:34am

no the output isn't throttled, just the unused heat is dumped.

wind this time? here we go around the merry-go-round
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby bz249 » 2011-07-09 02:39pm

Darth Tanner wrote:Also because nuclear is a very inflexible generator, you can run your base load off it but it’s not much use for rapid scaling to meet peak demand or scaling down during the night. Gas turbines are here to stay for that.


There is no technical problem with rather rapidly decreasing/increasing the the output of a modern nuclear power plant. There are actual power plants in France which are doing exactly that. Its simply, that capital cost and fixed operational cost are high, while fuel is dirt cheap. A non-running nuclear plant has 90+% of the costs of an fully operating one, while produces 0% of the income, so it is economically unwise to use nuclear plants in a load-following manner.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby erik_t » 2011-07-09 02:40pm

madd0ct0r wrote:no the output isn't throttled, just the unused heat is dumped.

Factually incorrect, unless I entirely misunderstand your argument.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Traveller » 2011-07-09 05:09pm

Nothing will change. I used to think fusion for all its challenges would get 'worked out' and we could sail into the fusion future, free of worries...

Except, its not going to happen. Nuclear fission is a economic failure, ignoreing all its other considerable flaws, fusion will be a least 10x more costly than fission. The cost of fission, has been quite spinning out of control for decades. What actually have is a negative learning curve with fission, so to expect fusion to somehow reverse the clear trend in fission towards most costly, more complex, increased construction times, is taking techno-optimism to a whole new level.

Instead of asking what would change, thats the wrong question, ask yourself, would you be willing to buy electricity from a plant that will cost at least $50 billion(in current dollars at the low end)? Inflation alone would probably make a mockery of even that esitmate.

The Iter project in 2010 was ~ 15billion Euros. And they still have yet to preform an actual test. EU politicans are allready getting a bad case of finanical indigestion just paying for the test phase, I dont think anyone is remotely prepared for the costs of what an actual commerical reactor would be. And we cant rely on the magical economy of scale or positive learning curves to make fusion affordable, since we can clear see in fission, the exact opposite occuring. The ultimate joke would be , we learn we can do it, but we cant afford it. Better to focus our efforts on conservation, wind, Solar-Trough PV, solar-thermal water heaters and so on. The current drive to produce ever greater amounts of power, useing ever more complex and costly theoretical solutions, is wrong-headed. We need simpler, easy to scale solutions. Fusion definately is not that.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby erik_t » 2011-07-09 05:20pm

Well thank god we got the authoritative answer on the subject.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2011-07-09 05:40pm

Lord of the Abyss wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:If fusion is not cost-competitive with wind turbines, you're wrong, fusion will not be used (except perhaps in a handful of specialist applications); wind turbines will.

You're presuming that wind turbines can actually meet demand, which seems unlikely. If they can't do the job then yes, fusion or fission will be used even if it's more expensive.
At the moment, nuclear power makes 14% of the world's electricity. It "meets demand," it just doesn't meet all demand.

Wind turbines were an arbitrarily chosen example, but there are a shitload of others- the entire suite of renewables, mostly. All of them require nothing but 20th century technology to work, although they are of course made more efficient by 21st century technology. All you really need is steel, concrete, and silicon.

In contrast, fusion is still an area of active research (don't get me wrong, I know people who know people who work at ITER), and one thing that's very clear is that it will require a massively advanced understanding of complex science and engineering to build fusion power plants. Because of this, it's too soon to say with confidence that fusion will replace existing sources- wind turbines, solar cells, tidal, and geothermal being the obvious ones.

If fusion power is drastically more expensive per kilowatt than these things, as seems not-implausible, then no fusion power will not be driving our civilization in the future, let us be realistic about that. Instead, renewables will be doing most of the heavy lifting, simply because they can do it on a more feasible budget.

That's the next great challenge of fusion research after getting self-sustaining reactions going (which is, I'd say, actually not that far away). They must design something cost-effective, and I doubt we'll see it before 2050 or so even if it's possible at all.

Eulogy wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:Ditto. Also, there are a lot of governments that have many, many other choices they'd rather take for keeping the lights from going out- energy conservation measures (buy dimmer lights). Or tidal/geothermal/wind/solar/whatever power which has very real advantages like not rendering thousands of square kilometers uninhabitable if something goes badly wrong.

Atomic energy is all very well, but let's not make a fetish out of it.
I didn't say that alternatives won't be used. However, will they be enough to satisfy demands? Will they be reliable enough?
Solar, tidal, and geothermal power are all very reliable as long as the laws of physics keep working. Wind is reliable in certain areas. Moreover, mass-scale power storage is, again, already understood technology, a challenge demanding civil engineering construction on a large scale but not major new inventions. This affects whether governments can decide to implement it when necessary, as does the fact that unlike nuclear, none of these technologies suffer industrial accidents that render large areas uninhabitable.

All hysteria aside, that is a huge issue with the use of nuclear power, especially in physically small and population-dense countries.

Not to mention that using less power still means you're using power. Can they pony up enough green power (and get more people to conserve more power) to stop brownouts and intermiittent outages? If they can't, they will need to use some sort of fuel, and there are only so many dead dinosaurs in the ground.
At this rate, people are going to be forced to conserve by rising energy costs, nuclear may or may not figure extremely prominently in 21st century energy supplies, and fusion is almost certainly not going to supplant fission in our lifetimes even though there are a number of reasons to want it to. Fission might conceivably supplant parts of the existing power infrastructure, but not dominate it, not if there are alternatives that can produce at equivalent cost per kilowatt-hour.

Darth Tanner wrote:If wind costs $5 per mwh and fusion $6mwh it has no effect if A can only be build in certain locations and generates very low levels per site while B produces in more locations and produces vast amounts of energy. The demand must be met so fusion will be built regardless of wind because there simply is not enough of it.
What if, as seems more likely to me for the foreseeable future, wind is 5$/MWh and fusion is 50$/MWh?

Fusion is going to be fucking expensive for a long time, even after the boys at ITER and other such facilities can come up with a viable design for something we can sanely call a "fusion reactor."

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Magis » 2011-07-09 06:34pm

Traveller wrote:Except, its not going to happen. Nuclear fission is a economic failure ... The cost of fission, has been quite spinning out of control for decades.

What the heck are you talking about? Fission is only slightly more expensive than coal, and costs about 6 cents per kW-hr.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby aerius » 2011-07-09 07:55pm

madd0ct0r wrote:no the output isn't throttled, just the unused heat is dumped.


Actually we can do both.

http://canteach.candu.org/library/20054414.pdf

Excerpt:
1.3 CANDU 6 Load Following Capability
1.3.1 Unit Operating Characteristics
CANDU stations operate extensively in the automatic, reactor-following-turbine mode,
where the plant is subjected to continuous small perturbations in reactor power, with no
adverse effects. The digital control systems provide the capability to respond to a
megawatt demand signal generated from a remote dispatch facility. CANDU reactors
operating in the reactor-following-turbine mode can continuously compensate for grid
frequency fluctuations requiring a plus or minus variation of 2.5% full power while
operating between 90% power and 100% power. In addition, considerable operational data
is available documenting successful experience with deep load changes (down to 60% and
back to 100%) in the Bruce B and Embalse stations since 1984 and 1986 respectively.
This provides substantial data to confirm the load following capabilities of CANDU
reactors.
The CANDU 6 can operate continuously in the reactor-following-turbine mode and be
capable of load following that typically involve rapid power reductions from 100% to
60%. The reactor will operate at steady-state at 60% power, and can return to full power
in less than 4 hours.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby madd0ct0r » 2011-07-09 10:09pm

Colour me confused.

actually. bugger. yeah. control rods control the amount of neutrons flying about, so by absorbing those little buggers you stop further fission inducing collisions, thus maintaining your fuel for later.

sorry. complete pillock here took too long to work that out.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Magis » 2011-07-09 10:10pm

Starglider wrote:How exactly do you think nuclear ships and submarines work if you believe that nuclear reactor output can't be throttled as required?


Comparing military reactors to civilian generating stations is tricky because 1) military reactors aren't under the purview of any nuclear regulatory authority, 2) The fuel is radically different (not just the enrichment), 3) military units have no real pressure to meet economical requirements and 4) details about how they're designed are unavailable.

In the civilian power world, throttling a reactor isn't a good idea. Fission reactors are inherently unstable with respect to power changes (they have a positive power feedback coefficient with respect to power). Large power changes result in Xenon transients that are difficult to deal with, and some can be so big as to poison out the whole reactor for several days. Really only small changes can be accommodated.

In my opinion, fission reactors should generate peak-load power, and during off-peak hours, the excess energy should be used to produce hydrogen, or something similar.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Darth Tanner » 2011-07-10 03:18am

What if, as seems more likely to me for the foreseeable future, wind is 5$/MWh and fusion is 50$/MWh?


I'm sure the first nuke site was shit expensive too but investment and refinement brought that down. The investment will come from somewhere, either for space/military or civilian uses but to expect the tech to simply cease to exist is silly especially with the future energy problems we are going to face.

There is no technical problem with rather rapidly decreasing/increasing the the output of a modern nuclear power plant.


For a modern new built one maybe. Most nuclear sites however take several days to shift their load safely.

How do you propose to deal with the extreme variation in output


Excess generation capacity backed up by pumped storage and other renewables. Obviously that would greatly increase winds cost but then it would be foolish in the extreme to rely so heavily on wind rather than conventional thermal plants and nuclear. I didn't say that a 100% wind grid would be a good idea just that it is possible as there is more than enough wind to harness in the UK at least.

That's the first time I've ever seen ability to run base load (which wind completely lacks) portrayed as a bad thing. How exactly do you think nuclear ships and submarines work if you believe that nuclear reactor output can't be throttled as required?


It’s not a bad thing for most countries as nuclear doesn’t make up enough of a percentage of the supply to need to vary with demand. France however does have that problem and their excess nuclear capacity is a bit of a waste when they can’t sell it to their neighbours. And as above the majority of commercial nuclear plants do not have the capability to follow load, what a military reactor can do isn’t really relevant to that seeing as their rather different beasts.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Rabid » 2011-07-10 09:12am

As we are talking about fusion, here, I think I need to state that there seems to exist alternatives to ITER-style, electromagnetically confined fusion reactor.

Cheaper alternatives.

Do of this what you want.


EDIT : Just so you know, they claim to have already managed to produce a fusion reaction with their design, and that they are working to scale-up the design to reach break-even. They are working in partnership with Los Alamos.

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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Starglider » 2011-07-10 06:40pm

Darth Tanner wrote:Excess generation capacity backed up by pumped storage and other renewables.


Pumped storage runs straight into the problem of environmentalists refusing all new hydro projects due to habitat destruction. Of course they try to block all construction of any kind, even solar, but hydro gets an order of magnitude more hassle.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby Darth Tanner » 2011-07-11 03:03am

Pumped storage runs straight into the problem of environmentalists refusing all new hydro projects


That is definitely a big problem, the only real way around it is to build your reservoirs inside a mountain like the Cruachan facility just opened in Scotland (and embarrassingly enough just shut again as one of the water flow tunnels collapsed) but that’s obviously hugely expensive and rather limited on where you can do it.
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Re: So if Fusion suddenly becomes viable, what changes?

Postby someone_else » 2011-07-12 04:05am

I don't understand why when everyone thinks of renewables they talk of photovoltaics and wind, traditionally the lower-efficiency renewables.

What about wave energy from the sea? Another article

That's where I'd put my chips on to save our ass from energy crisis.
A farm of goddamn floating buoys with generators. Is it so hard to do? :mrgreen:

Rabid wrote:I think I need to state that there seems to exist alternatives to ITER-style, electromagnetically confined fusion reactor.
There are plenty of cheaper ways than ITER around. Polywells are my favourite.

Although cheaper does not mean that they will work, just that it will take less money to see if they are a dead end or not. :lol:
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