- Date published:
6:00 am, December 14th, 2022 - 58 comments
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Open mike is your post.
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Step up to the mike …
The game changer is getting closer
Breaking News: Nuclear Fusion is thirty years away! (and always has been)
A sparrow farts
After almost 70 years of effort, and $billions spent, in a world first, net energy gain has been achieved in the lab., but it is far far away from being practical.
As proof of principal, powerful lasers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories have managed to heat a deuterium pellet to instantaneous temperatures and pressures where fusion occurs, releasing greater energy than the energy needed to run the colossal lasers that achieved this feat. Unfortunately, none of the released fusion energy was in a form that could be used to power the lasers. (that energy still came from the grid).
Drawing power from the grid, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory can heat one deuterium pellet a day. A sparrow fart could generate more 'usable' energy. To get any usable net energy gain from this process they need to heat up to 50 deuterium pellets a second.
A nuclear fusion cheerleader interviewed this morning on TVNZ Breakfast said it will take 30 years of research and development to get over the engineering hurdles required to heat 50 pellets a second.
The first time I mentioned fusion on the standard probably 8 years ago, I was basically laughed at because all the bright people here said it had always been 10 years away, now it's here it's proven watch capitalism pick the batten up and run .
Actually 4 years ago in 2018 unless you have changed handles.
I would have said that ‘it is always at least 20 years away’ to get to a proof of concept. In fact I did back in 2009. So 13 years on we haven’t further than proving more than we could get more energy out for a short time period.
Right now in the wake of todays news, I’d still say the same.
They haven’t even got close to recovering the energy cost to start the reaction
They don’t have anything like the ability to maintain a continuous reaction suitable for generating power.
Above all, they have no method to make it self-sustaining because they have no way to actually generate power off the excess energy released. There is no transfer mechanism from energy being released from fusion and an ability to use that to power the reaction, or to feed electricity to the grid.
They’d also have to figure out how to get their raw material costs down from hundreds of thousands of dollars down to pence (as one report put it). This is a engineering research breakthrough rather than an production engineering breakthrough. It isn’t even a scientific breakthrough – that was achieved in the 1950s when the release of energy from fusion agreed with the theoretical results.
It is of interest – yes. Worth getting excited about – no.
It is hard to see how without those power generating basics there could be any use from fusion within the time frame to do anything of use for a more immediate problems like dropping greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years to 2042.
Feels like I've banged in about it for longer .
I live this stuff should have been a scientist but the chip on my shoulder weighed me down in 4th form .
Still gonna get excited though 🤪
My first degree was a science degree. But by the end of second year the requirement to spend a further 8-10 years at university before I could get hired to actually do something was somewhat dispiriting.
It died completely except as a interest topic after I found out what the employment stats in your speciality were like for PhDs. I really don't have that level of myopia. I like working wide rather than really really narrow. Went into management because I was naturally good at kit, then sidetracked into programming because I liked the persistent learning curve and humility it induces, and these days (for some reason) I keep getting called an engineer in my job titles.
Totally agree. It will likely be a few more weeks before we see some sober, balanced assessment of the implications of this particular announcement. It is not yet clear to me whether it is the result of some fundamental new insight that can be scaled up rapidly, or it is more the culmination of existing programs finally making good on the net energy milestone. Too much hype, not enough detail.
I have always said fusion is a bright, shiny goal absolutely worth chasing; but frankly a small fraction of the monumental budgets being spent on it directed toward more immediately achievable goals in the Gen 4 nuclear fission space – would be money better spent.
Ultimately fusion is likely to be a power source if you need a large plant. Less of an issue with heavy metal radioactive waste with long (by human historical and even up geological) half lives.
But in many ways some of the micro-fusion reactor projects look more interesting than these progresses towards large fusion. But currently they often look optimistic because I get the sense that they're concentrating on the output above input and not so much on how to get a usable electricity source from it. But this article caught my eye if only because this level of engineering is way faster to determine results and issue than building PoC projects costing in their billions.
If you can do it at a micro level it probably gets easier to scale by addition. Which in essence is what the solar panels / battery systems are showing. We just don’t have particularly smart grids and probably won’t quite a while.
With fission, as I keep repeating, we have had engineers building new generation toys every few decades since the 1940s. They have continually neglected to planning in how to clean up their toys and the waste products behind themselves. I'm currently of the opinion that they should demonstrate that they can do really truly do that before letting rip on generating a whole new round of waste.
Which is a fair question. Personally I have taken a reasonably deep dive for a lay person into this topic, but I will attempt to keep this response concise. This is after all a political blog, not a nuclear engineering one.
Rather than type it all out here, I will reference this excellent link that gives a sound explanation of the problem and one obvious solution.
The critical insight is that our current nuclear waste repositories are actually a priceless fuel reserve. They arise merely because Gen 2 and 3 reactor technologies using solid fuel systems use barely 3% of the uranium fuel before the assembly must be discarded for purely for reasons of mechanical integrity. 97% of the uranium and energy potential is left sitting literally on the table.
There are a number of pathways to access this energy, and in the process burn up almost all of the more hazardous, long-lived photon emitting fission by-products. And reducing the volume of high-level waste by a factor of 100 and the storage timeframe to about 300 years. Which is highly achievable.
The more I learned about radiation, the less I came to fear it. The problem is that we have been told two fatal lies about it:
One is that it is possible to build reactors that have a vanishingly small chance of ever releasing any radiation. This is demonstrably untrue because we have had Three Miles Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima events that demonstrably contract this claim and undermine trust. And while I firmly believe Gen 4 or better reactors are inherently far less likely to suffer failure events, the number will never be zero.
But the other big lie is the Linear No Threshold (LNT) model. It told us that any amount of ionising radiation , no matter how small, was harmful and worse still the impact was cumulative in a linear fashion. For this reason the As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) mandate was regulated – which has proved insanely expensive to implement. Despite the fact of the model being utter bullshit.
We live on a planet bathed in background radiation. Life likely needs radiation to evolve efficiently. More importantly it turns out living cells have very effective cellular repair mechanisms that work to repair DNA damage at levels remarkably higher levels of exposure than most people imagine. (Even more interestingly it is the rate of exposure that matters as well.) And for all conceivable nuclear power reactor accident scenarios, the magnitude and rate of ionising exposure is so low as to be well below the threshold of causing any harm whatsoever.
(Indeed many studies have shown that people fortunate enough to live in places with relatively high background levels may well have somewhat lower levels of cancers than normal. This reality stands in contradiction to all the activist scaremongering thrust on us for several generations now.)
Once you understand that radiation releases from nuclear power plants are not going to be cataclysmic, that the waste streams are not going to reduce entire continents to unlivable wastelands – then it is no longer necessary to pretend we can make perfect nuclear reactors or waste streams with zero radiation. Once we renounce the Cataclysm Lie, we no longer have any need for the patently false, trust sapping It Will Never Fail lie. An occasional release is tolerable. Now nuclear power can regulated much like any other highly beneficial, hazardous activity.
And we can get on with building a human future that does not stand in contradiction with a habitable planet.
But solar and offshore wind are now cheaper so why would we bother?
A reasonable question that I can respond to in three broad directions.
One is embedded in my comment above. Essentially the reason why current nuclear tech is more expensive on a nameplate basis than solar and wind is that we have loaded layers of unnecessary costs onto it. All analysis I have seen suggest we have made nuclear at least 3 times more expensive than needed in a pointless, futile effort to reduce radiation releases to levels far, far below the threshold where they might cause harm.
The other broad answer is that solar wind battery is only cheap on a nameplate basis – in most places in the world a combination of a very low capacity factor (less than 10%) and the necessary complexity and costs of integrating the inherent intermittency into the grid – has meant that everywhere it has been implemented so far, the cost of electricity to the consumer has risen dramatically. Germany vs France being a prime example.
Another factor rarely mentioned is the relatively short lifespans of solar wind installations. Being exposed to the elements these large scale installations are going to be doing well to survive 20 or so years. And then they need replacing at huge cost all over again. By contrast building a nuclear plant with an 80 yr life span is very doable.
But perhaps the biggest constraint in my mind is that so far we have been exploiting highly productive locations where there is lots of sunshine and wind. Most of the world, and especially close to where people live, is not like this. We are picking the low hanging fruit for the moment, but there is not an unlimited supply of it.
Yet globally the demand for high quality energy over this coming century can be reasonably projected to increase by a factor of 3 – 8 times our current total consumption depending on the assumptions you make. Yet so far all the new solar wind capacity we have installed so far, even when in ideal locations, is barely keeping pace with the rate at which we are closing nuclear plants – often for no good reason.
The idea that we can use renewables to both cheaply and fully supply our current total demand, much less our future requirements, is a very long stretch of the bow indeed.
This is how you lie if you're a idiot blogger like Jack with an agenda and no conscience.
First of all you put up a straw man alternate villain (coal ash) without any details and call it something (in this case 'toxic') without specifying how. Then minimise the danger of your villain with words like 'only 500 years' – ie roughly 20 generations of humans. While never actually show in what happens if either villain escapes.
Then you praise the incarceration of your villain without showing the relative levels of incarceration against a level of escape. Never talk about the effects relative or otherwise of either in the event that they do escape.
Then emphasise that your villain is stored wealth and should be left easily accessible for future generations. Jez I wonder how long it is before someone cuts open the little fence and breaks it out?
Doing a comparison to coal waste is kind of ridiculous. That gets buried and for good reason. Coal ash mostly gets buried in pits these days and has done for a long time. It only needs a decent hard to leach through flooring and walls and a reasonably hard to penetrate top cover. It isn't stacked high because that just makes it vulnerable. It doesn't need a fully leach proof separation because the idea is to diminish but not stop leachates.
But it simply isn't that toxic except for locally. There are mountains of coal ash already stored, it can be toxic because it contains small quantities of contamination of heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, arsenic, etc. This is only a problem when it gets leached or blown away too fast and concentrates.
Heavy metals are in all environments – the problem happens when they are too concentrated. The biosphere has long adapted to them. It is safer to not live near granite (a known source of heavy metals) or river flood plains (a known collector of heavy metals). But biological organisms are good at encapsulating and excreting them in low doses.
This isn't the case for heavy metals with any kind of strong radioactivity of any kind. That is because while they bind to biological matter like most heavy metals (and eventually get excreted) , they also irradiate and damage DNA, RNA, proteins, tissues, and the defence mechanisms around them even when wrapped up for excretion.
Id they leach into water or the biosphere, it isn't like holding them in a jar and running them against you most radio-protective organ of your body (the skin). Even the idiot Jack Devanney is aware of this…
The problem is that is exactly what happens when the containment is cracked and they leak into the water table or biosphere? Because they absolutely will. None of the containment systems have been tested for centuries of inattention
So how do you keep these exposed repositories safe for 500+ years. Stop something like a orbital crowbar in a late 21st century orbital war being used to cracking them open. Nuclear waste dumps are a really cool 'accident' deniability target in enemy territory.
Make sure that the next New Madrid earthquake doesn't tilt the hillside sideways. Massive continental crust earthquakes in 'stable' areas may not happen often but they are surface changing. You can literally find a nice rolling hill becoming a river bed in an instant.
That they can withstand being abraded in the sand storms blasting and eroding their exteriors for a century or so. etc
For some reason Jack doesn't describe any layered defence if the cylinder get cracked and stated to leach or abrade. That is because there isn't any. These are destroyable cylinders sitting out in the weather and the rain. Easily targetable looking at google earth or over the net.
It also doesn't account for things like the 140 tonnes of extracted weapons grade plutonium at Sellafield. Which has value in 5kg lots with a little bit if fast acting explosive and fast detonators.
Breeder reactors have been developed and looked at since the 1950s. What is notable about their waste is that it produces some real monster dangerous radioactives in its waste. Lower weight elements like radioactive strontium, cesium, and cadmium may not have the longer lives. What they do have is a strong ability to get bound into biological bodies and sit there irradiating them.
I'd suggest that you look less at the physics and more at the chemistry, biological, geological and historical aspects of nuclear waste disposal.
Shit happens, and containment like this or the 20m above sealevel at Sellafield at present simply aren't realistically designed for containment. They just designed for convenience by some really stupid engineers.
The best thing about renewable energy is that they are pretty damn safe if you look across 500+ years. Sure they can kill people when they fail. Dams drop. Windmills cartwheel downhill etc.. They can’t just keep poisoning the biosphere for 20+ human generations in the future when containment fails.
From a systems perspective and if you ignore the possibility of a bit of carnage in the short term. Renewable power systems are pretty much inherently safe over historical time. Nuclear power systems are the opposite.
The point of Delvany's comparison with coal ash was primarily to compare the relative volume of material produced:
That is scarcely a strawman – obviously the nature of the nuclear and coal waste streams are very different – but it is entirely valid to point out that the volume is also very different as well – by four orders of magnitude.
A volume that would be reduced by another two orders when properly consumed in the new Gen 4 reactors designed and operated for this purpose. Comparison with Gen 2 breeder reactors from the early days of the industry is not useful.
And besides I would not be so blase about coal ash waste.
Nor would I neglect to mention that air pollution from fossil fuelburning is reliably estimated by to cause the pre-mature death of about 10,000 people per day. Somehow we manage to live with this astonishing hazard, yet the vanishingly tiny risk of nuclear waste is amplified into a monster.
And if we have orbital crowbars capable of disrupting geologic repositories many hundreds of metres deep – then I would politely suggest we have bigger problems to worry about.
8 years ago it was ten years away?
And now it is 30 years away?
Talk about moving the goalposts.
And it gets worse.
From the link you supplied:
This alleged techno-fix to climate change some time in the future sounds like a lame excuse not to knuckle down in the here and now.
At the Wright Brother's stage but yes
Awesome! We'll be able to crank on! Monorail through Fiordland National Park!
we can also get much more efficient at strip mining the seas of life.
And BUILDING MOAR ROADS.
all good then I guess.
We'll be able to go faster, further and more often, move more stuff, have twice as much!
We're biggering and biggering!
If it embiggens the monorail, it must be good!
This greatly lauded proof of principal experiment is an excuse to continue heating up the climate by burning fossil fuels in the hope that we will be saved from total biosphere collapse at the 11th hour by the miraculous advent of this technology.
Good luck with that.
Solar, wind, electric, hydrogen and now this breakthrough, I would of thought you would be excited and way less sad sack about it.
Monorail from q town to milford, shit that's a good idea. 👍
You might want to regress to an arboreal life my leafy freind buy we don't,
Imagine a clean energy system that could desalinate so much see water we could green desert ares.
I want to progress to a life that's founded upon the principles displayed by managed woodlands, yes.
I recognise that you don't, but that's because you haven't yet understood what it means.
Greening "desert areas" must and will happen – then we'll be able to build the most wonderful Los Vegas imaginable!! Go us!!!!
The Herald heading today has Luxon reckoning that the PM's "arrogant prick" comment is telling. I agree with him. It's telling me what I already know.
I feel this will be a plus for the PM, as it breaks her sometimes tiring, goody-good head-prefect persona, to show a more usual human response underneath. The apology was spot-on, slightly toothy. A bit more of the relatable Jacinda, please.
what would the reaction have been if Luxton had called Jacinda a arrogant cow ????
Some on The left would milk that cow as hard as you are now
If this is the story you're referring to, it's yet another example of Luxon being … well, just a little bit weird. He talks and keeps talking and ends up saying things like:
"David was my neighbour for many years. He was a very good neighbour I can tell you that. He was very well behaved, kept his music under control."
OK. Music. That's the issue. Jolly good. What are you on about, man?
In all seriousness, the more Luxon talks the worse for National. His mouth runs away from him, he has no verbal discipline. He’s a gaffe-aholic, and in an election campaign he has to talk a lot more. Good.
Totally, the guy's an idiot. The only trouble is that too few NZers see it. They love the fact 'National's back' with 'a man as their leader'. And it looks like there ain't a thing Labour can do about it.
I don't think it's as bad as that. The details of polling won't make headlines, but they are quite revealing. The latest poll tells us that Luxon is negative 29 with undecided voters.
Right now National is 'Other'. People are dissatisfied for various reasons, and the Opposition reap the benefit. The 'Not Government' party.
But the more people learn about the alternative PM, the less impressed they are. They want … another 'Other'.
However, how many of those 'undecideds' will get out and vote? If they like Ardern, but don't like her government's policies – it seems to me that they're more likely to just stay home.
I agree that there is still an opportunity for Labour to turn this around. But it's going to take some radical pruning of unpopular policies (and politicians).
Thank you Observer for making me laugh out loud in a Spanish motorway cafe …the locals think I am a weirdo like Luxon too.
it was fun watching dave seemore get squelched by the speaker yesterday. eemore wanted AR to sanction the PM over something somebody had heard on the radio and rung him up about. no dice dave. hansard is the record and poo must be raised at the time.
I do hope lprent is working on a plugin which notifies somebody in David's orbit by text every time Seymour's name comes up in a comment here.
Does this mean he had his phone on in class?
nope. But I did have a flash of yellow when I read that.
What's the world coming to when people are prepared to threaten people with a machete all for a bottle of Fanta and an packet of chips!
Watch: Machete-wielding thief flees from Upper Hutt dairy fog cannon – NZ Herald
That report shows you how so much of the crime "debate" is completely missing the point. Rhetoric versus reality.
Look at what happened (allegedly, we're obliged to say). Man commits (potentially) aggravated robbery. Offence has potential sentence of 10 years' jail.
He then returns to the same shop, even after the alarm has gone off. He is (not surprisingly) caught, minutes later. He does all this for no material gain.
Very high risk, very low reward, and nobody who thinks about it would attempt such a crime. So the "deterrent" is totally irrelevant. Stupid people do stupid crimes. Issues like drugs, alcohol etc may be a factor too.
Crimes like this would happen even if we had capital punishment for stealing Fanta.
Aggravated robbery is a maximum of 14 years if that's where it ends up, but agree with your general points. On the capital punishment point, it wasn't unknown in earlier times in England and Great Britain for pickpockets to be publicly executed (usually by hanging), and for other pickpockets to be active in the crowd at the public execution.
Watched the Zelensky address to parliament this morning. Good speeches all round bar one. Yes, David Seymour. He used the occasion to pour contempt on the $3 million dollars of extra aid announced by Jacinda Ardern. Ignored the fact we have given nearly $60 million in aid of one sort or another and we are a very small country in the scheme of things.
Living up to his newly found fame as an "arrogant prick".
I just keep thinking of him as rather strategically stupid.
The one bit of amusement I have if National finally win the election in 2026 (maybe 2023 – but it seems unlikely) is just how useless the prick will be at combining the demands of his caucus with what is possible to negotiate with a larger coalition partner.
He really isn't a Prebble or Hide or even a Banks. It is hard to see him managing both sides of that management role of being small party within government with a rather diverse pile of hungry fringe nut-bars with varying objectives to satisfy.
Might get mocked, but after a move he's my electorate mp. (was in Mt Roskill previously). Anywhere I ran into a bit of an issue and contacted his office for some help. He went into bat for me via a phone call and letter and had my issue sorted quick smart. Will be weird but he's earnt my electorate vote.
Realistically, that has to be his road to retaining the electorate, being a good electorate MP, but it's always good to hear about it actually happening.
I do hear anecdotally, that he's a very good electorate MP. Door knocks regularly. Turns up at events. Goes in to bat with the bureaucracy for his constituents.
As was Peter Dunne.
I believe Anderton was, as well (don't have direct knowledge of either of them).
I think it's something that's often overlooked. And, is, actually, a really important part of being an electorate MP. Some MPs are really good at it. Others are just not.
Which of the current crop of MPs do you think are good electorate ones? I’m hearing good things about Swarbrick – which will certainly help cement her hold on Auckland Central.
Everything I've heard in Christchurch is that he was excellent, as is Dr Megan Woods. Poto Williams is also an excellent electorate MP.
Yes, you tend to hear about the 'local' ones – not so much the ones in other cities.
Standardistas, I’m thinking about putting up periodic current affairs debate topic posts, short intro and links from me and some guidelines for debate. On days when there are no new posts.
Haven’t talked with the other authors yet, but hoping for some suggestions from commenters for a name. eg
Today’s Debate: [name of topic].
where ‘today’s debate’ is replaced with something catchier.
hit me with your good ideas.
clever but probably a bit obscure for a regular post title
Fair. If it's a daily post, synonyms for daily are quite obscure, but debate has a few options that people will have heard of. Discourse was the one I posted, but even something like discussion is fine. That said, daily debate is alliterative, so it has that going for it.
I am a fan of alliteration.
Hot Topic of the Day
Hot Potatoe of the Day
Today's Special Topic
Today's Noteworthy Topic (TNT)
Stuff not even bothering to hide it any more:
Shilling for a strongly disliked oppo leader is as pathetic as it is boring.
That article/opinion is so blatantly pro-National that it would almost warrant a complaint to the Media Council (if there is such a body)!
I listened to Luxy's speech and thought it just stuck it's head above the mediocre!
It is also yet another failure by a journalist to ask the obvious question: "What do the words actually mean? What are the implications here?"
He provided some insight into his view of the world in light of the war, advocating for muscular militaries and criticising a “weak” United Nations. … (says) “But this war has proved that when you have to fight for what you believe in, you need an army, weapons, ammunition, and friends to help defend your interests.”
Luxon is calling for a stronger military. That means spending more money. Taxpayers' money. Now that is a position that can be debated and/or defended but Luxon is never asked to.
He says the same thing about health, education, transport, police/justice … everything really. Do more = invest more = spend more.
I don't mind having an opposition that wants to spend more. But they claim to be wanting to spend less. It's a fraud and yet Luxon is rarely challenged on it.
I concluded he didn't write it. Someone with much more speech composing flair than him wrote it. But he delivered it well.