The Fusion Power Pipe Dream

In December 2022 the MSM breathlessly announced a major breakthrough in the dream of generating limitless clean energy from nuclear fusion.  Sadly, beneath the naïvely optimistic headlines fusion power remains as elusive as ever.  In fact, given the slow rate of progress and vast expense the question has to be asked – is fusion power just an expensive pipedream?

On the 5th of December at the National Ignition Facility in California, at a cost of $3.5 billion, scientists and engineers had succeeded in generating a controlled fusion reaction that yielded more energy than had been put in.  192 lasers delivered 2.05MJ of energy into a tiny target containing deuterium-tritium yielding 3.15MJ of energy output.

This was certainly a true feat but not quite the heralding of a new dawn as the MSM would have had us believe.   The vital detail that 300MJ of energy were needed to be first supplied to the lasers were left as a footnote!

It’ll Never Work

In fact this method of fusion via lasers fired at a static target is unlikely to ever be used for generating electricity.  The issues do not stop with the requirement for a staggering improvement in the efficiency of the lasers.  The laser would need to be fired many times per second – currently twice per day is an achievement.  Then an even larger hurdle remains of actually converting the output energy to electricity.  

The more promising method of magnetic confinement is receiving even greater funding.  Experiments on Tokamak  reactors began in the 1950s where a magnetic field is used to constrain a plasma in the shape of a torus.  ITER will be the largest of this type, a Tokamak reactor, currently under construction in Cadarache France.  This international project, including UK tax payer money, will be the most costly experiment to date currently budgeted at a mind blowing 25 billion euros.  The project is predictably delayed – projected to be operational by 2035.  Even without further delay and extended budget ITER is not planned to actually produce electricity but pave the way for a further proposed design.

In reality, as ever, nuclear fusion is still 2 decades away.

How to Waste £220m

Never missing a chance to waste tax payer money the UK government has pledged £220m on the STEP programme (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production).  How this programme will deliver a fusion energy plant at a fraction of the cost of other efforts remains unclear.

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