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Randy Long's picture
Sr. Electric Engineering Tech City of Healdsburg

Energy and Renewables are a main focus of my career. I have experience in Transmission and Distribuition side of the power industry and some PM experience. Very fluent in asset management...

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  • Sep 30, 2020
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Interesting article on fusion reactor's. 3-4 years is a little optimistic, but I'm hopeful.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 30, 2020

I agree it sounds a bit optimistic, and I'm always wary of taking at face value the hype on a mainstream publication headline-- so I'm curious to hear what the energy experts in our community think of the timeline and outlook. 

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Sep 30, 2020

This is an interesting and possibly important story. The link that Randy posted requires a subscription to the N.Y. Times.

The Time's coverage is pretty high level, aimed for a non-technical audience. Those interested in more technical detail and perspective --  or who are just holdouts out against the Time's annoying policy of "tease but must subscribe to see more than the headline" -- there's good coverage at ycombinator: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24629828. The coverage includes a link to a video lecture by an MIT professor involved in the research. The poster even provides a handy "table of contents" for the hour-long lecture, with start times for the different topics covered.

The bottom line on the key technical innovation enabling this is recent advances in high temperature superconductors. It's now become practical to build superconducting magnets with much higher field strengths. Evidently higher field strength makes a disproportionate difference in plasma density and confinement time.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 1, 2020

Thanks for the additional resource, Roger. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Oct 1, 2020

There's no question that the new super-conducting magnets will bring us closer having controlled thermo-nuclear fusion, but we'll have to wait to see if they get us close enough.

And don't forget that a viable power plant is much harder than a lab machine.  The driving assumption behind the ITER program was that the physics get easier as the size scales up.  Unfortunately, as we see in everything from fission power plants to government aerospace programs, as the programs get bigger, success gets harder very quickly, I think because the managerial people in charge get further from the rank and file people doing the work.

So the fact that work is preceeding on this and other smaller scale fusion concepts will increase the rate of progress, which is good news.

It is also worth noting the underlying assumptions beneath all fusion programs: we still need something better than solar and windpower, and baseload generators can still be pragmatic solutions to the electricity production challenge.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 1, 2020

Unfortunately, as we see in everything from fission power plants to government aerospace programs, as the programs get bigger, success gets harder very quickly, I think because the managerial people in charge get further from the rank and file people doing the work

This is an interesting broad-level take, Nathan-- I wonder where else in the industry this focus against the grain against scale might be applicable?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 3, 2020

If all the extraordinary commitment and expense devoted to nuclear fusion was directed instead to building capacity of proven, safe, nuclear fission, we might have a chance at limiting global temps to +2°C by 2100.

Nuclear fusion is a distraction, like "Carbon Capture and Storage", designed to divert funding from proven technologies that could end the reign of fossil fuels.

Why Are Oil and Gas Companies Investing in Nuclear Fusion?

Lemme guess...because the public can be easily beguiled by cheap illusions as they complete their rape of planet Earth?

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