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Debate: Fusion power

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Does fusion power represent the future of energy generation?

Background and Context of Debate:

"Fusion power is the power generated by nuclear fusion reactions. In this kind of reaction, two light atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus and in doing so, release a large amount of energy." (by Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)

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Efficiency: Is fusion an efficient way to generate electricity?

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Pro

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Con

  • The transformation of kinetic energy of neutrons to electricity is a complicated process - Most of the energy obtained by fusion of atomic nuclei is in the form of kinetic energy of emitted neutrons. It's a long way from there to electricity - at least from present day perspective, since the only way known how to utilize this energy is to convert it to heat first (usually through neutron collisions with (molten) sodium), and then use this heat to drive a heat engine (steam turbine usually) connected to an electrical generator. Naturally, with new theoretical and experimental findings, this may all change in the future, but for now, fusion is primarily just a way how to (possibly) generate a lot of heat.
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Safety: Is fusion a safe way to produce electricity?

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Pro

  • No chain reaction is involved. Given that no chain reaction during fusion is involved, fusion can be easily brought under control in a matter of seconds.
  • There is no possibility of a catastrophic accident in a fusion reactor resulting in major release of radioactivity to the environment or injury to non-staff, unlike modern fission reactors. The primary reason is that nuclear fusion requires precisely controlled temperature, pressure, and magnetic field parameters to generate net energy. If the reactor were damaged, these parameters would be disrupted and the heat generation in the reactor would rapidly cease. "Fusion power", Wikipedia
  • Although failure of the reaction chamber is possible, simply stopping fuel delivery would prevent any sort of catastrophic failure. "Fusion power", Wikipedia
  • Radiation risk is small. Calculations suggest that the total amount of tritium and other radioactive gases in a typical power plant would be so small, about 1 kg, that they would have diluted to legally acceptable limits by the time they blew as far as the plant's perimeter fence. "Fusion power", Wikipedia
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Con

  • Tokamaks could "explode" outward. In the magnetic approach, strong fields are developed in coils that are held in place mechanically by the reactor structure. Failure of this structure could release this tension and allow the magnet to "explode" outward. The severity of this event would be similar to any other industrial accident or an MRI [Magnetic resonance imaging] machine quench/explosion. "Fusion power", Wikipedia
  • Radiation risk. Most reactor designs rely on the use of liquid lithium as both a coolant and a method for converting stray neutrons from the reaction into tritium, which is fed back into the reactor as fuel. Lithium is highly flammable, and in the case of a fire it is possible that the lithium stored on-site could be burned up and escape. In this case the tritium contents of the lithium would be released into the atmosphere, posing a radiation risk. "Fusion power", Wikipedia
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Is muon catalysed fusion a viable option?

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Pro

  • Muon catalyzation would bring the temperatures at which fusion can occur down - Muons, due to their higher mass than electrons, binds the deuterium and tritium nuclei much tighter than electrons, significantly increasing the probability of the fusion process, enabling the fusion to occur at near-room temperatures.
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Con

  • There is no known way how to efficiently produce muons - Muons are usually obtained by the decay of pions, which can be prepared rather inefficiently in hadron collisions. There is currently no known way how to produce muons in some easier way.
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Environment: Is fusion desirable?

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Pro

  • Fusion does not produce any GHG emissions. Fusion powers is beneficial for the environment as it does not produce any harmful gases that would contribute to global warming or would harm the ozone layer.
  • Fusion produces less waste than fission. Compared to nuclear fission, fusion produces less packaged waste. Moreover, this waste won't be a long-term burden on future generations as any radioactive waste generated will be small in volume and the radioactivity will decay over several decades with the possibility of reuse after about 100 years.
  • No transport of radioactive materials is required in the day-to-day operation of a fusion power station, as the intermediate fuel is produced and consumed within the power plant.
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Con

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Future: Will fusion power become a reality within the next 30 years?

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See also

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