This page contains the opening portion of Chapter 13 of RAFT 2035.
Copyright © 2020 David W. Wood. All rights reserved.
13. Nuclear fusion
Goal 13 of RAFT 2035 is that fusion (the energy source of the stars) will be generating at least 1% of the energy used in the UK.
Nuclear fusion has the potential to provide vast amounts of safe, clean energy, once we have solved the deep technical and collaboration issues that have held up implementation so far.
First conceived as a theoretical possibility in the 1920s by the British physicists Francis Aston and Arthur Eddington, nuclear fusion has regularly been said since the 1940s to be “thirty years in the future”. Containing hydrogen at temperatures over 100 million degrees Centigrade in a fusion reactor poses numerous engineering difficulties.
However, if these problems could be solved, fusion will have many benefits:
- Enormous fuel supplies
- Little waste product
- Low, easily manageable quantities of radioactivity.
To give a comparison: whereas the UK economy uses each day the energy from several supertankers full of oil, less than one thousandth of a single supertanker containing fuel for nuclear fusion – namely isotopes of hydrogen – would provide enough energy to run the UK economy for an entire year.
ITER – ambitious but slow
The largest fusion development project underway is ITER, which stands for “International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor”. It is one of the world’s most ambitious long-term collaborative engineering projects.
Joint US-Soviet funding for ITER was agreed during talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. As of 2005 the main funding has been split between seven parties, with the European Union contributing 45%, and six other countries contributing roughly 9% each: the US, China, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea.
Construction of the main ITER complex started in 2013, in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, southern France. Construction is scheduled to complete in 2025, with full scale experiments expected by 2035.
Given the lengthy timescales involved, and a history of budget overruns, questions are frequently raised about the viability of the project. These questions often focus on political matters of how the collaboration will proceed, rather than questions of science or engineering.