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Getting Rid Of Nuclear! What About Fusion?

Have you listened to the dicussions lately about energy? Solar and biodeisel tend dominate the good side of the argument while oil and other fossil fuesl are on the bad side. Earthquakes have highlighted the problems with nuclear fission and some countries have even set deadlines for phasing out nuclear power. But what about nuclear fusion?

Well, nuclear fusion is not to the point where it is production ready. The running joke in the industry is that it is always 50 years away. It is likely significantly closer and some even think that the magic breakeven, continuous operation is less than a decade away.

There are two big issues here. First, why isn't fusion part of the more general power discussion. Second, why is the funding for fusion research so low compared to other power related research. I don't have answers to why or how to change these issues but you might.

There are some major research facilities in the U.S. and across the world. Some, like National Ignition Facility and Photon Science and the University of Rochester Fusion Science Center are looking at inertial confinement using high power lasers. Most of the world's magnetic confinement eggs are in the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) basket. ITER is a multinational collaborative project located in France.

One problem with fusion research is that it is a large problem. Small fusion plants might be available in the far future but even a research platform needs to be big and hence expensive. Take one of the magnetic confinement challenges. It requires many magnetic coils. Conventional coils have issues with ohmic heating so ITER moved from copper to super conducting magnets. These are not cheap and it is an engineering challenge. The same is true of inertial confinement. The lasers are massive and expensive.

I've followed fusion research for awhile. The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab is right around the corner. There used to be an inertial confinement and magnetic confinement projects in New Jersey but they have disappeared. There is still research work being done but it is surprising how little support it gets. So what have you heard about fusion research?

By the way, if you want to conserve fuel you might want to consider joining a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm for your fruits and vegetables. You typically buy a CSA share and receive portion of the latest crops each week. Lately we have been getting lots of strawberries, lettuce and spinich from our CSA, Honey Brook Organic Farm. Also, most CSA's are also organic farms.

CSA's, or buying local produce in general, conserves fuel because the food does not need to be shipped around the country. There are other reasons for supporting a CSA from great food to keeping farms open.

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