To solve their advantages, they have to win the plan will result in global spread of fusion plants. They’ve written their plan to be as vague and nebulous as possible, which means it doesn’t solve – unspecified money for R&D doesn’t change the economics of nuclear and no solvency card in the aff says they speed up commercialization.
Fusion is impossible and even the best case is 60 years – obstacles are enormous
Chris Rhodes, Sussex University, Physical Chemistry Professor, 6/10/2012, The Progress made in the Different Fields of Nuclear Fusion, oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Nuclear-Power/The-Progress-made-in-the-Different-Fields-of-Nuclear-Fusion.html
When I was about 10, I recall hearing that nuclear fusion power would become a reality "in about thirty years". The estimate has increased steadily since then, and now, fortyodd years on, we hear that fusion power will come on-stream "in about fifty years". So, what is the real likelihood offusion-based power stations coming to our aid in averting the imminent energy crisis? Getting two nuclei to fuse is not easy, since both carry a positive charge and hence their natural propensity is to repel one another. Therefore, a lot of energy is required to force them together so that they can fuse. To achieve this, suitable conditions of extremely high temperature, comparable to those found in stars, must be met. A specific temperature must be reached in order for particular nuclei to fuse with one another. This is termed the "critical ignition temperature", and is around 400million degrees centigrade for two deuterium nuclei to fuse, while a more modest 100 million degrees is sufficient for a deuterium nucleus to fuse with a tritium nucleus. For this reason, it is deuterium-tritium fusion that is most sought after, since it should be most easily achieved and sustained. One disadvantage of tritium is that it is radioactive and decays with a half-life of about 12 years, and consequently, it exists naturallyin only negligible amounts. However, tritium may be "bred" from lithium using neutrons produced in an initial deuterium-tritium fusion. Ideally, the process would become self-sustaining, with lithium fuel being burned via conversion to tritium, which then fuses with deuterium, releasing more neutrons. While not unlimited, there are sufficient known resources of lithium to fire a global fusion programme for about a thousand years, mindful that there are many other uses for lithium, ranging for various types of battery to medication for schizophrenics. The supply would be effectively limitless if lithium could be extracted from the oceans. In a working scenario, some of the energy produced by fusion would be required to maintain the high temperature of the fuel such that the fusion process becomes continuous. At the temperature of around 100 - 300 million degrees, the deuterium/lithium/tritium mixture will exist in the form of a plasma, in which the nuclei are naked (having lost their initial atomic electron clouds) and are hence exposed to fuse with one another. The main difficulty which bedevils maintaining a working fusion reactor which might be used to fire a power station iscontaining the plasma, a process usually referred to as "confinement" and the process overall as “magnetic confinement fusion” (MCF). Essentially, the plasma is confined in a magnetic bottle, since its component charged nuclei and electrons tend to follow the field of magnetic force, which can be so arranged that the lines of force occupy a prescribed region and are thus centralised to a particular volume. However, the plasma is a "complex" system that readily becomes unstable and leaks away. Unlike a star, the plasma is highly rarefied (a low pressure gas), so that theproton-proton cycle that powers the sun could not be thus achieved on earth, as it is only the intensely high density of nuclei in the sun's core that allows the process to occur sustainably, and that theplasmais containedwithin its own gravitational mass, and isolated withinthe cold vacuum of space. In June 2005, the EU, France, Japan, South Korea, China and the U.S. agreed to spend $12 billion to build an experimental fusion apparatus (called ITER) by 2014. It is planned that ITER will function as a research instrument for the following 20 years, and the knowledge gained will provide the basis for building a more advanced research machine. After another 30 years, if all goes well, the first commercial fusion powered electricity might come on-stream. The Joint European Torus (JET) I attended a fascinating event recently - a Cafe' Scientifique meeting held in the town of Reading in South East England. I have also performed in this arena, talking about "What Happens When the Oil Runs Out?", which remains a pertinent question. This time it was the turn of Dr Chris Warrick from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy based near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, which hosts both the MAST (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) and the better known JET (Joint European Torus) experiments. In the audience was a veteran engineer/physicist who had worked on the pioneering ZETA4 experiment in the late 1950s, from which neutrons were detected leading to what proved later to be false claims that fusion had occurred, their true source being different versions of the same instability processes that had beset earlier machines. Nonetheless, his comment was salient: "In the late 50s, we were told that fusion power was 20 years away and now, 50-odd years later it is maybe 60 years away." Indeed, JET has yet to produce a positive ratio of output power/input energy, and instability of the plasma is still a problem. Dr Warrick explained that while much of the plasma physics is now sorted-out, minor aberrations in the magnetic field allow some of the plasma to leak out, and if it touches the far colder walls of the confinement chamber, it simply "dies". In JET it is fusion of nuclei of the two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium that is being undertaken, a process that as noted earlier, requires a "temperature" of 100 million degrees. I say "temperature" because the plasma is a rarefied (very low pressure) gas, and hence the collisions between particles are not sufficiently rapid that the term means the same distribution of energy as occurs under conditions of thermal equilibrium. It is much the same as the temperatures that may be quoted for molecules in the atmospheric region known as the thermosphere which lies some 80 kilometres above the surface of the Earth. Here too, the atmosphere is highly rarefied and thus derived temperatures refer to translational motion of molecules and are more usefully expressed as velocities. However expressed, at 100 million degrees centigrade, the nuclei of tritium and deuterium have sufficient translational velocity (have enough energy) that they can overcome the mutual repulsion arising from their positive charges and come close enough that they are drawn together by attractive nuclear forces and fuse, releasing vast amounts of energy in the process. JET is not a small device, at 18 metres high, but bigger machines will be necessary before the technology is likely to give out more energy than it consumes. Despite the considerable volume of the chamber, it contains perhaps only one hundredth of a gram of gas, hence its very low pressure. There is another matter and that is how long the plasma and hence energy emission can be sustained. Presently it is fractions of a second but a serious "power station" would need to run for some hours. There is also the problem of getting useful energy from the plasma to convert into electricity even if the aforementioned and considerable problemscan be overcome and a sustainable, large-scale plasma maintained. The plan is to surround the chamber with a "blanket" of lithium with pipes running through it and some heat-exchanger fluid passing through them. The heated fluid would then pass on its heat to water and drive a steam-turbine, in the time-honoured fashion used for fossil fuel fired and nuclear power plants. Now my understanding is that this would not be lithium metal but some oxide material. The heat would be delivered in the form of very high energy neutrons that would be slowed-down as they encounter lithium nuclei on passing through the blanket. In principle this is a very neat trick, since absorption of a neutron by a lithium nucleus converts it to tritium, which could be fed back into the plasma as a fuel. Unlike deuterium, tritium does not exist is nature, being radioactive with a half-life of about 12 years. However produced, either separately or in the blanket, lithium is the ultimate fuel source, not tritium per se. Deuterium does exist in nature but only to the extent of one part in about two thousand of ordinary hydrogen (protium) and hence the energy costs of its separation are not inconsiderable. The neutron flux produced by the plasma is very high, and to enhance the overall breeding efficiency of lithium to tritium the reactor would be surrounded with a “lithium” blanket about three feet thick. The intense neutron flux will render the material used to construct the reactor highly radioactive, to the extent that it would not be feasible for operators to enter its vicinity for routine maintenance. The radioactive material will need to be disposed of similarly to the requirements for nuclear waste generated by nuclear fission, and hence fusion is not as "clean" as is often claimed. Exposure to radiation of many potential materials necessary to make the reactor, blanket, and other components such as the heat-exchanger pipes would render them brittle, and so compromise their structural integrity. There is also the possibility that the lithium blanket around the reactor might be replaced by uranium, so enabling the option of breeding plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. Providing a fairly intense magnetic field to confine the plasma (maybe Tesla - similar to that in a hospital MRI scanner) needs power (dc not ac as switching the polarity of the field would cause the plasma to collapse) and large power-supply units containing a lot of metals including rare earths which are mined and processed using fossil fuels. The issue of rare earths is troublesome already, and whether enough of them can be recovered to meet existing planned wind and electric car projects is debatable, let alone that additional pressure should be placed upon an already fragile resource to build a first generation of fusion power stations. World supplies of lithium are also already stressed, and hence getting enough of it not only to make blankets for fusion reactors and tritium production but also for the millions-scale fleet of electric vehicles needed to divert our transportation energy demand away from oil is probably a bridge too far, unless we try getting it from seawater, which takes far more energy than mining lithium minerals. The engineering requirements too will be formidable, however, most likely forcing the need to confront problems as yet unknown, and even according to the most favourable predictions of the experts, fusion power is still 60 years away, if it will arrive at all. Given that the energy crisis will hit hard long before then, I suggest we look to more immediate solutions, mainly in terms of energy efficiency, for which there is ample scope. To quote again the ZETA veteran, "I wonder if maybe man is not intended to have nuclear fusion," and all in all, other than from solar energy I wonder if he is right. At any rate, garnering real electrical powerfrom fusion is so far distant as to have no impact on the more immediatelypressing fossil fuels crisis, particularly for oil and natural gas. Fusion Power is a long-range "holy grail" and part of the illusion that humankindcan continue in perpetuity to use energy on the scale that it presently does. Efficiency and conservation are the only real means to attenuate the impending crisis in energy and resources.