Over on the Dot Earth Blog at The New York Times, Andrew Revkin posted a submission by the Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), a leader in Magnetic Confinement Fusion. Prager writes an interested post on how, despite the perception of a string of failures, magnetic fusion has a long list of achievements and still provides one of the best paths forward for harnessing fusion energy. Decades of progress gives confidence to fusion scientists that they are on the right path. However, the long-term outlook often gets lost in the budget battles of today, but as Prager notes, we should not abandon an energy technology that may revolutionize our energy system. From the article:
The ensuing decades have seen an intense scientific focus on what is truly a grand scientific challenge. Scientists now are teasing out the secrets of complex multi-scaled layers of turbulence in plasmas, the movement of particles through those plasmas, their interaction with magnetic fields, and numerous other phenomena that impact the plasma’s ability to be harnessed as an energy source. This focus in magnetic fusion has driven the development of a new scientific field, plasma physics, with huge benefits for science in general – from understanding cosmic plasmas to employing these hot, ionized gases for computer chip manufacturing.
On the energy front, we have advanced from fusion energy production of milliwatts in the 1970s to 16 megawatts (for a duration of 1 second) in the 1990s. With our existing underpowered machines, magnetic fusion scientists are producing and producing close to fusion energy-grade plasmas around the world on a daily basis. We are confident that abundant fusion energy can be produced on a very large scale and are now focused on the remaining physics and engineering challenges to make it practical and attractive.
The next major experimental step in magnetic fusion is ITER – the international experiment that will generate 500 megawatts of fusion power, at a physical scale of a power plant. Under construction in France, ITER will begin operation within ten years. It involves participation of the entire developed world, with the ITER partners representing the governments of half the world’s population. The scientific basis for ITER was separately scrutinized and approved by scientific panels in each of these nations. ITER is large, complex, and full of challenges. But, the likelihood of scientific success is high.
To read the full article, click here.