Breakthroughs that Could Make Nuclear Fusion Sustainable

On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, Dr. Dennis Whyte, the Director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center showed that a series of scientific and engineering breakthroughs could enable fusion to become a feasible a power source faster and cheaper than anyone had thought possible. These technological breakthroughs were not originally developed for fusion, but they could revolutionize the development of fusion energy. __

See Slideshare presentation:

Using 3D Printers to Speed Nuclear Reactor Development

Whyte explained how new 3D printing techniques are being applied to metal. He showed how 3D printer using new high-temperature steel alloys can build metal in complex shapes that cannot be machined. This will allow components of a reactor to be built quicker and cheaper than ever thought possible. It will also allow production of components once impossible to fabricate. For instance, cooling channels formed inside solid metal parts will allow exposure to hot fusion plasmas at many thousands of degrees.

… Whyte cited a new liquid salt material that can surround the plasma in a fusion power plant … to capture heat energy and produce fuel. He discussed how FLiBe, a molten salt made from a mixture of lithium fluoride (LiF) and beryllium fluoride (BeF2), could act as a liquid blanket would immerse the fusion core in a cooling bath. It will reduce construction costs, simplify heat transfer, and allow for the breeding of new fuel.

Finally, Whyte discussed how all of these breakthroughs come together to allow for a modular design that will speed up the design-build process for a new fusion reactor. This will allow scientists and engineers to accelerate the maintenance and upgrade cycles.

Put together, these breakthroughs could mean that demonstration-level amounts of fusion power could be put on the grid far sooner than many had thought. __

Recent nuclear fusion news

Dennis Whyte TedX talk on superconductor-aided magnetically confined nuclear fusion

More on Tri-Alpha small nuclear fusion from Brian Wang

A Broad Overview of Advanced Nuclear Industry, Fission, and Nuclear Battery

Nuclear Evolution

Nuclear Evolution

Advanced Nuclear Industry — Fission, Fusion, Nuclear Batteries

In total, we have found nearly 50 projects in companies and organizations working on small modular reactors based on the current light water reactor technology of today’s reactors, advanced reactors using innovative fuels and alternative coolants like molten salt, high temperature gas, or liquid metal instead of high-pressure water, and even fusion reactors, to generate electricity.

These companies are being built and funded because the innovators and investors see profit in creating an answer to the global energy paradox – there are 1.3 billion people in the world without access to reliable electricity; they will get that electricity, and advanced nuclear can provide it to them while cutting global carbon emissions. Our table and map of the advanced nuclear industry in North America is the most comprehensive listing to date of who is working on these reactor designs. __

Note the several advantages of advanced reactor designs. Scalable, safer, more efficient, potentially less expensive to build and operate, etc. With advanced nuclear reactors, humans can provide safe, affordable electric power and process heat for tens of thousands of years — and that is just using fission. With the addition of controllable and affordable fusion reactors, humans can expand into an abundant future lasting hundreds of thousands of years — long enough to acquire new energy sources and new raw materials.

More: MIT Researchers Propose Offshore Nuclear Plant

Offshore floating nuclear plants (OFNPs) are meant to address multiple criticisms of conventional onshore nuclear plants.

OFNPs will be built entirely in shipyards, many of which already regularly deal with both oil and gas platforms and large nuclear-powered vessels. The OFNP structure — platform and all — will be built upright on movable skids, loaded onto a transportation ship, and carried out to its site. There, it will be floated off the ship, moored to the seafloor, and connected to the onshore power grid by an underwater power transmission cable. At the end of its life, it will be towed back to the shipyard to be decommissioned — just as nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers are now…

… The OFNP can be deployed with unprecedented speed — an important benefit for a project that is highly capital-intensive. “You don’t want tohave a large investment lingering out there for eight or 10 years without starting to generate electricity,” Buongiorno says.

The OFNP will be situated eight to 12 miles offshore — within the limit of territorial waters — and in water at least 100 meters deep. Thus, it will be far from coastal populations (its only onshore presence will be a small switchyard and a staff and materials management facility), and the deep water beneath it will reduce threats from earthquakes and tsunamis: At that depth, the water absorbs any motion of the ocean floor during earthquakes, and tsunami waves are small. Tsunamis become large and destructive only when they hit the shallow water at the coastline — a concern for nuclear plants built on the shore.

Finally, the open ocean will provide the OFNP with an endless supply of cooling water. If accident conditions arise, seawater can be used to remove heat from the reactor; because the plant is well below the water line, the necessary flows will occur passively, without any pumping and without any seawater contamination. “We won’t lose the ultimate heat sink,” Buongiorno says. “The decay heat, which is generated by the nuclear fuel even after the reactor is shut down, can be removed indefinitely.” __ MITNews __ via __ EnergyCollective

At the Al Fin Institute for Ubiquitous Seasteading, we see floating nuclear power plants as integral to the seasteading vision. But if landlubbers wish to float nuclear plants close enough to shore to power onshore cities, we wish them well.

This entry was posted in Energy, Nuclear Fusion, Nuclear Power and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.