Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nuclear Fusion? You Must Be Staring Into the Sun.

I have a big government liberal friend who studied economics and finance. I am always forwarding to him anti-government propaganda from Mises.org and Cato. This is his latest attempt to justify government spending for stimulation of the economy.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4629239.stm#

This concerns the nuclear fusion plant to be built in France and its promise of unlimited and clean energy for the future. His argument is that no private enterprise could afford to pursue this technology now. To tell the truth, the whole things seems a little dubious to me and rather like a lot a country size back-slapping and deal-making. And I honestly don't know much about the present state of the technology nor do I understand who is doing what. A little help here would be greatly appreciated! FRANCO DELENDUM EST.

14 Comments:

Blogger See Jay run said...

A weird thing happened tonite when I got online to check this damn blog out. At first I was excited because I saw that there were six comments posted on this here Post. Unfortunately, they were all "anonymous" posts, i.e. they were junk mail, spam, selling shit. Oh, I was mad. Anyway, I deleted the previous post and put it up again. So to any who might have noticed the new time of post, this is edition 2.

You know it's getting bad when the guy who writes the Post has to add the comments to it.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Joseph Schultz said...

The argument that private industry cannot afford to produce a nuclear power plant is just silly - as is the argument that such facilities produce clean or safe energy.

The real question is whether it is the cheapest way to produce energy with low environmental impact. IMO the answer is obviously not.

Nuke plants produce highly concentrated waste that requires special facilities and special regulation to operate (well, the regulation isn't required, but certainly is better than dumping the waste in some landfill). It is likely that nuke plants are really just not cost-efficient.

6:20 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hello Joseph:

I follow your reasoning. I must point out that the plant being built in France is being designed for nuclear fusion, not fission. Thus the arguments that: no private enterprise could at this time pursue the technology and (2) the promise of clean and abundant energy from fusion is worth the invested effort now.

What say you?

10:58 AM  
Blogger Priscillia said...

In order to build this plant, government has to get money from somewhere. So what will it do to generate the necessary revenue? Tax people right out of jobs & reduce incentives for others to start new businesses. The high unemployment & high tax rate of France is not a coincidence.
One has to wonder, why are the French building this power plant? If it were necessary to build it, people would be willing to pay for the services & private industry would find it advantageous to build. In my opinion, the French government is under fire for the poor employment situation & searching for ways to put people to work. Even if it means wasting hard-earned money.

7:45 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Thank you Priscillia. But let's take France out of the picture. Let's say that Country A (A) is healthy and everyone has a job, or whatever. Would A still be the only player in a real attempt to produce energy from fusion, because of its ability to draw huge sums of taxes from its wealthy citizens, at a small diluted cost but to the benefit of all? And let me say that I follow you on your argument about France. FRANCO DELENDUM EST, obviously. But what I am getting at is something like the game we played at Pitzer. Remember? The only real public good that everyone would have benefit from, and that could possibly only be provided by the coercions of government, was the Earth Meteor Defense Shield. Could Nuclear Fusion be something like that?

3:53 PM  
Blogger philippe de backer said...

The issue is a bit more complex than presented here. The effort to build such a power plant is a Worldwide conglomerate of different governments participating. The European Union, the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China are all partners in the project. Japan earlier withdrew its bid, after a deal was worked out for the "runner-up" to receive a generous concessions package. The project has a 10 billion euro price tag attached…

The second point is the "clean energy" discussion. It might be so that the current nuclear fission reactors have a huge residue cost of having to deal with nuclear waste, but the nuclear technology we have is the most reliable source of energy production we have. The sources are almost limitless and uranium is used for almost nothing else. It is also one of the least polluting forms of producing electricity, compared to others. The only problem is the storing of nuclear waste, which can be done in stable geographical earth layers. Also the safety is much higher than say a coal central. In the battle to reduce CO2 concentrations and the use of fossil fuels, nuclear power plants are our best bet.

I think there is a role for government to stimulate fundamental research because the effects of this research are only visible on the long run and are generating insight into how things work without a direct application for society. But I do think that that research institutes should bring their findings to the market and by creating spin off companies become self dependent.

Should the consortium build the plant. Maybe they should have asked for private companies to invest and later, when the project works (technology is very new, lets see what happens first) the companies get a share of the distribution rights of the electricity for example. This would bring the cost for the public down already. So I see a form of public/private cooperation as the best bet here.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Priscillia said...

Hi Phillipe- good to know.

I've been completely out of the loop with the goings on in the world. Trying to move out of boston has been insane. Anyway, glad to be back.

Thanks for starting the topic CJ. I am completely intrigued by discussions concerning energy sources because I haven't a clue about the technology. I mean I read articles, talk to friends that sat in on hearings in DC about energy & my research center even did a paper on biodiesel, but i still feel clueless.

I do have the impression though that energy sources will not become environmentally & economically efficient until businesses/researchers have the incentive to create it. Although Phillipe, you say that this plan to build a nuclear plant is in fact efficient? how long does it take to build?

8:33 AM  
Blogger philippe de backer said...

I clearly did not say the plan an sich is efficient. I think the technology is to premature to build that big a plant. Clearly scientists think different. I also say that governement involvement in this kind of projects is not bad per se. I think governement can play a role in stimulating fundamental research.

Biodiesel is another nice topic by the way...

9:39 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hey Philippe and Priscillia!

Good to hear from you both! First of all, where are you moving to Priscillia? I almost went to Boston College for a Masters Program. Perhaps you can tell me a little about the city and your time there.

And concerning the fusion plant: might it be that my big-government liberal friend has got on this one? It sounds as if the potential benefits of fusion energy, being attainable in the next half-decade, outweigh my natural reaction against governement interference in the economic and technological sphere.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Ok, some comments on this by a student of engineering. First, most (if not all) nuclear power plants in the world were constructed and maintained with government subsidies, otherwise they wouldn't deliver cheap energy.

This is a tragic, but true fact. However, the question is whether Nuclear power can be produced without government subsidies and still be comparable cheap or not.
This is intriguing, because it would also give a chance to so-called ecologic and environmentally-friendly energy sources like Solar-, Water-, Geotherm- and Wind power plants.

The sad thing is that you have to evaluate power plants by their efficiency to translate from own force to electrical energy.
And this is the true problem, because only coal power (55%) and Nuclear Power (15-20% but huge output) are affordable by now.

There are also other future means to generate power in production (like a new form of plasma-breaker, fusion power (as mentioned above)). However, the first is still in the research phase and the second is under scrunity for a long time, because there hasn't been any progress.

So, we are left with few choice and all have negative side-effects.
To use regenerating power plants like water/solar/wind etc. will slow down the econmy, will produce many bird-kills and devastate huge countrysides (because of the number of plants necessary).

The use of nuclear power will have only small sites, no CO2-output and much needed energy. However, it will have toxic waste as a by-product.

Coal power is also small in size, generally has a high output, but it will emit CO2 (which is called a greenhouse gas (because of its reflective component that can increase temperatures).

So, if you want the environmentally friendliest energy source: Use Nuclear power.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Max said...

On Nuclear fusion and Nuclear waste:

Nuclear fission will most likely not be around for another 100 years (if ever). The research goes on for almost 50 years now, with no progress and ever more problems.

It is true that several nations are working with top specialists on this problem, but they are no closer to a solution than many years ago.
The problem lies in the magnetic field and the amount of energy necessary to generate the magnetic field. The Fusion of H and O cores in a donut-shaped facility is an enormous process (which actually works naturally on the sun) and similiar research can be found at the CERN centre at the border between Swiss and France.

On nuclear waste, salt caves are the best hiding place and are safer than safe. I have been visiting nuclear power plants and the storage facilities twice (due to my uncle working at a nuclear power plant) and they are impressive. More over, the stored material are burnt-out elements that emit alpha-radiation, which is very deadly, but also stoppable by a mere paper-sheet.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Priscillia said...

Thanks Max. That would be an interesting field trip!

Q. What would happen if each household/landlord were responsible for their own energy source?

7:44 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Yes, thank you for the info. Max. I am not clear on some of it though. My question is this: are you saying that fusion technology is perhaps a century away from any worthwhile advancement?

2:54 PM  
Blogger Max said...

A bit late at the moment here in Europe, but I will try to answer your question.

Yes, Fusion power still (you could say) in its infancy. That's why all the hype from the 70s and 80s has vanished and Fusion power hasn't appeared in the major headlines of science mags.

The problem is that the collusion that would lead to the creation of power needs more power than it gains, so the net is negative.
This is the problem we have with a lot of potential energy sources. They could spend much energy at a very efficient and environmentally friendly level, but to get to the point of net return, the energy necessary is too big.

While the nuclear fusion is easy to accomplish, when it comes to bombs (hydrogenium bomb). It is hard to control.
To utilize a fusion power, you need a controlled environment, or you will have a bomb-like scenario.
To accomplish this, engineers and physicists are capturing atoms in a gravitational web (easily explained ;) ). However, the generation of this web is still very expensive(energy-wise) and to construct a probable neutron source is a design-problem (currentyl discussed in the ITER and IFMIF stage of development).
I could go on about the difficulty to find the right chain-reaction that meets the criteria for nuclear fusion on terra, but this would extend way beyond the point and get technical.
Also, fusion power has one drawback: Tritium, which is an H-Isotope.

And last, but not least, there has been a scientifically disagreement, between Japan and the European states, leading to a leave of Japan. This will be a major know-how loss to the project and most likely slow the progress down again.

So, the estimation of consumer-usable fusion energy is still far, far away.

6:29 PM  

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