Will We Have Nuclear Fusion Reactors Within a Decade?

By Carl Engelking | October 16, 2014 2:38 pm
lockheed-fusion

Lockheed Martin engineers work on a version of the nuclear fusion reactor prototype. (Credit: Screenshot form YouTube)

Lockheed Martin Corp. on Wednesday said its engineers had made a breakthrough in the race to build a nuclear fusion reactor.

The company’s secretive research unit, Skunk Works, claims that within a decade it’ll develop and deploy a nuclear fusion reactor that’s powerful enough to light over 80,000 homes, yet small enough to fit in the back of a truck. If the company succeeds, it would mark a major milestone in mankind’s pursuit of a viable nuclear fusion power source.

Nuclear Fusion’s Allure

In case you haven’t heard, nuclear fusion is kind of a big deal. Rather than splitting atoms apart, like our current nuclear fission reactors, fusion melds two atoms into one releasing an enormous amount of energy. Fusion reactions are emission-less, sparing the planet nuclear waste from fission reactors, and the heavy carbon emissions spewed by coal-powered plants. Best of all, the reactions are fueled by hydrogen isotopes that are practically in infinite supply in the planet’s oceans.

Earlier this year, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a massive fusion research facility in California, announced they had produced a fusion reaction that yielded more energy than went into it. That breakthrough occurred in a firing chamber the size of a small house.

Lean, Mean Fusion Reaction Machine

Lockheed’s scientists believe they can exponentially scale down the size of a reactor by with improved magnets. Fusion reactions occur within a firing chamber where two atoms are smashed together. The collision produces intense heat — fusion, after all, is what powers the sun — that needs to be controlled to keep the reactor from being destroyed.

Powerful magnets keep superheated ions suspended in place within the chamber, which prevents them from destroying the reactor walls. Lockheed’s reactor utilizes a higher fraction of the magnetic field pressure within the firing chamber, allowing for more control of the reaction while also reducing its size.

Lockheed’s engineers say the small size of their proposed reactor will let them build and test prototypes in a shorter timeframe, which makes them hopeful they’ll find a successful design within the decade. 

The truck-sized reactors could someday be installed in ships that could travel the seas indefinitely, or power airplanes for over a year of continuous flight on just a few bottles of fuel.  In a promotional video (above), Lockheed engineer Tom McGuire said the pint-sized reactors could power cities and homes within 20 years.

A Bit of Skepticism

If you think Lockheed’s nuclear fusion reactor sounds a little too good to be true, you have plenty of company. Since the announcement Wednesday, scientists have tempered Lockheed’s high hopes with a dose of reality. For one, the reactor hasn’t been built yet.

“Some key parts of the prototype are theoretical and not yet proven,” Nathan Gilliland, CEO of Canadian fusion company General Fusion, told Wired Thursday.

For others, the devil’s in the details, which were lacking in Wednesday’s announcement. It’s led other scientists to question the manner in which Lockheed is promoting its breakthrough. The Register reports:

“I think it’s very overplayed; they are being very cagey about divulging details,” Professor Edward Morse from UC Berkeley’s School of Nuclear Engineering in California told The Register.

Professor Steven Cowley, the director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in England, also had his doubts. He told The Guardian Thursday:

“I can’t see any results. I mean what have they achieved? It’s all promise,” says Cowley. “The proof is in the pudding in science. I’m surprised that a company like this would make this kind of announcement without announcing any results.”

Solving the fusion riddle has long been a pursuit of humanity, and history is replete with announcements that this elusive power source is just within our reach. However, those promises have yet to be fulfilled. So, are you buying the hype this time?

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  • jeeten

    sigh…my hopes broken…once again

  • Don Mache Aponte

    That we/they can see the possibility is have the problem solved. So don’t give up hope yet, jeeten :)

  • Goldpenny’s Graffix

    Are we still working on cold fusion or is a chemical formula pretty much sci-fi?

    • ericlipps

      Cold fusion, so-called, was never a chemical process, at least of any identified sort. The trouble was, if it was real, it likely wasn’t fusion either, given that most attempts at it did not produce fusion byproducts such as helium and neutrons. (And I wonder about the ones that did.)

      • Goldpenny’s Graffix

        Fusion as we have it today, because it does exist requires immense heat and more power to produce than enegery gained. Ergo fusion without heat would have to be a chemical process. If all you have is a high school ged please don’t chime in.

        • ericlipps

          I have a lot more than that, Tinpenny.
          “Fusion as we have it today” need not require more energy than it produces, or the H-bomb wouldn’t work. Controlled fusion, at present, does take more energy than it produces, at present, but there’s hope that this obstacle can be overcome.
          “Fusion” without a large heat input probably wouldn’t be fusion, but that doesn’t mean it would have to be a chemical process. Indeed, in the original Pons-Fleischmann experiments, more heat supposedly was produced than those two respected professional chemists cold account for via known chemical reactions, an observation othersave duplicated. Even the federal government decided some years back to take another look at “cold fusion.”
          If it’s real but it isn’t conventional fusion and it isn’t chemical, what is it? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, which is why most establishment scientists say it isn’t real. But one possibility worth considering, I think, is zero-point energy.
          That energy, a product of quantum phenomena, is real: its existence keeps liquid helium from solidifying no matter how close its temperature gets to absolute zero, unless it’s placed under pressure. How much of it there is, and how much can be extracted, remains a matter of dispute among physicists.
          And if “cold fusion” isn’t related to ZPE, it may represent an entirely new phenomenon. As I say, no one really knows. I wish you’d given me some credit for knowing what I’m talking about rather than trying to insult me. But done is done.

          • Goldpenny’s Graffix

            Lol, reverting to 2nd grade name calling. I can’t believe your idiocy! The H bomb was FISSION not fusion. I can see your to asinine to even hold a conversation with.

          • ericlipps

            The whole idea of modern fusion research is to solve the problems you mention, first reaching so-called “break-even” and then surpassing it to have useful energy left over. In actual fact, competent physicists do not believe controlled fusion” inherently requires “way more energy than we can get out of it.” If they did, why bother with it?

            You remind me of the scientists who before the discovery of uranium fission expressed the view that human beings would never, ever harness nuclear energy, because it would always take more energy to “split the atom” than you could get out of it. They at least were led to their belief by the assumption that it would be done inside some equivalent of what we’d call a particle accelerator, one atom at a time. Shortly after the discovery of fission in Germany, however, some realized it didn’t have to be that way, and the world we live in is the result.

            As for the false choice you set up, if “cold fusion” isn’t fusion after all, that does not mean it “would have to be chemical.” You dogmatically assert that these are the only choices, but that doesn’t make it so.

            Weep all you need to. Just go away, and weep in private.

          • Goldpenny’s Graffix

            I don’t think you know what fusion is my friend. You understand that fusion is smashing two atoms together to make a new and different molecule, right? And you know the only way we can currently sustain sthat in thatis in an isolated, super magnetized and superheated lab. You’re getting this right? Because you sure as hell don’t know what cold fusion is. So, like a child I will explain it. “cold fusion” is the chemical process of combining two atoms without heat to get a new molecule. Until Einstein the only place fusion occurred was in stars. Stars are hot. Very hot. Cold fusion was always the idea that there exists the right chemical formula to safely get the same results without all the enegery you need to expend for regular fusion. Thus resulting in a hypothetical endless supply of enegery. I can’t tell if maybe English isn’t your first language or you just have a mental deficiency. “I remind you of scientists that asserted we would never be able to perform fusion”? I mean, your insane right? There are millions of better ways to get clean enegery than fossil fuels, not least amount them fusion. I’m sure there are forms of enegery we don’t even have any idea exist, or seem to surreal to harness (dark matter). But all you are doing is saying I’m wrong about the definition of a term. Did you even look up cold fusion before you jumped to your keyboard looking for an argument? Because you’re doing a very good job of making up and arguing with yourself. Maybe we should harness your neural synapses as a new form of enegery because you are creating something from nothing. There is no argument, you’re an idiot. Fusion exists. We will eventually have a working fusion reactor. Cold fusion was coined to describe a chemical process of fusion that didn’t need heat. I’m sorry you’re confused. If you wait another hour I’m sure the orderly in your nursing home will be by with your meds.

          • ericlipps

            I know you don’t know what fusion is! It has nothing to do with making molecules!
            Fusion is the combining (under conditions of extreme heat and pressure) of two or more atoms to make a single atom of a heavier element. Because there is excess mass/energy in atoms of the lighter elements, which physicists call “binding energy,” energy is released, usually along with neutrons.
            “Cold fusion” was, and remains, controversial because it seems to achieve similar results without needing intense pressure and heat. That’s why so many physicists think it’s not real, and why, if it is real, it’s unlikely to be fusion. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a chemical reaction–those aren’t the only possible choices, as I’ve tried to make clear.
            “Cold fusion” was neverdescribed as a “chemical process” of nuclear fusion; there’s no such thing, since chemical processes derive from the electromagnetic force and fusion from nuclear forces. I recommend you read Pons and Fleischmann’s original paper. “Cold fusion” is described in subsequent literature as a “low energy nuclear reaction” (LENR), which may or may not be accurate but certainly isn’t the same as saying it’s a chemical reaction.
            Calling me names won’t change anything. Getting your facts straight might. But since your mind, such as it may be, is firmly made up, I doubt you’ll make the effort.

          • Goldpenny’s Graffix

            You are to dumb to converse with, molecules come from atoms. If you don’t even understand that basic principle you need to cancel your subscription to dumbass weekly and stick to the pedophile forums. Blocked.

          • ericlipps

            Of course molecules “come from” atoms. But that has nothing to do with fusion, cold, hot or lukewarm.

            And since you are “to” dumb even to spell “too” correctly, who cares if you’ve blocked me along with your head? Maybe it’ll keep you from further insults for which I might sue if only you weren’t hiding behind a silly online alias. Goodbye, troll.

  • Toad

    Great news. In our energy hungry society, going nuclear is the only way to curb our use of fossil fuels and our contributions to global warming.

    • ribbie149

      Fusion produces no radioactive wastes and uses deuterium or Tritium (heavy water) as fuel. What more do you want (if we can master it)?

      • ericlipps

        If it uses tritium, you still have a waste problem, and the tritium itself, with a half-life of only twelve years, is a hundred times as radioactive as radium. And deuterium-deuterium fusion, while cleaner, is also harder to achieve.

        By the way, tritium isn’t heavy water. It’s simply an isotope of hydrogen with two neutrons in its nucleus instead of none (as in ordinary hydrogen) or one (as in deuterium). Heavy water is water in which the ordinary hydrogen is partially or fully replaced by deuterium, and is expensive to produce (tritium isn’t cheap, either, and has to be replaced as it breaks down).

        • Rigel54

          Residual tritium is easily purified and reused (unlike uranium), so few worries about waste. Tritium is indeed such hydrogen, but can be chemically part of a (very) heavy water molecule (Tr2O vs De2O or H2O), so the the reference is functionally correct. This deuterium-tritium fuel (in whatever chemical form) would be used as rapidly as possible, no problems like tritium warheads sitting for decades, decomposing. Your wait and see position is reasonable, but your comments are not.

          • ericlipps

            Tritium could indeed be part of a water molecule, but the molecule wouldn’t be stable; it would tear apart as soon as the tritium decayed. Deuterium-based heavy rater (D2O), on the other hand, is stable, because deuterium itself is.

            And deuterium-tritium fuel would almost have to be manufactured onsite at the reactor, because the prospect of transporting significant quantities of highly radioactive material across long distances would likely be political poison, no matter how many reassurances about safety might be offered. Even if it were manufactured at the reactor,
            that might only provide more ammunition to opponents of nuclear power.

            All of this is academic anyway until a practical fusion reactor is built. We’re getting closer, but within ten years? I don’t think so. We’ll be lucky to have a working reactor which can produce net power on a steady basis (rather than for brief spurts) within that time, let alone one which produces enough to make it commercially viable.

          • Rigel54

            Tritium is NOT “highly radioactive,” and what radiation it does give off is relatively weak. Its half life is such that it could be stable in water for some time (years). Transportation would only be an issue because of its usefulness in bomb making. Given your relative ignorance I doubt your opinions of the other issues are meaningful.

          • ericlipps

            Tritium has a half-life of 12 years, far shorter than even radium (1560 years), which means it emits more radiation in a given period. The radiation it gives off may be “relatively weak” on an atom-by-atom basis, but there’s a lot of it. And while technically it could be “stable”in a water molecule for “years,” that’s nothing with deuterium which is stable forever. A half-life of twelve years means there would always be a considerable number of nuclear reactions, and therefore of molecules breaking down.

            And whether or not its transportation would actually be physically dangerous is beside the point. If you had actually read my post instead of skimmed it looking for points to criticize, you’d have noticed I was talking about the political issue involved–which in the present era of radiation phobia couldn’t be waved away, and whichwould only be exacerbated by its “usefulness in bomb making.”

            Snide remarks about my competence are bad enough when they’re not coupled with ignorance. When they are, they’re an embarrassment. But not to me.

          • Rigel54

            Tritium radiation is not particularly dangerous, it cannot penetrate the dead top layer of skin. Yes, paranoid ignorants can create problems, just tell them burning coal produces PAHs. The fact that deuterium is considerably more stable than tritium is irrelevant if the tritium is stable “enough.” 3 months is enough (2% loss) as a power generation fuel, and that won’t significantly degrade the fuel, safely stored in tritiated water. I read your post, and you were talking about both political AND technical concerns. The idea that tritium radiation cannot pass through the skin, or even 6 mm of air should ease the mind of even the most paranoid simpleton. You have also failed to identify a single point of “ignorance,” leaving that point moot. You danced around what you might have meant, restated obvious facts in several versions, tossed in a few random facts (radium) with no relevance, and expressed pain at my missing your political allusion (I didn’t). Your “embarrasment. But not to me.” gambit is an oft used but tired substitute for an argument.

          • mbkeefer

            Tritium gives off a low energy beta and an electron antineutrino. It takes special intruments to even detect the low energy beta.

  • stevedodge833

    I find it very strange. If Lockheed, a company known for secret projects, had indeed come up with a way to make a tiny fusion reactor, then the military applications and resulting advantages would be massive. This isn’t something you go blabbing to the world. There has to be another reason for it’s revealing. Spooking China and/or Russia?

    • http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1ugkaa_flying-humanoid-instrumental_music Maelstrom Sebasschyan

      You must be pretty dumb, yes ?

      It produces ELECTRICITY ! Its not a bomb. I am pretty sure other countries have mastered that technology ~sarcasm off.

      Electricity from fusion has no significant military advantage to say a portable fission reactor (yes, that is a real product).

      The place where it would really shine is in the civilian economy. It will boost clean energy massively and lead to a revolution in renewables.

      • Adam Dooley

        The advantages of a military infrastructure that needs less supplies and has unlimited electricity over its rival is significant. Not to mention that energy based weapons could become feasible.

        • visibleunderwater

          The Navy’s railgun tech would get a HUGE boost from this.

          • dickG

            An electricly driven tank limited in range only by lubricants and human needs.
            .’
            An Electric transport airplane limited in endurance only by supply of lubricants

          • mbkeefer

            Radiation shielding and power conversion equipment is going to weigh many tens if not hundreds of tons. There is not going to be any fusion powered tanks or planes. Ships can handle the weight and space requirements for the shielding, power conversion equipment and dealing with the waste heat.

          • Rigel54

            They would have to have power cords. This thing is STILL way to big for those applications.

          • Rigel54

            No advantage not already present with fission reactors.

        • ZenGeekDad

          Laser weapons are already starting to be deployed on very limited navy ships. These early weapons are primarily constrained by the power draw they require. A small fusion reactor aboard that same ship would erase that bottleneck. There might still be others, like heat-sink management (waste heat has to go somewhere, since no energy conversion process is remotely 100 percent efficient).

          And having more nearly unlimited energy supplies on ship would enable us to make vastly more powerful laser weapons that we already have designs for, but which are not currently practical (due to energy requirements). These could enable anti-ICBM and other missle/drone/etc. defenses to be vastly more robust, and enable ground-based weapons against the growing militarization of space. We don’t have to like these trends; they are underway regardless of our attitude about them. Having some recourse might be critical in the future.

          Separately, maintaining supply lines is a major liability for any combat unit put forward. Fuel is a very large part of that supply line. I’ve read that an army can succeed or fail simply on the viability of that lifeline. And anyone who has any exposure to military history (including modern) knows the importance of maintaining your own supply lines, and cutting off those of your enemy. Massive volumes of chemical fuel require large convoys. Eliminate that, and the remaining physical supplies might readily be air-dropped.

          • sleepvark

            You’ve hit the nail on the head. Fuel trux make a nice big flaming boom when they’re destroyed. A great booster for enemy moral.

        • Joey

          Power is everything.

        • Rigel54

          Ah, yes! The implications for energy weapons and the rail gun are huge!

        • Rigel54

          You’ve already got that from fission. Militarily fusion’s advantages, while considerable, are not groundbreaking.

      • Zachary

        Wow… If I were you, I’d leave that sarcasm switched off.

        Stating things like “Electricity from fusion has no significant military advantage to say a portable fission reactor (yes, that is a real product).” regarding military application is crazy…

        Lets suppose I build an exoskeleton (huge research topic at the moment). I have one man in a squad with this suit to move large debris, breach doors and carry equipment. If he is rocking a portal fission reactor, one hit to the control rods and BOOM, there is a hole in the earth, and half my team is radiation poisoned…

        On the other hand, I could have a fusion reactor, and I just lose power…

        Not to mention, what happens to our economy when everyone has free power from sea water? Chaos… These are two reasons of MANY that this should be kept secretive…

        We do not live in an ideal world, so stop acting like it.

        • Sanjosemike

          Zachary, I think everyone “appreciates” the potential benefits of sustained, energy positive micro-fusion reactors. Yeah…it’s great.
          Trouble is…it is impossible to achieve on Earth.
          sanjosemike

          • ericlipps

            Yes, and no conceivable mechanism or source of energy can ever allow a heavier-than-air craft to fly.

          • Jeff Garrett

            “What about a gravity nullification machine???”

          • Zachary

            Why do you feel like this is impossible to achieve on earth? Do you know something Lockheed don’t?

        • mbkeefer

          It is portable like in ships the size of destroyers and up. The shielding and power convertion equipment necessary is going to weigh many tens to hundreds of tons.
          There will be no tanks or battle suits that are fusion powered.

          • Zachary

            If you are going to reference the article on ships.. Then I can reference the “pint-sized reactors could power cities and homes within 20 years”. If it can power a city, it can power an Exo suit?

          • mbkeefer

            By pint size, they mean the core and reactor vessel assembly can be delivered by a flat bed truck. That does not include shielding or power convension equipment.

          • Rigel54

            If it had a long power cord. The term “pint sized” in this case doesn’t actually mean the size of a pint.

          • sleepvark

            not for a while, anyway. But after that while . . .

        • Van Snyder

          It’s impossible for a fission reactor to cause a nuclear explosion. If it were that easy, Hitler would have had nuclear weapons in 1939, and we’d all be speaking German.

          • Zachary

            Ok, agreed. There would not be a hole in the ground… But there would be a meltdown. Also nuclear waste, the suit/vessel would be radioactive as the reactor walls would have be radiative etc etc .Whereas fusion would be clean.

          • Rigel54

            A question is the suit’s conversion of the reactor’s heat energy to electricity. If by steam turbine as normally today you might get a (delayed) substantial steam explosion a la Japan.

          • mbkeefer

            Fukushima was a hydrogen expolsion, not steam. Chernobyl was a steam explosion in the reactor itself, caused by violating operating restrictions.

          • Rigel54

            Yeah, quite right. I was cruising without much thinking.

          • Van Snyder

            Yes, maybe, if you build a reactor using a sixty-year-old design. We’ve known in principle for fifty years how to build inherently-safe reactors. Look for “Pete Planchon” and “Integral Fast Reactor.” “In 1986, we gave a test reactor two chances to melt down; it politely refused both times.” Read “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American (also online). Do some research lest you continue to spout nonsense.

          • mbkeefer

            The Germans had a major problem. They did not believe it was possible to build a fission reactor using graphite, due to an error made by a senior German scientist who worked out the nuclear properties of carbon. He was the up most authority on the subject. Nobody in Germany checked his work. So they believed it was only possible to do so using heavy water.
            If the U.S. when his experiment was repeated, the results were not made available to Germans.

          • stevedodge833

            No not impossible. A pile can go critical and explode, but only a tiny portion of material would fissile before the pile was blown apart and the process stopped. Still, it would be a nuclear explosion, albeit a very small one of no military significance short of dirty-bomb use.

          • http://dev.blogs.discovermagazine.com Van Snyder

            It’s interesting, then, that this didn’t happen at Chernobyl. RBMK reactors have a positive void coefficient, meaning that if the cooling water boils, the steam bubbles have far lower neutron absorption, leading to an exponential increase in reaction rate. But there was no nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. A steam explosion blew the top off the reactor, at which point the graphite moderator caught fire. There was also no nuclear explosion at Windscale, Arco, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima.

          • sleepvark

            Think 8 inch arty shells.

          • Rigel54

            No, there would be no nuclear explosion. There would be steam explosions that would destroy the reactor. At worst, the nuclear pile would melt into a subcritical “pile.”

        • mbkeefer

          Remember even a fusion reactor generates HUGE amounts of radiation when operating. It will need shielding just like fission reactor does. It will also need power conversion equipment and means of handling waste heat, just like an operating fission reactor does.
          The BIG difference is when you hit the off button on a fusion reactor, you can turn off the lights and go home. Unlike a fission reactor there are no fission products, no decay heat and no worries about possible melt downs.

      • LynxCreek

        I’m replying to you here because the thread you replied to me on is now closed. Sorry, but your comment upset me on many levels. Check your history to make sense of this, if you must:

        One bullet entered through the palm of Mike Brown’s hand, which is consistent with being shot while running away. I was suppoting Matthew’s statement and pointing out that the witness accounts were accurate when they said the cop fired at Mike as he was running away.

        So, here’s some advice you should heed — 1. stop calling people a racist when you clearly can’t be bothered to understand their point and 2. you don’t know the race of the person you’re talking to.

        • Rob Davis

          Why is this conversation in reply to an article on Nuclear Fusion reactors? Could that be why the thread was deleted, hmmm? Can you take this to an appropriate venue, please?

          • LynxCreek

            To answer all your questions… 1. I explained that very clearly and 2. Not even close, the whole comment section was closed by CNN and, 3. There’s no conversation to “take to an appropriate venue,” it’s over. Let it go.

          • Rob Davis

            All rhetorical questions. There was no need to answer. Seems you’re the one that needs to let it go…

          • Harold Ziel

            Yes of course, Rob, we are talking about fusion. There are always a few who want to put their two cents in about other things. I doubt if they will ever respect the current topic.
            I belive that all of the materials we need are plentifull on our moon. Some say that aliens go there to mine it, we should too.

          • Rob Davis

            Yes, and you yourself did it just now…

        • Harold Ziel

          If Mr. Brown had not gone into that store to steal cigars, he would not have wanted to run away and would still be with us!

          • Rob Davis

            This is COMPLETELY off topic, but it was established that Mr. Brown did NOT steal the cigars but paid for them.

      • Ronald Elliott

        Can’t believe you would call another dumb! No need to say why. All the undumb already understand.

      • stevedodge833

        Gotta fix that sticky sarcasm button someday 😉

        Things don’t have to go BOOM to be of great use to the military. You must expand your thinking and look deeper into how the U.S. military machine works.

        A fusion-powered tank or sub or bomber or cargo transport truck or cruise missile or whatever that has virtually range, eliminates the need for refueling supply lines or flying refueling tankers and greatly reduces the infrastructure needed to keep war machines moving during bad times has no significant military advantage? What does then, if not this?

      • Dave

        Tritium, deuterium, and hydrogen fusion produces fast neutrons, neutrinos, heat and light radiation. It does not produce electricity directly.

        The current ways to convert heat to electricity involve boiling water to make steam pressure to turn a turbine that turns an alternator. You could also use a thermocouple to convert heat differences to electricity or solar cells to turn the light produced by fusion into electricity.

        Direct production if electricity from fusion would require the fusion reaction to produce a charged particle stream which is not possible unless you can get heavier elements to fuse. The heavier the element the harder it is to get it to fuse.

        • mbkeefer

          Deuterium fusion produces He3, H1 fast neutrons, anti electron neutrino and gama radiation. The He3 and H1 are what keep the plasma hot. If you have enough excess energy, you pull off a stream of plasma and extract power via magnetohydrodynamics.

    • TLongmire

      Perhaps they infultrated one of the Chinese research centers and want to create a false sense of urgency as to get others to do the research quickly and competently then develope the technology with unlimited funds and existing infrastructure quicker than anyone else could and no one be the wiser.

      • sleepvark

        If you don’t think China and India are in a race with us to get this thing happening, you need a new drug. A lot of original research going on over there. That’s where all the engineering and hard science students are going anyway. Nobody here wants to do that. We all want to be MBA’s and bankers.

        • TLongmire

          That’s exactly what I was saying get them (the eager competent minds) to do the mathematical theorizing then use the US’s unlimited resources and infrastructure to develop the reactor first thus receive all the credit/profit. But a new drug would be nice.

  • Patrick Jones

    I’m glad to see that fusion power is still 10 years away. It has been 10 years away for the last 40 years.

    • dickG

      True, that!

    • astralislux

      It’s like cheap solar. Always another breakthrough away.

      • ribbie149

        The price of solar energy has come down drastically in the last decade, you moron. Proud of your ignorance, aren’t you?

      • Sanjosemike

        astralislux, Solar is getting cheaper, but if you take away all of the Government subsidies, it is still far more expensive than nat-gas.
        The bottom line question: “What is solar’s bottom line without Government?”
        sanjosemike

        • Rigel54

          If you take away all the subsidies that the oil business gets and has gotten you might find a similar deflation.

          • sleepvark

            and don’t forget the railroads

          • ericlipps

            And then there’s nuclear, which has been described for decades as “an island of socialism in a capitalist sea.” Take away nuclear’s subsidies and its convenience to the nuclear-weapons industry (issues which are tightly related) and it would be an economic nonstarter. And I write this as a former supporter of nuclear power.

            As for Sanjosemike’s question, one important difference is that the sun will be here for billions of years. Will gas?

          • Rigel54

            The sun WILL be here for billions of years, but it will go through several catastrophic cycles which in the end will melt the planet to slag. Before that will be plenty of fatal consequences. It will run through its hydrogen, then helium, expanding beyond Earth’s orbit. The downside of solar? Your ideas of nuclear subsidies are silly, and if you took away the political/legal (nontechnical) obstacles it would blow away the alternatives. It is far from a nonstarter. Natural gas will be finished certainly within a millenium, really a century or less, but in the meantime it’s quite useful. The answer is to pursue (and subsidize constructively) solar and other renewables while maximizing nuclear, developing fusion (Skunk Works promises a working reactor within a decade. Will fusion always be “the power of the future and it always will be.”?) It is as stupid to vilify useful options to raise your favorite as it is to crust new options to support the old. We need to play ALL the cards.

          • ericlipps

            You’re kidding, right? The solar catastrophes you mention are hundreds of millions to billions of years away.

            As for the idea of nuclear subsidies being “silly,” those subsidies are a matter of record, beginning but not ending with the 1958 Price-Anderson Act, which established an absolute maximum liability of $2 billion in the worst possible accident, a figure regarded by experts as inadequate even then but which has not been increased one penny in the intervening 57 years, even to keep up with inflation.
            And I don’t care what “Skunk Work promises.” We’ve been hearing such promises for fifty years. When they’re actually fulfilled, then will be the time to talk. Until then, fusion power exists in the same neverland as flying cars and food pills.

            And given your comments, I’m sure you’re a climate-change denier, but I’d prefer not to take that kind of chance just so the great god Fossil Fuels can be worshiped for a few more generations.

          • Rigel54

            I wasn’t the one who mentioned billions of years, you did. Liability caps are not subsidies. I believe I mentioned the wonderful saying “Fusion is the power of the future, and it always will be.” Still, Skunk Works delivers, and the only presentation errors I’ve heard from them have been to hide their accomplishments (for tactical reasons). Flying cars, in one form or another, DO exist. Food pills could, too, you’d just have to eat a lot of them. Re climate change, quite the opposite, I’m a zealot on the other side, just not a simpleton. Fossil fuels WILL be necessary for a few more years, but we have the ability in the next 1-2 decades to mostly move away from them. If you HAVE read my posts you have heard me say (read me say?) that solar should be subsidized to a level at least as great as fossil fuels have been over the last century.

          • ericlipps

            “Liability caps are not subsidies”? Of course they are, since they allow designers, builders and operators to take risks they might not otherwise take and save money in the process even if no accidents occur.

            As for the flying cars, I know they exist–as prototypes. It’s fabulously unlikely that they will ever replace, or even compete with, ordinary automobiles. And the whole idea of food pills was to have a whole meal in a pill. Having to “eat a lot of them” would be essentially chowing down on a human version of dry cat food.

          • Rigel54

            Liability caps are not operational subsidies, but a protection against an insane electorate, minimizing insurance requirements founded on politics. Still, you are right that they are a financial benefit. I do not agree they subsidize shoddy design. The whole point was your misguided stabs at the TECHNICAL capabilities. “Cars” can fly, it’s just not practical. The idea of a single pill dinner was never a scientific concept, it was a cartoon concept. Raising them suggested a certain “cartoon” level of argument. The main point of all such argument is that what is technically possible or socially practical is not particularly meaningful. The American electorate is dominated by low education, poor reasoning skills, paranoia, and self absorption. Those weaknesses are exacerbated by the “stupid party,” (the Republicans) who will do anything to get the middle class to sell the country to the rich.

          • ericlipps

            The “insane electorate” you mention was pro-nuclear power in 1958, in 1968 and into the seventies, when nuclear’s popularity declined due to the rise of the environmental movement (and then the Three Mile Island accident, which, though far from a worst-case event, drained credibility from nuclear-power boosters who had insisted no significant failure could ever possibly happen and who, after TMI, were reduced to asserting that nothing worse could happen).

            About those pills: of curse they weren’t a “scientific concept” in the strict sense. They were, however, the sort of thing marketed to Americans (and not only in cartoons) as a real future possibility by Sunday-supplement writers. The ultraprocessed foods consumed by early astronauts in space made such a thing look more credible to people with limited knowledge of, or interest in, science–that is to say, most Americans.

          • Rigel54

            Yeah, they were more sane in 1958-68. Constant and misleading campaigning on the left and right has left the electorate has left the electorate in a simple minded fantasy universe devoid of science. The same reason free and fact light focus has affected perceptions of GMOs as well. It is no longer possible to examine something, find pluses and minuses, and engineer a “best” solution. Everything is either good, or bad.

            Apart from ruining a very, very expensive reactor pretty much nothing real happened at Three Mile Island. The reaction of the public was different of course, for the reasons mentioned above.

            Yes, the “dinner pills” were just a common people fad, and never a possibility. I forget why you brought them up.

          • Peter

            Well said!

          • Boris

            Well ill just say there is a lot of water and there is a lot of hydrogen in space

      • Rigel54

        Cheap solar is sufficiently here that power utilities are using an array of political and legal moves to exclude it from the grid. Solar is making sufficient inroads that they are afraid they will wind up without enough sales to support the grid. Ultimately we may wind up with companies responsible for sustaining and maintaining the grid and companies (and technologies like solar) that only supply energy to it.

      • Rigel54

        Solar cell efficiencies are steadily climbing. If you are going to take away solar subsidies (for calculational purposes) you must also take away coal, oil, and gas subsidies for the last 100 years, only they are far too massive to contemplate. Damage to my Louisiana’s environment alone would eclipse 10 times all solar subsides to date. Give those (100 year) carbon subsidies and everyone in the country could have a solar roof for free!

        • astralislux

          As long as we keep cheap coal/gas to run the appliances and air conditioner that solar cannot run.

          • Rigel54

            Solar can power any of those things if produced in sufficient quantity. That quantity can come from broad application, aided by falling costs and rising efficiency. Roofs, roads, parking lots, and swathes of deserts can all (and will) be collectors. Those things are in the pipeline NOW. Added bonuses abound, such as self-deicing roads.

    • Sanjosemike

      True Patrick! I’ve read your post before on other blogs. I think it is simply BS to raise their stock values and try to prevent the CEO from being “terminated” by their Board…or to make sure his golden parachute is high enough.
      sanjosemike

      • rrocklin

        Or to get a big government grant.

        • Sanjosemike

          I live in the Bay Area and understand that Lockheed NEEDS government grants. After this project fails, they will simply say: “oops.”
          But unlike the rest of us in the REAL world, they will not have to return any money after they built this 500 ton paperweight.
          It will look very impressive in its full fledged uselessness.
          sanjosemike

          • rrocklin

            Tapped into the government teat with no accountability. Pretty good work if you can get it.

        • Rigel54

          Yeah, it’s easy to be a paranoid skeptic. You don’t even have to know ANYTHING. Paranoid skeptics can be completely ignorant and have IQs of 70

      • Rigel54

        As cynical as the age. Possibly so, but probably not. They at least THINK they have something. With luck I’ll live to see it, I never thought that I would.

      • mbkeefer

        Have a pretty good idea of how the Lockheed machine is going to work. It is going to be a linear machine and allowed to leak a little at one end. That leakage will be used to extract power via magnetohydrodynamics. It will probably be intalled vertically to prevent gravity from pulling plasma into the lower wall.The non leaking end will inject balanced beams of deutrium and electrons to heat the plasma and provide inertial obstruction to help prevent leakage.

        The mainsteam fusion reasearch is thinking of building what amounts to a tokamack of coal fired power plant fueled by tritium with a blanket of liquid lithium to catch the high energy neutrons that tritium fusion releases. The lithium will be heated by the energy the neutron loose as they slow down. The lithium atoms that capture the nuetrons with fission into helium and depending on the isotope more tritium. The hot lithium then goes to boilers to make steam to run turbines.
        If any of those boilers ever develop a leak, they will explode and burn. If they are smart they will put an enert gas loop between the lithium and the boilers. But that would cost more and corporations are not well know for spending money on safety, when there is a good chance it may not needed (Fukushima is a good example).

        • Sanjosemike

          mbkeefer, What you are describing appears to not really be “controlled fusion” but simply a method to create heat to operate boilers.

          By not creating a real super-heated plasma, they have much less concern about creating the enormous amounts of energy that you have to put into the system to create the plasma.
          It’s an “end run” around “controlled fusion.” I consider this more of a fuel cell than an actual fusion reactor.

          “Beams of Deuterium and electrons” by themselves do not appear to have enough energy to actually create a sustainable superheated plasma, even a microscopic one.
          Please tell us how they expect to create the superheated plasma? Your supposition looks good, but leaves out the “super-heated plasma production.”

          sanjosemike

          • mbkeefer

            Once you get a sufficiently contained plasma all you have to do is start the fusion process. The energy released will continue heating the plasma and keep the fusion going as long as the fuel is rich enough. For a practical reactor you have to have a way to add more fuel, a way to heat it up to ignition and a way to bleed off excess energy and spent fuel.

            The charge balanced beams prevent leakage at their end and provide fresh fuel. If you run the input energy up to about 200 Kev it will also start fusion.

          • Sanjosemike

            Thanks mbkeefer. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see if the beams of deuterium and electrons will actually create a super-heated plasma.

            I’m not a physicist, but I don’t believe that this process will create it, or that it will be maintained and not lose energy and burn out because it was not adequately contained.

            If a super-heated plasma, were that “easily” contained, controlled fusion would already be operative and working in an industrial capacity already.

            sanjosemike

          • mbkeefer

            It is not easliy contained, that is their break through. Suspect they are combining inertial with magnetic, plus inducing rotatiing electrical currents in the plasma via an external stator fields to help contain the deuterium ions. Heard about some REALLY promising work in that direction at the University of Washington a few years back.

    • mbkeefer

      The actual release by Lockheed says 5 to 10 years. Their prototype sooner than that. These guys are pretty sure that they are on to something that works a lot better than what has been tried before.

      • Rigel54

        Gotta love Skunk Works. They have been responsible for most of the technically amazing accomplishments of the last 40 years.

    • Rigel54

      Yes, the old saying is that fusion is the power of the future, and it always will be!

      • aimusin props

        A nuclear fusion plant will be built in south Europe, the exact date? that is something I don’t know. This will be a research project of the U.S, European union, Japan, China, India, Russia, South Korea and a few other countries i’m forgetting. The project is called International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). It’s very interesting, this will the the first fusion plant to generate energy at this pulse ( 500 megawatts).

        • Boris

          well like it says in the article there are working fusion reactors just small scale so that means it is coming, we have already made it possible we just need to refine it, make it ready for use

          • Brian

            There are NO “working” fusions reactor power plants. Nothing even close.

            The farnsworth fusor can cause fusion, and has for 70 years, but it is million of times less than the energy it take in.

          • Jacob Johnston

            Brian, The ITER is set to begin experiments by 2020 and be fully operational by 2027 and is expected to, for an energy input of 50MW, produce an output of 500MW. We have already broken even with energy input to output with another fusion experiment (i forget the name)

          • Brian

            Fusions has been 30 years away for 30 years at least. The ITER will not produce any usable electricity. Look it up. Breaking even is a smoldering fire that barely heats itself.

    • Inspector Clouseau

      It’s similar to the global warming phenomenon. By the 27th of this month, according to fat Albert Gore, much of our coast line wil be uninhabitable the land will be burning up under a relentless sun.

  • Brett Champion

    It will be quite shocked if in 20 years the lights in my home and/or workplace are being powered by a fusion reactor. I’ll also be happy, but quite surprised.

  • Vincent Wolf

    Empty promises shall remain empty for us older farts who have been strung along for 5 plus decades regarding the future of fusion power. Fusion won’t be a reality until at least 2050 if ever.

  • Stu Kriegermeier

    It would be so nice to be able to tell our enemies they can eat the oil.

    • Van Snyder

      We could be doing that today if Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Hazel O’Leary hadn’t canceled the realistic-scale demonstration of the Integral Fast Reactor when it was an inch from completion, at more cost than finishing it. Clinton said “I know; it’s a symbol.” Read about it in “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American (online too).

  • Kathleen Sisco

    Just more circling the tree. When, and if, the power of the sun is harvested, the credit will go the the past claimants who yelled the loudest. Were just keeping ourselves in the race.
    Whenever outrageous claims like this pop up, I pull up Wili desalting plants and note that even tho the claims for new openings never stop, the fact is that none of the plants operate continously for even a year. And the new plants are sited to use blackish fresh not salt water. And Haiti? Which has no source of fresh water had dollar pour in but not one desalting plant exists.

  • Cicero Viscious

    Quit being haters – rejoice in the dream and the potential.

    Yeah it’s been on the 10y horizon for – well – 40+ years so agreed, reality is only a thought away so just for a moment, imagine WHAT IF?!?!?!?!

  • Glenn NK

    Well said Patrick:
    Let me add to that:
    Fusion power was “only ten to fifteen years away” when I was in first year engineering in 1958. And so on and so on.

  • mbkeefer

    There is not going to be any aircraft powered by fusion. Although fusion does not create fission products and does not have the decay heat problem, it still will generate a HUGE amount of radiation while running at power. That is going to take a HUGE amount of shielding, tons of it. For ships that is not a problem. For aircraft that is a show stopper.
    Add to that the tons of the equipment to convert the fusion energy into usable power and the problem gets even worse.
    The reactor may fit on a flat bed, but the shielding and power conversion equipment won’t.
    The only conceivable airship powered by fusion would be a hot air dirigible the size of small city. The waste heat from the power plant would keep the air hot and the ship aloft.

    • ericlipps

      This is exactly the problem that stopped the Air Force’s 1950s-era nuclear aircraft program from taking off.

      • mbkeefer

        They thought they might get by with a shadow shield. Just Shielding between the reactor and the rest of the plane. But sky shine (radiation bouncing of the air) would get around the shield and would still be too high to allow a live crew. Let alone having the back end of the plane be too hot to get anywhere near when it was on the ground.

    • FMH1138

      I agree. My father worked for the ANP (Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion) Division at GE Evendale, Cinti. in the late 50’s. They had a working prototype using the venerable J47. Trying to isolate the immense heat and radiation produced was its downfall. When JFK entered office, he killed the program. ICBM’s had negated the need for an unlimited range bomber.

  • AnriSorel

    I’m all for clean energy, but the dangers of fission power are vastly overstated, and there’s no need to wait until fusion becomes feasible to go nuclear. Uranium and thorium have are the most energy-dense fuels we have available right now, and not using them is simply stupid.

    • Rigel54

      You are correct. Fukishima was a dreadful design, and horribly managed. Chernobyl was an obscenity, it could only happen in a state as psychotic as Russia. Thorium reactors are a great bet!

      • AnriSorel

        Whose brilliant idea was it to build a reactor on the coast of a country so geologically unstable that it is from where the term ‘tsunami’ originated?

      • ericlipps

        Everyone always says their design is perfectly safe . . . until it turns out it isn’t. As for Chernobyl, the idiots in charge there deliberately disabled safety mechanisms as part of some sort of experiment . . . but don’t be too sure it could only happen in a place like Soviet Russia. As for Fukushima, Japan is just about the worst possible country to depend on nuclear power, given its geological and meteorological vulnerabilities–but the Japanese feel they have o choice if they don’t want to end up helplessly dependent on foreign oil.

        • Rigel54

          That argument (logical fallacy, argument to ignorance) could be applied to any human endeavor (as indicated above, falsely). The Japanese plants were of VERY early design, and moronically located and designed. Current designs rely on passive cooling systems and no one would build a nuclear plant on the beach. I think that well reasoned sites with current technology are safe. Thorium reactors are intrinsically safe. Nonetheless, as you suggest, paranoia is the plague of current times.

          • mbkeefer

            Thorium reactors would still have decay heat following shutdown. It just would not quite as much and would fall off much faster. But melt down would still be possilbe and a Fukushima could still occur as there is still an inventory of fission products.

          • Rigel54

            I replied to this earlier, but that post disappeared. In fact, the scenario you propose is impossible with a standard design thorium fluoride salt reactor. In case of problems the entire fluid reaction mass is dropped into a sub-critical reservoir. As a backup, if control systems fail, when heat rises a plug in the reactor bottom melts and the reaction mass drops into the reservoir. When the problems are sorted out the salt is reheated and pumped back into the reactor.

          • mbkeefer

            You did not write LSTR plant. Just replacing replacing the uranium fuel with thorium is a large improvement. The decay is a lot less and falls off a lot faster.
            All your salt plugs do is put you in the 3 Mile Island condition. A ruined reactor you cannot restart. Once those salt plugs melt, do not see any practical way to replace them.
            Do not see natural circulation as being a practical way to removal heat from the core of a LSTR.

          • Rigel54

            No, removing the salt from the reaction zone does not damage the reactor, it is part of routine operations. The circulation is not natural, it is part of the process.

          • mbkeefer

            How do you replace the salt plugs, to allow returning the reactor to normal operation? Without natural circulation any sustained power loss is going to result in the salt plugs being melted.

          • Rigel54

            I have no idea what you mean by “natural circulation.” The salt is mechanically circulated. If the plugs melt there is a minor contamination of the reaction (salt) mass, but remelting and recirculating is a routine operational issue. Replacing the plugs is not a major operational issue either, I don’t understand your confusion about simple mechanical procedures which can be done remotely, robotically, or with direct human action. The reaction mass and the radioactivity has been far removed from the reaction vessel, in the salt capture reservoir.

          • mbkeefer

            You really have no clue of how truely horrid the conditions where the salt plugs are going to be, do you?

          • Rigel54

            Apparently you do. Chernobyl technician, also at Fukushima.? Seriously, if you have any qualifications at all (doubtful), please put them forward. A mechanical or robotic solution to forming a new plug should not be among Western Civilization’s most challenging problems, especially if it yielded unlimited CO2 free energy. OK, let me engineer it off the cuff. After the reaction salt drops fully clear of the reactor, flip a valve. Steam washing of the reactor and plug zone remove all traces of radioactive salt into a reservoir, where they will be ion exchanged for conversion back into fuel. The entirely clean, cool, and not radioactive reactor bottom is available for automatic (engineered), robotic, or human replacement of the plug. On signal, the salt is reheated for pumping back into the circulation loop and resumed production. We seem to be in a age of ignorant people with anxiety disorders.

          • mbkeefer

            You do NOT allow steam to contact the salt, fission product (mostly highly radioactive and chemically reactive metals) mixture, unless you are after a fire or expolsion. The residue after the fire/explosion will include highly radioactive rock.
            As for robots, the Japanese could not use them, because the radiation levels prevented solid state electronis from working. The Fukushima radiation levels are NOTHING compared to the levels in the pit where the plugs are going to be located.

          • Rigel54

            Why in the world would you not allow steam or water to contact the salt? It is water soluble (for cleaning) and not reactive with water. Where do you get these ideas of “fire and explosion”? Is it simply because you know nothing of chemistry, but remember that sodium is violently reactive? What is the “rock” you are talking about? How do you make “rock” out of a water soluble salt? As to the slightly radioactive thorium and U-233 salt, it can be diluted to sub-critical levels and ion exchanged for purification.

            As to robots, the Japanese reactors were ancient, and the U-235 based pile highly radioactive. Purpose designed “robots” can easily be designed for this task.

            What is your basis for saying that the radioactive levels of subcritical thorium fluoride salt are even a shadow of a fixed U-235 based pile? Well, you are entirely wrong (some would call it BS, and some would be right). What are your credentials? You seem to have no practical knowledge at all!

          • mbkeefer

            The fire and possilbe explosion comes from the disolved fission products (METALS) that are in the your water soluble salts. The rock comes from the INSOLUBLE METAL oxides that form, from reacting with the steam.
            The Japanese robots only had to deal with the minor radiation from the cesium and iodine contamination of the control room and work space OUTSIDE the primary containment.
            The salt plug ports are at the bottom of the core itself. The radiation levels will be millions of times higher as it will be exposed to the output of the entire family of fission products, not just to trace amounts of a couple of it more volatile members.

          • Rigel54

            Oooooh! Metals! Metals = rock! I now conclude that you are technically illiterate and end this conversation.

            But wait! Why (data please) would thorium fluoride and U-233 produce these levels of radiation? It does not, and it cannot. Families? Do you mean U-233? An only child! Unless you manage to approach an actual chemical/physical reality your vague pronouncements are done. See above.

            What “volatile members?” Please provide degradation sequences, rates, etc. And your credentials, please. Your failure to produce them makes plain your lack of qualifications. You only appear able to make wild and vague pronouncements founded on news reports of long past U-235 fixed pile reactors, technologies not ony elementally but mechanically unrelated to thorium reactors.

            OK. Now I AM done.

          • mbkeefer

            For someone who champions thorium reactors you sure know very little about the physics of how they work.
            Thorium 232 captures a neutron and decays to Uranium 233. The Uranium 233 is the actual fuel. The fission products from burning uranium 233 are pretty much the same stuff you get from uranium 235. Mostly METALS with some Xenon and a trace amount of Iodine.
            In a LSTR all those fission products with the exception of the xenon are dissolved in the salt solution and are super radioactive. They are the reason we gave up on LSR back in the early days of the program. everything just became to super radioactive to deal with.

          • Rigel54

            You are wrong, of course. While U-233 IS the main fuel generated from thorium it’s transuranic derivatives (from neutron capture) are FAR less than a U-235 reactors (thus the fallacy of “pretty much the same stuff”). Further, it intrinsically resists weaponization by producing U-232, which is not fissionable but not separable from the U-233. I know how much you like to capitalize METALS, but I still don’t understand why. I don’t understand the units or scale of SUPER RADIOACTIVE, but it is hugely less radioactive than a conventional reactor. LSR was abandoned because office politics got the project leader fired. Still haven’t heard your credentials.

          • mbkeefer

            The BIG advantage of the thorium reactors is the lack of higher actinides. As you point out, no plutonium for weapons. Also Lower initial decay heat and what decay heat there is falls off faster.
            But the bulk of the radioactivity comes from the fission products. The actinides produce a lot more energy, but alpha particles do not require much shielding.

          • Rigel54

            Ahhh, we’re getting there. Nil chance of meltdown. Nil chance of weaponization. Nil chance of explosion. Nil danger FROM explosion. Hugely greater energy reserves. American engineering. More pluses, I’m sure, but my wife is waiting to Skype her father.

        • mbkeefer

          The Fukushima reactors are boiling water reacotrs. The worst possilbe choice for an area subject to earthquakes. They spread their primary containment over a large area involving a number of different fluid system with different design pressures and flex resistance. When they finally get in there am sure they find that plant #1 condensate line had a break in it. That is why everything got so hot and so much fission products got released to the environment. Condensate mains are low pressure (low streagth) and have no expansion loops. The shear waves of the earthquake would have easily casued a failure.
          But Boiling water reactors are cheap.

          • ericlipps

            And nuclear plant designers and operators here and elsewhere would of course never take shortcuts or use cheap but vulnerable designs to save money, of course, perish the thought.

          • mbkeefer

            Their regulatory agency should never have approved siting a BWR plants there, but it seems they were in bed with the operators.
            A pressurized water reactor at the same site would have been a replay of 3 Mile Island. They would have lost the plant, but no significant release of activity to the environment. No need to evacuate the local population.

  • Douglas Kerr

    How long did people dream of flying before it became real? Nobody knows how long it might take, but the dreamers move us forward. It’s worth pursuing.

  • 1jmayo1

    Controlled fusion will be achieved someday. However, 10 years is quite a stretch. In these great announcements, how long was the reaction sustained? Achieving fusion is one thing, controlling fusion is another, and using it commercially as the wonderdrug of unlimited energy is quite a quantum jump. Don’t close the oil wells, coal mines, and gas reserves just yet folks. Don’t forget, you still have Obama, the EPA, and the liberal environmentalists who wish we all lit our homes and cities with candles or just plain went to bed with the chickens.
    JM, MD, PhD

  • John Homiak

    Will the oil company’s let it happen?

    • ReRyRo

      The oil company’s what? And which oil company? Oh, I’m sorry…are you one of those ignorant kids who never learned how to pluralize nouns? For future reference, it’s “companies”.

    • Van Snyder

      Why would oil companies care? Petroleum contributes less than 1.6% of U.S. electricity. But, hey, being so ignorant, and reflexively combative against corporations, is excusable in products of today’s public education.

  • Van Snyder

    Fusion isn’t completely emission free. Sure, the reaction only produces Helium (or maybe Lithium if you’re using D-T fuel). But it also produces neutrons, which have no charge and so are not affected by electric and magnetic fields. Therefore they zip off to the machine’s “first wall” and make it radioactive. Eventually, it’s damaged enough it has to be replaced. It becomes nuclear waste.

    At least for the next 1200 years or so, a better solution is the Integral Fast Reactor, described in “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American. It consumes “waste” from today’s reactors. Actually, it isn’t waste; it’s valuable 5%-used fuel. This reduces the amount of material needing special custody by a factor of 100 (20 tonnes per GWe-Yr to 200 kg per GWe-Yr), and reduces the containment time by a factor of 1000 (300,000 years for transuranics, 300 years for fission produces). Why 1200 years? Between slightly-used fuel, depleted uranium and decommissioned nuclear weapons, we have enough fuel to replace all of our current electric generating capacity for 1200 years, or, if we manage to switch to an all-electric economy, enough for about 330 years, without mining, milling, refining or enriching one more gram of uranium.

    Another up-side: No need for Yucca Mountain.

    • ZenGeekDad

      Excellent post. For most people, the resistance to fusion power is purely emotional. There may be more facts to for us all to digest than you could post here, but you gave an excellent example of a higher level of discourse. Thanks, and keep it up!

      • mbkeefer

        Don’t you nuclear power?

  • ericlipps

    Aaaaaand the first thing they’ll do with a truck-mountable fusion reactor that powerful is build a tank around it with a fusion-powered laser cannon. And the next is to set up arrays of such fusion lasers on battleships. Of course that’s if the reactors actually work as promised.

    • mbkeefer

      Fusion power, while creating no fission products and having no decay heat problem DOES generate a LOT of radiation while running just like fission. That means tons of shielding is necessary. Plus you have to turn that into usable power. That means tons of power convertion equipment and waste heat disposal equipment. The only portable fusion power that will exist will be on ships. Just like that is the only place there is portable fission power for the same reasons.

  • William Dwyer

    Sounds like the cold fusion fiasco from a few years ago

  • Sanjosemike

    Words mean nothing: Show me a working prototype that actually produces more energy than is piped in and I’ll believe you.
    Right now I wouldn’t buy a used car from these folks at Lockheed.
    sanjosemike

    • mbkeefer

      They have already built those. They passed break even long ago. But, to build a practical power source you have go way beyond break even. Really should have one that does not need tritium to work.

  • Scorpion_J

    It will be very interesting what comes out of this.

  • Overburdened_Planet

    “Powerful magnets keep superheated ions suspended in place within the chamber, which prevents them from destroying the reactor walls.”

    Does anyone know what would happen if those magnets lost power, and if there’s a risk of explosion, how powerful would the explosion be?

    If this works, the public should be assured secondary safety mechanism are in place and that they work.

    • mbkeefer

      The reactor just quits. The plasma is actually very thin and the walls instantly destory it. There is more likely to be fireworks from energy stored in the magnetic fields.

      • Overburdened_Planet

        Thanks for responding.

        I believe I can better visualize the outcome, it just seemed unlikely that so much energy could ‘evaporate’ (for lack of a better word) in a relatively quick and safe way.

    • Rich

      I’m no specialist in this field but from what I’ve read about fusion reactors, I understand that the reaction plasma is vented to the atmosphere when the containment field is shut off, whether the shutdown is intentional or otherwise. Turning off the magnets decompresses the plasma, ending active fusion. The process of fusion is where the neutron radiation comes from. No magnetic confinement = no fusion = no high level radiation coming from the cooling reactor gas. Some might point out that tritium and deuterium are radioactive but they are no more so coming out of the reactor than going in. The fusion bi-products are not radioactive and the liberated neutrons stay in the dense shielding of the chamber liner.

      I agree with a previous comment about the use of a reactor design which employs “spent” fission fuel material repurposed for use within the fusion reactor walls. In fact I really dont see how it can be avoided as Ive come to understand how easily crashing the fusion reaction will be without an “active containment”. The energy returned to the reaction by used fission fuel makes the difference in reaction sustainability over a design with an inert inner wall that just sits there absorbing neutrons and not giving anything back. Inert walls sap reactor energy.

      It should be pointed out that the “heavy shielding” so many folks are concerned will turn a crate-sized package into a 2 story house sized package, is not an added after the fact component but is an integral part of the machine, already present as the reactors inner wall. So could you build a tank or a cargo transport plane around such a reactor? Why not…

      Whether such a power plant will be crushed by the interests of big oil is a good question. While petroleum may translate to only a couple percent of the grid, I have to wonder how much energy natural gas contributes to the grid. You have to remember the same people produce both. If I were Exxon, I might be concerned. After all, can you conceive of small fusion reactors powering locomotives? If tanks, why not trains… Big oil is going to find it difficult to quash a tiny fusion power plant. The word “tactical” comes to mind and if the US department of defense sees an advantage in its use, its going to happen.

      The fact that Lockheed Martin is making this announcement tells me big oil cant touch it. They are a proven high-tech creator/provider with a direct line in to defence and aerospace buyers. Once ten thousand units have been bought by DoD to upgrade our current main battle tanks, spawn a new line of light laser destroyers and cargo aircraft, replace the monsterous chemical reactor inside the USAF laser defense 747’s, retire most of our in-flight refueling tanker fleet ans so on, the scale of production will be such that the city of Nome, Alaska could afford to replace their annual Russian fuel oil purchases. We’ll be seeing these reactors pop up in all sorts of applications. Eventually a second generation reactor design might power school buses construction equipment and long haul freight trucks. A third generation may energize your friendly domestic assistant robot. Later designs may make possible prosthetic exoskeletons for paralyzed people or even drive artificial hearts.

      If Lockheed Martin says they can have one in five years, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out these guys already had a working model five years ago

  • Sanjosemike

    I love technology as much as the next guy (and gal). I think we just have to realize and accept the fact that microscopic controlled fusion reactions are impossible to sustain and manage in an energy positive mode.
    I actually have no objection to scientists raising their families being paid for an impossible project. I just think it’s time to recognize it for the reality it is.
    A flop.
    sanjosemike

  • Harold Ziel

    Materials needed for fusion experiments are plentiful on our moon. Some say that alien beings go there to mine it, we should also do that.

  • jimbow

    i hope it works out hate to loose +40 yr, but my dad 15 yrs ago said they may never have one, he dead now

  • Darsan54

    The article doesn’t really say what the break-thru is and how it will enable us to have mini-reactors.

    • mbkeefer

      A reactor that would fit a flat bed is not really a mini reactor. Take away the shielding and power convertion equipment and you can make a fission reactor that would fit on a flat bed. It has even been proposed to mass produce such reactors to power up small isolated towns.

  • Ekopacz

    Don’t give Up so easily on the Skunk Works. They’ve got a pretty good record of accomplishments: the U2 & SR-71 spy planes ( the latter still holds many speed records), the F117 Stealth Fighter, and probably a few “things” yet to be made known to the general public. All theses projects were/are cutting edge, technology -wise, and spawned many other innovations, and things we consider common place, I’m sure. If anyone can do it, I’d bet on them any day . Without Government backing, none of these projects would have gotten anywhere; and the world we’re accustomed to would be very different! I Agee “Fusion” has been promised for 40+ years, and I know it first hand since I hosted an Engineer’s Week presentation of the Princeton Fusion Labs progress in 1974, where they promised success in a decade- but this goal is more than Rocket Science , and requires National, and multi- National funding to get where we are now, along with some VERY smart people to get it done!

  • dan becker

    Let’s hope this works. Then we can get rid of coal once and for all.

  • John Homiak

    I should have said the energy companies. Especially the coal industry. How much CO2 are they putting into the atmosphere. I’m all for nuclear fission, but if they could generate power with fusion.that would be less problem with toxic waste,

  • Marian Peters

    Hope these guys have someone to taste their fort. The big oil folks won’t be happy about this.

  • Michael Harriman

    With such an energy alternative such as fusion I would bet there are some extremely large consortiums that would be very interested in delaying at all/any cost the inception of this power source. Coal and oil to name a few would suffer greatly as well as major utilities. That issue would have to be addressed way before something of this magnitude ever reaches the consumer. Too many $’s are at stake. If these large (putting it mildly) conglomerates were not able to exploit a buck out of this new technology we as consumers may never see it.
    That is why Lockheed and Lawrence Livermore are rather reticent about releasing too much information.

  • Gerry Sharpe

    If we all waited to “see” before we “believed” nothing would be invented and no thing would be built. Everything starts in the mind before it eventually shows up in the physical world. The chair you look at in your living room began first in mind – this chair is really a used thought. I don’t know if Lockheed will pull this off but they’ve got a chance. I, for one, am glad that governments and individuals encourage such enterprise financially and in other ways. The skeptics and critics have no chance, ever, of achieving this goal themselves. It takes no brains, no talent and no dreams to do their job. Will they step up and offer creative ideas on how we could accomplish this goal. I think not. By the way there is no way man will ever get into some kind of machine and fly thousand of miles in a matter of hours. It is also ridiculous to think that you can look at some kind of magic machine and see and hear what people in another country are doing and saying at this exact same moment. And as for transferring organs from one human being to another are you crazy? You have to believe that the skeptics must be right about this. They’ve seen it all and really know what they are talking about. (Campbell River, BC Canada)

  • bullardrr

    Deuterium and tritium direct to your reactor from your nearest seashore. The heavier the hydrogen, the hotter the prospect. An energy concept rife with parasites…physical, economical and environmental.

  • stevedodge833

    I can see it all now in a few decades…”Apple-Soft (Apple and Microsoft merge in the early 2020s) presents the new fission-powered i-Thingy!….Now with Windows-XXXP installed!”

  • fako namo

    Cities that are reliant on the fossil fuel industry will dry up and die like detroit did when the auto industy left. Dallas. Houston. Riyadh. Edmonton. Gone.

  • http://dev.blogs.discovermagazine.com James Abbott

    In 1968 or there abouts I worked in the Physics Department at UCLA when Dr. Ken McKinzie made the first “plasma bottle”, which is what they called the thing that contains the reaction. I was the department Scientific Illustrator and Photographer and was called to photograph the tiny burst of plasma through a little quartz crystal window. The entire device was made from an army surplus stainless steel soup pot about three feet tall and a diameter of about one and a half feet. It was lined on the outside with rows and rows of round ceramic magnets. Pretty hot stuff for the time.

  • Web Watcher

    …and no mention about the ITER project..really? We don’t have to cover that up just because Europeans are taking the lead on that!!

  • Bill

    I’m not going to say this will NEVER happen, but it has been more a dream than reality for over 60 years. And the theory behind this all is brand new and untested.

    To create fusion, we have to copy what is happening in the interior of the sun, and that, I seriously doubt will ever happen. Look what nature has to do to create fusion. We can’t do that.

    Making man-made diamonds by recreating the pressure in the earths crust is possible, it has been done. But recreating the pressure in the interior of the sun, not possible without some kind of massive breakthrough on a greater level than Star Trek warp drive.

  • Jimmy Jhonny

    Fusion is always 50 years away….always

  • Jeff Garrett

    “It’s not hype this time.”
    Jeff Garrett, Boise, Idaho February 25, 2015

  • Jeff Garrett

    “It’s not hype this time.”
    Jeff Garrett, Boise, Idaho February 25, 2015

  • Jeff Garrett

    “It’s not hype this time.”
    Jeff Garrett, Boise, Idaho February 2015

  • Jeff Garrett

    “Stop and think about history’s inventions/inventors and technologies/technologists believed by ‘persons in the mainstream’ to be ‘crazy’ or ‘impossible’. The list virtually runs the gamut from A to Z. Here are two examples: Albert Einstein, The Wright Brothers. Need I say more? My bet, my prediction: Small scale fusion will be a reality within the decade.

  • Jeff Garrett

    “Stop and think about the inventions/inventors, technologies/technologists throughout history who were thought by the mainstream to be crazy or misguided… Two examples: Albert Einstein, Wilbur & Orville Wright. My bets on fully functional compact fusion power systems by the end of the decade (i.e.: 2020).”

    Jeff Garrett
    Boise, Idaho February 25, 2015

  • howard beagle

    Two things different now than in the past. Someone has made fusion work. And With our computing power small fractional changes to magnetic bottle, can keep a steady plasma reaction. Why America isn’t pulling getting man on the moon resources to this research this is a mystery to me.

  • papparotc

    Fusion is the full employment act for government contractors.

  • Greg Quiring

    This seems always a bit out of reach like trying to create life in a lab, a cure for hayfever, the common cold, or AIDS. You can bet if energy is produced on the cheap the cost will be kept artificially high.

  • INVENTOR INVENTED

    I’m looking for LENR experimenters to test a patent pending concept I
    have for an improved Rossi type nickel-proton reactor The fuel will be
    little a different. But I think a small difference in fuel composition
    will make a big difference in power output, performance and reliability.
    I have reasons for this conjecture that are proprietary.

    Please contact me at inventzilla@gmail.com if you want to work on this project

  • Peter Lizdas

    Believe it when I see it. But it would be the greatest thing ever, way better than sliced bread, were it to come to pass.

  • James Hickey

    Unfortunately with the primitive earth technology, nuclear fusion can be achieved in a device no bigger than a small generator system.

  • HBH

    Maybe not 10 years, but I believe by 2100, fusion will be a reality. Solar and wind are not the future, at least not for the world’s primary energy source.

  • John Rockhold

    ANY more people stating when cold saying he Cold Fusion MAY be here should give out their home address and telephone number or SHUT UP,,,,,,,,There are already too many liers out there

  • bugstomper2

    They better solve it soon, because oil supple is reaching it’s limit. Other EROEI sources combined, still don’t give us the energy return that Oil, Natural Gas, and Coal do.

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