Experimental Energy - Fusion

in STEMGeeks3 months ago

Energy is an essential component of human society. From the breaking of a phosphate bond in Adenosine Triphosphate for biological processes to solar power we collect and convert to electricity, we can't do without it. One elusive, generations-long goal is to achieve stable, repeatable, safe, and cost-effective fusion.

It appears that nature, however, is against us. Humanity has demonstrated it can achieve fusion. The problem is that we can't produce it for very long. The plasma needed to achieve the required reactions isn't stable enough to sustain itself.

ITER - Technical Images


Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Welcome fellow readers to our first installment in the Energy Series Phase II - Experimental Power Production. On Earth, we have produced power from fusion. Unfortunately, we have not produced it in a manner that will generate commercial electricity.

Currently, the amount of stable power we can produce pales compared to a process involving coal power. However, we have succeeded in producing power in a limited fashion for testing purposes.

What is Fusion?

Image by ipicgr from Pixabay

Commercial nuclear power plants utilize fission to capture energy from splitting apart uranium atoms. Nuclear fusion combines atoms to form another atom of less mass than the sum of the two combined plus an energy release.

How does fusion occur?

The Giant of Our Solar System

Image by Lumina Obscura from Pixabay

Our sun, a G-class star, require three things to produce energy: temperature, pressure, and quantum tunneling. Temperatures measured within the sun's core are as high as 15,000,000 degrees Kelvin. Pressures are an astounding 250-billion ATM times greater than our atmosphere on Earth.

Hydrogen atoms under these conditions are stripped of their electrons, creating a plasma. The intense temperatures and pressures also reduce the distances traveled by the resultant Hydrogen protons. The closer proximity of these protons to each other raises the probability of a fission event. However, the electrostatic force, otherwise known as Coulomb's Force, acts against the possibility of fusion.

The closer these protons get, the greater the repulsion between them.

The Sun, Alone, is not Enough

Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

Despite the sun's massive temperature, pressure, and gravitational forces, it is not enough for fusion to occur. Fifteen million Kelvin, for instance, is not high enough. You would need temperatures upwards of a billion degrees Kelvin for the energy needed to overcome the electrostatic force within this star. How then could fusion possibly occur within our Sun?

Quantum Tunneling

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Light, or in this case protons, act as both particles AND waves. At the point of Coulomb's barrier, protons next to each other have a low probability of having their wave-functions interact just enough to surpass the electrostatic force and fuse together. The probability is low, but given the conditions we're discussed within the sun, it is enough to allow for the fusion process.

Fusion on Earth

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

Our society does not have the capability to replicate the conditions of the sun on our planet. However, we endeavor to adjust for our lack of capability to utilize fusion for our benefits anyway. The more popular methods for achieving fusion on this planet involve using magnetic or inertial confinement.

ITER (Magnetic Confinement)

EuroFusion - Joint European Torus

ITER stands for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. It is a magnetic confinement fusion-type reactor with a design energy input of 50-MW to produce an outage of 500 MW of electricity. In other words, it will take up to 50-MW of electricity to produce 500-MW of electricity. It began construction in 2010 and is scheduled to generate its first plasma in 2025.

It utilizes carefully generated magnetic fields to heat and pressurize plasma to the point allowing fusion to occur. Contrary to the temperature in the sun, the ITER will need to reach around 100-million degrees-Kelvin to succeed at fission. When, and if successful, the plan is to transfer the fusion-heat generated to a secondary conventional system to generate electricity.

National Ignition Facility (Inertial Confinement)

Roving Mirror Diagnostic Enclosure

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) hails itself as the "world's most precise and reproducible laser system". In their attempts to study and achieve fusion, the NIF focuses almost 200 laser beams on a pea-sized fuel pellet. Fusion occurs when the lasers convert the pellet into plasma and compress it without the gravitational forces and pressures present in the sun.

One effect not mentioned in achieving fusion has to do with Newton's Third Law of Motion. There are two layers to the fuel pellet. The lasers focused upon the outer layer converts it to a plasma in a brief outward explosion that forces the inner layer's compression. The inner layer is where fusion is expected to be achieved.

As of July 2018, the NIF achieved fusion in one of their experiments at pressures that exceeded those found within the sun for the brief time the experiment ran. They still have a way to go before producing more energy than they consume, but I feel they're on the right track.

I was flattered to be offered an occupation at this facility following my departure from the military. At the time, the recruiter was notified that this project was the first of its kind on Earth. My duties and responsibilities included charting and measuring particles' interactions following each laser interaction with the fuel. It's been so long ago. I wonder what would have happened had I taken the job.

Environmental Impacts

Image by Pexels from Pixabay


I have worked in nuclear power production most of my adult life, specializing in water chemistry, radiation health, and data analysis. I've learned to spot cracks in the armor. I struggle to find adverse environmental impacts for this technology that would rival those of more conventional methods of power production for the life of me. I struggled at first, but only because of almost the blind praise society gives it.

Coolant Sources

There isn't much data about the type of coolant systems reactor facilities like these will consume during daily operations. It reminds me of a decision the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (DCPP) needed to make with regards to its own cooling systems. DCPP processes about 2 billion gallons of water daily in what's called one-through cooling. It takes water from the ocean and pumps it directly into its secondary systems to condense exhausted steam. Water, approximately 10-degrees warmer, is pumped back into the ocean.

We don't currently know where or how much water we'll need for tomorrow's fully functional fusion reactors.

It Still Produces Radiation

I don't believe it will produce anywhere near what a nuclear fission facility will produce. Spent uranium control assemblies are still a thing and will remain a concern for a thousand years, given the stockpile the nuclear power industry is accumulating. Opponents to nuclear fusion can't argue against the benefits in this area over fission.

One concern I do have is concerning tritium. The fusion reaction generates tritium during this process, but the system may need to be replenished at some point from an outside source. From where will the supply originate? In the future, if successful, fusion reactors will require a much greater supply of fuel materials if it expects to compete commercially with other conventional means.

Higher neutron energies

Radiation shielding and planning will be much more necessary in this type of power production. The neutrons produced from fusion will be at higher energies and more damaging to plant equipment.

In Summary

Humanity will achieve stable, reproducible, and constant fusion power. Similar to any other endeavor we pursue, we achieve goals as ambitious as fusion. The question is whether or not we, as a society, are intelligent enough to vet the process and stave off disaster for another day. I believe we have that intelligence, but perhaps, not the patience to see it through.

There are certainly more than what I've listed in terms of obstacles and challenges. We just need to keep in mind that Fusion technologies are still in the experimental phase. The development of this area for power production is taking decades and with good reason. Society knows full well from fission what happens when you don't control technology for commercial use very well. We don't want to make the same mistakes with fusion.

In Closing

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Thanks again, fellow readers, for following me along on this HIVE journey. It's been a great ride, and I've appreciated all the reviews and votes from everyone. I'll be continuing with STEM-related articles as always, but I will also be delving into finances, trading, and cryptocurrencies shortly!

Your thoughts?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What was your favorite article of the Energy series? Is there anything else you'd like to see covered? Share your thoughts by entering your comments below!

Posted with STEMGeeks


Thanks a lot for this thorough write. I will need more time in the evening to reread it and let the information sink and connect.

So you think that ITER approach to fusion is more viable? Do we need constant science and engineering work to succeed in the foreseeable future or is there a need for a scientific breakthrough?

@toofasteddie this may interest you

@tipu curate

Thank you for your response and support, @ervin-lemark.

Do you think that the ITER approach to fusion is more viable?
Absolutely, yes.

ITER's approach via magnetic confinement is definitely the most viable approach to fusion at this time. Magnetic confinement has been the most successful attempt at fusion our society attempted.

The predecessor to ITER, the Joint European Torus, I believe, was the most efficient attempt at fusion. In 1997, it produced 16-MW of fusion power while consuming 24-MW of power needed to ignite the fuel.

Do we need constant science and engineering work to succeed in the foreseeable future?
Constant science and engineering work are vital to the success of fusion. Breakthroughs in new technologies will help our society discover the most practical means of using this power production for daily use.

Thank you very much for your feedback.

I see that my second question wasn't precise enough. Let me try again.

Is the success of commercial-grade fusion power plants achievable without a significant breakthrough? If yes, what are the timeframe forecasts?

Thanks again.


I think it’s achievable through magnetic confinement without a significant breakthrough. I feel @toofasteddie has the right of it. I feel Fusion tech through magnetic confinement is at a point where they are tweaking things to achieve desired results.

I would give the ITER their ten year projection for a sustainable plasma reaction needed for efficient fusion production

That's great to hear. How long from ITER to the first commercial power plant? I am asking to see whether I will live to see it in action :)

I don’t think you or I will be around to see it given historical timelines between theory and applications.

Hans Beth in 1930s, if I’m not mistaken first proposed that the stars used the H-H fusion. Research into fusion started as early as the 1920s.

Hans Beth received the Nobel Prize in the late 60s after the scientific community confirmed it.

The first fusion reactor that created a plasma was the Russian T-3 Tokamak in 1968 (need confirmation).

So between the 1920s and the JETs most efficient plasma and fusion run in 1983 we’re looking at roughly 63 years. When ITER succeeds at maintaining a continuous plasma in 10 years it would put that date range to 110 years.

The rough date range does not include the challenges to heat removal, waste-, and radiation management.

Thanks again for your very thorough answer.

That's why I was asking about the chance of a breakthrough :)

Have a great week.

I hope you have a great week as well.

I need to learn how to fully read questions. I think I can accomplish that task but I find I don’t always reach the goal.

When you wrote about breakthroughs I only focused upon the technologies I was writing about. Breakthroughs in plasma management would significantly speed up the dev process.

There is another fusion process I deliberately didn’t discuss in this article because I wanted to handle it separately: muon-induced fusion. It can occur at room temperature and even cryogenic temperatures.

@ervin-lemark denkt du hast ein Vote durch @investinthefutur verdient!
@ervin-lemark thinks you have earned a vote of @investinthefutur !

ITER is the big Lab in order to develop the technologies for the commercial Fusion plants of the future. There are also a few other developments on-going but the most promising and certain is ITER.
We are working hard to achieve the "First Plasma" milestone within this decade.

Good post
@tipu curate

I don't have access to the raw data available to me in conventional nuclear power, but everything I see tells me ITER will be successful. I don't know that they would succeed within the decade, but I'd put my money on it, though. I feel the ITER project and its predecessors have been so carefully developed over the decades. From a certain perspective, its success is almost guaranteed.

On this decade we will see the "First Plasma" event, which means an outstanding achievement because we would demonstrate we can handle, understand and control this state (Plasma state), later on, probably beyond 2030, Plasma trials including deuterium+tritium will arrive. Now, the most important is to reach a safe magnetic vacuum vessel which is rigth now under construction and on which I am working on the manufacturing of Toroidal and Poloidal superconducting magnets.
I am happy to find enthusiast here on HIVE ;-)

Man, you guys are rockstars and the world doesn't even know it yet. I wish this stuff would happen faster. The thought of converting star power to our uses is exhilarating.

I am glad I connected you guys :)

Let's make an ITER community on Hive ;)

Wow that was an unexpectedly fantastic read!
Thanks for all the detail and input from your own experiences.

I’ve no idea how I stumbled across this post... but it’s given my food for thought for the day.

Thank you for your kind words and support.

It looks like a time machine which will take us to future , isn’t it ?

It certainly does. I wonder, sometimes, if it actually is a time machine. There is a goal that society wishes to reach in the future. In the minds of many, they are convinced we will achieve our goals. They are living in the future while we, custodians of the present, act to build a bridge towards the future envisioned.

Certainly or uncertainty we maybe can reach to future but it isn’t not possible to reach to past. Once it go, it goes forever!

Starting anew comment thread.

Looking at what I found a couple of pages into the book from where I stopped reading yesterday. Its Death's End by Cixin Liu, excerpts from pages 76 and 77.



It's not directly related to nuclear fusion technology yet I hope there are obvious parallels to reasoning.

Another thought - the trick also is how to use a primitive technology in a novel way. Thinking out of the box, disregarding consequences and fears, ... Sociology, I told you :)

OK, I am off for tonight. It was really nice meeting you.

Death's End. What a wonderful title. I look forward to reading it. Thank you for posting the excerpt.

Yeah, technology will certainly transform society. Fusion power will be such a technology. I imagine that, whenever it's implemented, the technology will be robust and economical. In our generation, it just isn't, but we're still in the experimental stage.

One type of fusion I read about was Laser Chirp-Pulse fusion. This type still lies within the theoretical-experimental area of science. It's where you use ultra-high power lasers or extremely short periods of time to induce fusion within a fuel source. The end result is mindboggling: near instantaneous conversion of fusion products into electrical energy with little to no radiation emission. Crazy.

Regarding death, however, I feel is another ball game entirely. Will we get to a point where we won't die? I believe so, but there are a host of sociological issues related to the availability of immortality throughout society.

Good morning and yes. The change that technology brings has far greater implications than the technical advance itself.

Have a great Wednesday.

Ps: Death's End is book number three in the series. If you wish to read it whole you have around 1,100 pages to read before you reach this part. Your call :)

Google for the Dark Forest theory. It's the title of the second book and the premise ending it. Actually, the premise is is it possible to escape the dark forest?

 3 months ago 

I’m an advocate of nuclear power.

I think it’s the only sustainable approach in the long run.

!discovery 41

I totally agree with you that nuclear power is a sustainable approach in the long run. I've dedicated my career to it. It has its problems and failures, but science and society continue to improve upon this technology to provide the massive and continuous power production society enjoys.

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