In light of the worlds pressing energy needs and the demonstration of working superconductive magnetic plasma confinement at China’s EAST reactor, the United States and other member nations should enter into negotiations to accelerate the construction of the ITER fusion reactor.
I also believe we should start work on a second international test reactor project but that it should be of a spherical Tokamak design rather than the conventional design chosen for ITER. The reason for this is that confinement has been shown to be approximately three times better in a spherical Tokamak design of the same size.
A spherical Tokamak presents the possibility of making a reactor that achieves commercial break-even much smaller in size than with a conventional Tokamak designs. This in turn substantially reduces capital expenditures which in turn will make utilities more willing to invest in the technology commercially.
Because ITER is already underway and because ITER will answer important material science questions, I believe it should be completed as is rather than abandoned in favor of a spherical Tokamak reactor.
ITER in it’s current form will take twelve years to complete and then another twelve years of experiments are planned. The amount of money the United States will contribute over the 24 years is equivalent to what we spend on oil imports in two days. This is not the amount we will contribute EACH year, the total amount we are contributing over 24 years is equivalent to what we spend on imported oil in two days.
Controlled hydrogen fusion is the most promising energy source to provide our energy needs in the future. Unlike fission, it produces no significant quantities of long term high level nuclear waste. It has no potential for melt down. And it produces no plutonium or enriched uranium that can be diverted to nuclear weapons or terrorists activities.
Approximately 1/2000 hydrogen atoms in ordinary seawater is deuterium and this is enough deuterium to provide for all of our energy needs for the next 15 billion years. Tritium, which is not significantly present naturally, is also required, however, enough tritium fuel can be bread a lithium blanket and the D-D reactions that do take place to sustain reactor operations in one days operation with just deuterium. So, lacking a tritium supply, a fusion reactor initially powered with just deuterium will take a days operations to become a net energy producer. In reality though this isn’t a problem because we have large quantities of tritium produced for nuclear weapons already and one operational plant can breed tritium for dozens more.
So we should be doing this and we should be doing it as a crash program like Apollo or the Manhattan project, not the current just barely give it enough funding to keep the lights on approach. China built the EAST reactor in nine months. Granted, they had been working on design and component fabrication for years in advance, but it demonstrates how much faster we could move towards bringing fusion online as a power generation source if we were willing to make the commitment.