Merger won’t stop need for climate ‘sacrifice’: expert • The Register
Nuclear fusion will not provide the answer to the medium-term “sacrifice” the world’s population will have to endure to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – the goal of keeping average global warming within the range of 1, 5˚C.
This is according to scientists testifying from the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology.
However, the potential atomic power source promises to offer citizens “hope” for sustainable economic expansion in the second half of the 21st century, after the time of sacrifice from climate change, said Tim Luce, head of science and operations at ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment based on magnetic confinement.
ITER attempts to generate energy by replicating the process that takes place on the Sun, where hydrogen nuclei collide, fuse into heavier helium atoms and release the remaining mass as energy. The experiment hopes to generate sustained fusion reactions and use them to produce unlimited clean energy.
Luce told the committee it was unlikely the UK would be able to supply even 10% of its electricity from fusion by 2050. “I think the answer is clearly no – we don’t. “we don’t have the industrial capacity. We don’t have the fuel – to do the capacity to do that,” he said.
Although the merger has achieved significant milestones over the past year and could show experimental net gains by 2040, Luce agreed with other panelists appearing before the committee that fusion would not be a practical solution to decarbonize global energy production in a way that could avoid the worst excesses of global warming.
“The issue for me about the merger is that it’s not about getting to net zero,” Luce said.
“It’s about sustaining it into the indefinite future. You’re going to ask people to make a sacrifice if you want to get to that goal of net zero by 2050. Are you really going to ask them to continue that sacrifice indefinitely? No, I think you have to provide them with a strategy, an exit strategy, that gives them sustainable economic growth, based on a sustainable source of energy.
“Otherwise, I think it will be very difficult for governments to ask their citizens to make a hopeless sacrifice. We will provide hope for a sustainable energy future through fusion,” he said.
At last week’s hearing, MPs asked nuclear fusion experts for their estimates for developing the power source until it was ready to be hooked up to the power grid.
The most optimistic was Dr Nick Hawker, CEO of First Light Fusion, who said there were several credible plans to solve the “physics problem” – where the experiment produces more energy than the researchers have. put – in the current decade.
“I think we’ll have a fusion power plant – a pilot plant – in the 2030s. And I think we’ll have a competitively priced fusion power plant in the 2040s, but on a small scale. We’re not going to suddenly be supply all of our electricity needs from fusion in the 2040s. We still need solar, we still need wind, we still need everything [sustainable] sources we can get,” he said.
Dame Sue Ion, former President of the UK Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Council, said physics demonstrates a net gain in the current decade or early next decade. “But when will you get a prototype power plant demonstrating that commercial fusion is possible, even remotely? You’re talking about post-2040. If you’re talking about the availability of fusion power on the grid, then that’s is well into the second half of the century, if all the engineering and technical challenges that are yet to come are resolved.”
The past year has seen a number of significant breakthroughs in nuclear fusion, heralded as an abundant source of clean energy for more than 50 years.
In January, US scientists published results showing plasma self-heating at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Their peer-reviewed paper described how they managed to burn plasma – where the heat from molten nuclei takes over as the primary fuel heating source – through four experiments that each produced over 100 kilojoules of energy. .
A month later, scientists and engineers running the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in Oxford, UK, announced a record 59 megajoules of thermal energy from fusion, more than double the previous record reached by JET.
Meanwhile, the US government has pledged about $1 billion in nuclear fusion investments over five years.
Still, the combination of engineering and economics has made it difficult to have complete confidence in fusion as a viable energy source, Dame Sue said.
“I think there’s a difference between trusting that it will work and trusting that it will work 24/7/365 and satisfy an economic environment that it has to live in. And my answer to that is, honestly, I don’t know,” she told MPs. ®