Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear fusion ambitions in Australia from a coalition of technology companies – a dodgy dream?

Tech coalition aiming to create Australian high-powered laser industry with nuclear fusion ambitions.

Proponents say lasers can be used to generate energy but others say fusion power unlikely to ‘save us from climate change’

Donna Lu, 15 Dec 22,

A coalition of technology companies intend to create a high-intensity laser industry in Australia, with potential applications including nuclear fusion.

It follows reports of an expected announcement from the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that researchers have managed to get more energy out of a nuclear fusion reaction than they put in.

The coalition, led by the Australian laser fusion company HB11 Energy, also includes the University of Adelaide, the Institute of Laser Engineering at Osaka University, the Japanese laser fusion firm EX-Fusion, and the French engineering multinational Thales Group………..

“The same lasers can be used, for instance, for the transmutation of fission radioactive waste – essentially reducing the half-life of radioactive waste from hundreds or thousands of years to tens of years,” – Dr Warren McKenzie, founder and managing director of HB11 Energy………………….

Prof Ken Baldwin of the Australian National University described the NIF’s apparent advancement as “a truly groundbreaking achievement”, but said it was unlikely fusion power would “save us from climate change”.

All the heavy lifting for the energy transition will be done by renewable energy and nuclear fission (existing nuclear power) – with nuclear fusion at commercial scale unlikely to be available until later this century, well after the 2050 deadline needed to keep global warming below two degrees. But beyond that, fusion might provide limitless energy for centuries to come,” Baldwin said in a statement.

Mark Diesendorf, an associate professor and deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, agreed that fusion was “decades away from any possibility of commercial electricity generation”.

“There’s a huge gap between this experiment – which I really would hesitate to call a breakthrough – and what has to be done to get commercial electricity out,” he said.

“There’s an intense pulse of laser radiation for a tiny fraction of a second. Then the question is: during that tiny fraction of second, did they get more fusion energy out than they put in?” Diesendorf said. “To generate electricity, what you’ve got to do is to have thousands and thousands … perhaps millions of these pulses a day successfully getting more energy out. And then you’ve got to capture that energy.”

Diesendorf also warned of the risk of nuclear proliferation, pointing out that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the fusion breakthrough was made, is a nuclear weapons research facility.

“Fusion produces neutrons and neutrons can be used to transmute elements – so you can get nuclear explosives such as plutonium-239 and uranium-233 and uranium-235,” Diesendorf said. “You can also produce lots of tritium … an essential component of nuclear bombs in missiles.”……………………..


December 15, 2022 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, technology

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