Australian news, and some related international items

Calling nuclear fusion a potential ‘climate solution’ may undermine actual solutions

The latest fusion breakthrough is scientifically important, but the technology’s timeline just doesn’t match up with the urgency of climate change.

Grid Dave Levitan 28 Dec 22 Climate Reporter

When scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a “breakthrough” in nuclear fusion research this month, many eyes quickly turned to climate change. Stories from the BBCCNN and other major outlets mentioned the potential for “limitless” clean energy and discussed fusion’s place as a global warming fix within their opening paragraphs. Even Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, in announcing the new result, touted its potential to provide “clean power to combat climate change.”

From a purely theoretical standpoint, this makes some sense. Fusion power, in an idealized, storybook form, turns the world’s energy system on its head, offering an emissions-free way to keep the lights on. And the latest advance sounds truly impressive: Using enormously powerful lasers, scientists at Livermore’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) managed to create a split-second fusion reaction — mimicking that which takes place on a massive scale inside the sun — that produced more energy than it consumed.

But the world doesn’t live in that storybook. On a practical, near-term level, nuclear fusion and climate change have almost nothing to do with each other. One remains in more-or-less scientific infancy, many years away from even a hint of usable form; the other gets more urgent by the day, requires immediate intervention and has some readily available tech being deployed as we speak.

“A lot of people are desperate for some sort of silver bullet climate solution that will help to bypass the hard work of actually getting political agreements and policymaking and sacrifice to eliminate fossil fuels,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and director of nuclear power safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It would just be easier if there were this panacea out there that would transform everything, but of course that’s totally unrealistic.”

Celebrating scientific advances is important. But linking that science with an urgent global need that it cannot on relevant time scales address may offer false hope and potentially undermine the more banal climate progress — dramatic renewable energy expansion, efficiency improvements, vehicle electrification and so on — that is possible today.

Ignition achieved

The old joke about nuclear fusion is that it is always 20 — or 30 or 50 — years away. Taking hydrogen atoms and fusing them into helium, in the process releasing energy that theoretically can be used to power the electric grid, is so technically challenging that despite well over a half-century of advances, the joke still more or less holds true…………………. more


December 29, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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