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ITER!!!

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Ken Hemingway

ITER!!!

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When the announcement of the Cadarache site selection was made I caught up on the state of fusion research and was shocked at how much progress has been made. For there to be a committment to build a 500MW reactor strikes me as absoutely huge. I know we have heard large promises of the prospects of nuclear technology before ("too cheap to meter"), but maybe one of these days it really will work out. Let's be clear on the possibilities. As the ITER website says:Controlled nuclear fusion promises:&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp to be environmentally benign; &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp to be widely applicable; &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp to be essentially inexhaustible. It runs on water. It does not produce greenhouse gases. It does not produce dangerous nuclear waste.Hydrogen fuel cells for cars are said to be very clean, but there's a trick. The production of the energy needed to make the hydrogen is very dirty, so there's little if any net gain. But a successful fusion reactor could produce the hydrogen very cleanly.I suppose it's because I was out of date on the state of the technology, but this news seems to me the most promising thing that has happened in years - probably decades - it really does (seem to) offer a chance to overcome the limits on hydrocarbon based economies. Maybe manwomankind has a future after all!!news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/scien...627237.stmwww.iter.org/index.htm
MadArchitect

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Re: ITER!!!

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Any idea what elements are being used to produce the reaction, and in what quantities? (I suppose I could skim the link provided...)
Ken Hemingway

Re: ITER!!!

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The best fuel for fusion comprises two types, or isotopes, of hydrogen: deuterium and tritium. The former can be derived from water which is abundant and available everywhere. The latter can be produced from lithium, which is plentiful in the Earth's crust. Unlike the burning of fossil fuels, fusion reactions produce no carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed by scientists for warming the planet. Fusion scientists also say the system would be inherently safe because any malfunction would result in a rapid shutdown. Will Iter produce radioactive waste? Yes. The neutrons produced in fusion reactions will "activate" the materials used in the walls of Iter's plasma chamber. But one of the project's tasks will be to find the materials that best withstand this bombardment. This could result in waste materials that are safe to handle in a relatively modest timescale (50-100 years), compared with the much longer lived radioactive waste (many thousands of years) produced as a direct result of splitting atoms in fission reactions. It has been calculated that after 100 years of post-operation radioactive decay, Iter will be left with about 6,000 tonnes of waste. When packaged, this would be equivalent to a cube with about 10m edges.
marti1900

Re: ITER!!!

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I love technology. Marti in Mexico
Ken Hemingway

Re: ITER!!!

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Me too, Marti. Isn't it great?!!!
MadArchitect

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Re: ITER!!!

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I'm currently reading John McPhee's "The Curve of Binding Energy", so one of my concerns in asking about the elements used is whether or not they could be considered weapon's grade.
Ken Hemingway

Re: ITER!!!

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Deuterium and Tritium are the usual components of a Hydrogen bomb. I'm not sure whether they are difficult to make or not, but even if you had a source for these, making a hydrogen bomb is still very challenging. First of all you need to create a fission bomb in order to generate the high temperatures needed to start the fusion reaction. And even if you have a fission bomb, you still need to know how to assemble the fission bomb with the hydrogen isotopes....I don't think this is a real concern. Anyone who can make a fission bomb is likely to find it quite threatening enough for practical purposes. You would only be interested in a fusion weapon if you wanted to go toe to toe with a major nuclear power.
MadArchitect

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Re: ITER!!!

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As I understand it, deuterium and tritium in themselves are not necessarily bomb making material. My reading has mostly concerned uranium and plutonium, and both of those have to be refined to make weapons grade -- that is, the material has to be of a certain concentration of uranium or plutonium isotopes to be really fissile, u-235 or p-239. The process of refinement is the factor that has, so far, restricted bomb making to the level of nations rather than small groups or individuals. My reading suggests that the process of actually making a bomb wouldn't be beyond the reach of even a well-trained individual, certainly not beyond the capacity of a group with the resources to high a few experts. What stops most of them is the difficulty in obtaining significant quantities of weapons grade material. Most nuclear facilities up through the seventies weren't viable as sources of weapons grade material for the simple reason that they weren't using weapons grade -- their uranium and plutonium reserves hadn't been refined of 90% of the non-fissile isotopes. I'm not sure the situation has changed all that much since then -- in order to make their nuclear weapons, North Korea had to break treaty by recovering and refining nuclear energy plutonium and refining it into weapons grade. There have been nuclear power facilities that used weapons grade material but the amounts were divided into quantities that were too small for practical weapons use and encased in non-fissile material that cooled the heated nuclear material. So the concern that I expressed earlier is really three concerns: 1) are they using weapons-grade elements, 2) are they using it in quantities sufficiently undiluted (unencased) to allow for conversion into weapons, and 3) if yes to both of the above, what sort of safe-guards do they have in place to prevent theft or trade with potential weapons makers?But I don't honestly expect you to find out the answers for me. I'll look into it when I have some time later on. I just thought that I'd bring that concern to the table.
Ken Hemingway

Re: ITER!!!

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I'll try to clarify my previous answer. To make a hydrogen bomb (fusion bomb) you first have to make a fission bomb (uranium/plutonium. That's because the fusion bomb contains a fission bomb to produce the necessary temperatures.No heavy elements (uranium/plutonium) are involved either in acquiring deuterium or tritium and none are used in operating a fusion reactor.As to the ease of making a fusion bomb, I don't really know the answer. It's not trivial and I don't think the knowledge is as widely spread as it is for fission. But it took China only three years to go from a fission test (1964) to a fusion test (1967).Overall, I don't think the Iter project will have any effect on nuclear proliferation, since, as you say, the critical barrier appears to be acquistion of plutonium/enriched uranium. If the bad guys get that far we are already in a lot of trouble.
MadArchitect

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Re: ITER!!!

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My concern is not so much that ITER will be used to creation a fusion bomb, but rather that it will rely on or produce waste that may be used in the construction of fission bombs. I've done some digging around, and the most precise information I've found so far indicates that ITER will produce radioactive waste. Depending on what kind of waste, how they discard or store that waste is a security issue.Not that there aren't other reasons for concern. Hopefully, the involvement of so many major governments will ensure some sense of caution. I don't want to be an alarmist, but it doesn't take much imagination to fantasize about the sort of catastrophe that's possible when attempting to replicate the nuclear reactions that power the Sun, much less when you're containing those reactions in a small magnetic field. The whole thing sounds rather dubious to me, and I'd feel much safer if this were the sort of thing they were testing out in distant space rather than in France.
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