Nuclear Fusion Is Already Facing a Fuel Crisis. It doesn’t even work yet, but nuclear fusion has encountered a shortage of tritium, the key fuel source for the most prominent experimental reactors. IN THE SOUTH of France, ITER is inching towards completion. When it’s finally fully switched on in 2035, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor will be the largest device of its kind ever built, and the flag-bearer for nuclear fusion. Inside a donut-shaped reaction chamber called a tokamak, two types of hydrogen, called deuterium and tritium, will be smashed together until they fuse in a roiling plasma hotter than the surface of the sun, releasing enough clean energy to power tens of thousands of homes—a limitless source of electricity lifted straight from science fiction. Or at least, that’s the plan. The problem—the white elephant in the room—is that by the time ITER is ready, there might not be enough fuel left to run it. Right now, the tritium used in fusion experiments like ITER, and the smaller JET tokamak in the UK, comes from a very specific type of nuclear fission reactor called a heavy-water moderated reactor. But many of these reactors are reaching the end of their working life, and there are fewer than 30 left in operation worldwide—20 in Canada, four in South Korea, and two in Romania, each producing about 100 grams of tritium a year. (India has plans to build more, but it is unlikely to make its tritium available to fusion researchers.) But this is not a viable long-term solution—the whole point of nuclear fusion is to provide a cleaner and safer alternative to traditional nuclear fission power. “It would be an absurdity to use dirty fission reactors to fuel ‘clean’ fusion reactors,” says Ernesto Mazzucato, a retired physicist who has been an outspoken critic of ITER, and nuclear fusion more generally, despite spending much of his working life studying tokamaks. The second problem with tritium is that it decays quickly. It has a half-life of 12.3 years, which means that when ITER is ready to start deuterium-tritium operations (in, as it happens, about 12.3 years), half of the tritium available today will have decayed into helium-3. The problem will only get worse after ITER is switched on, when several more deuterium-tritium (D-T) successors are planned.
Wired 20th May 2022 read more »
REGIONAL leaders are stepping up in support for the world-first nuclear fusion facility to come to Cumbria. Plans to locate a first-of-kind nuclear commercial fusion power plant at Moorside in West Cumbria have been given a boost, with leaders meeting in Westminster to show their support for the project. Copeland MP Trudy Harrison hosted a reception at the House of Commons to highlight the region’s compelling bid to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) facility, now one of the final five sites in the competition run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
In Cumbria 19th May 2022 read more »
Regional leaders have pushed their bid to locate a first-of-its-kind nuclear commercial fusion power plant at Moorside, in West Cumbria, during a presentation in Westminster. Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, where the Moorside site is located, hosted a reception at the House of Commons to highlight the region’s compelling bid to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) facility, now one of the final five sites in the competition run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). Attendees heard how the region’s nuclear heritage and track record of delivering innovative new technologies meant that the North West’s bid should be in poll position – with the supply chains, skills, researchers and workforce already in place to write the UK’s next energy generation chapter.
Business Desk 19th May 2022 read more »