15 July 2011

Japan Turns to Nuclear Fusion, Post Fukushima

Images via FusionPowerCorporation

After the Fukushima nuclear crisis -- triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami -- Japan has been strongly divided on nuclear power. Many Japanese will only consider a nuclear future for Japan if the technology is proven to be free of threats of radioactive contamination and runaway chain reaction meltdowns. Nuclear fusion offers the promise of nuclear power without melt-downs or widespread contamination -- even after the worst natural disasters. And so International Professional Networks (IPN) of Japan has turned to Fusion Power Corporation (FPC) to investigate the use of FPC's heavy ion fusion (HIF) for Japan.
With the loss of nuclear facilities at Fukushima, Japan is in need of an alternative set of energy production facilities. As a result of that loss, Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan recently announced that: “… the country will abandon plans to build more nuclear reactors” and has encouraged Japan to explore other forms of energy production. “Fusion power production using the techniques incorporated in the Fusion Power Corporation HIF design should be one of the systems under consideration,” said Mr. Saruta.


Dr. Charles Helsley, President of Fusion Power Corporation, is very confident that FPC's fusion power system is a good fit for Japan's needed power development. It is carbon free and generates no radioactive problems while producing hydrogen for synthetic fuels and ample electricity using known technologies. Dr. Helsley said, “FPC's HIF process can provide many benefits to the world. It is an inherently safe system and cannot 'run away' nor ‘melt down'. It can stabilize the cost of energy to industry while meeting the need for liquid fuels and electricity in a clean, green and safe way.” And he further said, “I am very pleased with FPC's association with IPN and look forward to assisting in Japan's development of safe fusion power as a replacement for the problem laden fission power generation systems.” Mr. Saruta added, “It will be one of the best alternatives for the solution of Japan's current energy problem and should be part of Japan's long term plan.”


FPC is a California Corporation established to create a new 'clean green … and safe' power system using Heavy Ion Fusion energy to supply the energy needs of the US and the world _Benzinga
FPC utilises a deuterium - tritium cycle, with the tritium being generated by neutron - lithium reaction.
More information on Fusion Power Corporation's HIF technology

The isotopes of hydrogen have specific names, unlike the isotopes of other elements, namely deuterium and tritium. Deuterium(2H) is naturally present in all water and thus seawater is our primary source of fuel. Tritium(3H), the other component of fuel in a fusion power source, is of very low abundance in nature. This is in consequence of tritium being an unstable isotope with a relatively short half-life, 12.3 years. Tritium to start-up the first of our fusion systems will come from stores extracted from fission power plants, where it serves no useful purpose and is unwanted. Containment of tritium is virtually the sole radiological safety issue for fusion power. The difficulty of achieving zero release of tritium in fission power plants comes from having water both in contact with the core and to drive steam turbines. Fusion does not have this challenge, and zero release is a practical goal.


Although an external source of tritium is needed to start our operations, we will produce it for long-term operations via a feature of the D-T reaction. Like all D-T fusion systems, we will use the neutron from the fusion reaction to produce tritium from neutron-lithium reactions. Lithium is consumed in the D-T fuel cycle. As discussed in the last section (below), the lithium needed to start-up the first fusion system will come from conventional, land-based sources. However, the oceans contain large quantities of lithium, and FPC’s overall system includes extraction of lithium from seawater to produce the energy the world needs. Thus resources for our two long term fuel needs for deuterium and lithium are found in the oceans. We will extract our fuel in processes that are sensitive environmentally, and these resources are enough to last millions of years.


The FPC system has a unique potential to breed substantially more tritium than it burns. This is an important asset to the start-up of the additional HIF power sites needed around the world for two reasons. First, because it uses the more plentiful lithium isotope (7Li) as well as 6Li (7.5% of the total), it reduces the net amount of lithium that will ultimately be consumed over time in the fusion fuel cycle. Second, the excess tritium will supply the startup needs of successive fusion plants, avoiding a potential bottleneck due to limited tritium from non-fusion sources. Most of the excess tritium will be sold for this purpose, but some may be securely stored and allowed to decay to 3He, a valuable substance with extraordinary physical properties as well as being a fusion fuel. _FPC Technology

Heavy Ion Fusion Tutorial from VNL

...in fast ignition a separate, very sharp pulse (high peak-power and less than 1/10 the duration of the compression process) is used to ignite only the desired mass of fuel after it has been compressed. The “fast ignited” fuel sets off the rest of the fuel much like a blasting cap sets off a stick of dynamite. The great importance of this feature of FPC’s driver (also a feature of the Russian design) is that the required fuel compression has been within the state of the art for some years already....


The space in which the fusion reactions take place is called a reaction chamber. Three factors influence its design. First, the chamber needs to hold a good vacuum to enable the heavy ions from the accelerator system to reach the fuel pellet and to provide a secure containment vessel for the capture of the tritium that is generated after the reaction takes place. Second, the chamber must be able to withstand the pressure generated by the fusion reaction. And third, the reaction chamber must contain a liquid that can be heated to a high temperature as part of the energy extraction process.


...There is a fourth factor that must also be considered in the design of the reaction chamber. As stated earlier, the neutrons produced by the fusion reaction carry 80% of the reaction’s energy. The energy must be captured as thermal energy, for downstream conversion to electricity and other energy products, and the neutrons must be prevented from degrading the structural properties of the chamber materials. FPC’s chamber concept accomplishes all the required missions, and much more. The numerous advantages of the chamber’s configuration include a unique combination of long chamber life and the high temperatures in working fluid that are needed for efficient energy conversion. Ultimately, the set of advantages results in very large economic benefits. _FPCTechnology

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy blog

Clearly FPC's heavy ion fusion design still needs a lot of work to prove itself, before Japan can generate fusion power this way. HIF is not a small-scale design, and as described by FPC it is meant to form the nucleus of a large industrial complex for the production of electrical power, heat, fuels, chemicals, seawater desalination, and so on -- depending upon particular needs.

Such a project is well within the ability of Japan's industrial and engineering expertise, as long as the central HIF technology can be made to work sustainably.

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