Energy + Nuclear Power (Fission + Fusion)
Disclaimer: I'm a physics noob, and just curious, getting started and sharing my thoughts and readings here
Energy is one of the most important factors that drive human progress and flourishing! Especially extremely clean and cheap energy would really benefit humanity and help us against climate change.
One related problem is that science and energy has become increasingly politicized, being pro or against nuclear becomes a political statement, without most people properly understanding energy, as well as nuclear energy in particular. Lets get into the science.
Nuclear fusion occurs when two atoms join together to form one larger atom. This process releases a large amount of energy. The sun is powered by nuclear fusion. Nuclear fission occurs when one atom splits into smaller atoms. This process also releases a large amount of energy. Nuclear fission is used to power nuclear reactors. The future potential lies in fusion achieving net energy gain, meaning the amount of usable energy produced by the fusion reaction exceeds the amount of energy needed to initiate the reaction.
Ultimately energy is the fundamental factor driving human progress and will continue to do so into the future. Finding ways to increase the efficiency of energy usage and transition to cleaner and cheaper energy sources is critical for progress. —
Nuclear Power by Wikipedia
“Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions to produce electricity. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion reactions. Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear power plants. Nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators in some space probes such as Voyager 2. Generating electricity from fusion power remains the focus of international research.
Civilian nuclear power supplied (..) a tenth of the sum of all global electricity generation, and was the second-largest low-carbon power source after hydroelectricity, which supplied 28% of global power demands in 2019. (..).
Nuclear power is the safest energy source. Coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydroelectricity each have caused more fatalities per unit of energy due to air pollution and accidents. Accidents in nuclear power plants include the Chernobyl explosion in the Soviet Union in 1986, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, and the more contained Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979.
There is a debate about nuclear power. Proponents, such as the World Nuclear Association and Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, contend that nuclear power is a safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions.”
Fusion energy is the energy released when two atoms are forced together to form a single, heavier atom. This process is called nuclear fusion. Fusion is the process that powers the sun and stars.
Nuclear fusion occurs when the strong nuclear force pulls two nuclei together. This overcomes the electrostatic force, which would normally repel the nuclei. When the nuclei come close enough, they fuse into a single nucleus. This fusion process releases a large amount of energy.
The process of fusion can be harnessed to generate power. In a fusion reactor, energy is used to heat a plasma to extremely high temperatures. The high temperatures create conditions where nuclear fusion can take place. The resulting energy from the fusion reaction can be used to generate electricity.
Fusion energy has the potential to be a clean and safe source of power. Fusion reactions produce very little radioactive waste. The waste from fusion is mostly in the form of helium, which is not harmful to the environment. Fusion reactors also have the potential to be much safer than traditional nuclear fission reactors.
Fusion energy is still in the development stage. The first fusion reactors are not expected to be operational until the 2030s.
Brief video explainers: Nuclear Reactions, Radioactivity, Fission and Fusion
MYTH: We don't have a solution to nuclear's "waste problem"— Madi Hilly (@MadiHilly) July 21, 2022
REALITY: Nuclear waste isn't a problem. In fact, it’s the best solution we have to meeting our energy needs while protecting the natural environment!
Here's what you need to know:
DeepMind: “Magnetic control of tokamak plasmas through deep reinforcement learning
- Progress in nuclear energy by José Ricon
- The race to Q>1: Lowercarbon is funding fusion’s biggest breakthroughs
Some interesting startups
“Zap is building a seriously cheap, compact, scalable fusion reactor with potentially the shortest path to commercially viable fusion and orders of magnitude less capital than traditional approaches. The breakthrough technology conﬁnes and compresses plasma without costly and complex magnetic coils.”
Commonwealth Fusion Systems
HTS Magnets by Commonwealth Fusion “CFS has developed a revolutionary magnet that will enable the fastest path to commercial fusion energy. (..) Tokamaks use magnets to confine a plasma in which fusion occurs. In the past, tokamaks used low temperature superconducting magnets that required the magnets to be enormous in size to achieve the magnetic field needed to achieve net energy. CFS is using new high temperature superconductors (HTS) to build these groundbreaking magnets that allow for significantly stronger magnetic fields that can be built much smaller and at dramatically lower cost than the traditional approach.”
“Helion uses “pulsed magnetic fusion” (not a tokamak as traditional), they use aluminum magnets to compress its fuel and then expand it to get electricity out directly. Extremely high temperatures are needed to create and maintain the delicate state of matter called plasma, where electrons are separated from nuclei, and where fusion can occur.
Kirtley compares Helion’s fusion machine to a diesel engine, while older technologies are more like a campfire. With a campfire, you stoke the fire to generate heat. In a diesel engine, you inject the fuel into a container, then compress and heat the fuel until it begins to burn. “And then you use the expansion of it to directly do useful work,” said Kirtley.
By taking this new fresh approach and some of the old physics, we can we can move forward and do it fast,” Kirtley said. “The systems end up being a lot smaller, a lot faster to iterate, and then that gets us to commercially useful electricity, which is solving the climate change problem, as soon as possible.”
Helion Energy is using aneutronic fusion, meaning “they don’t have a lot high energy neutrons present in their fusion reaction”
“An aneutronic approach, like Helion Energy is pursuing, could have potential benefits that other approaches do not, but could also have different downsides and challenges to achieving commercial fusion energy production”