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The recent resignation of Stewart Prager as head of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab highlights the difficulties of the American magnetic fusion project. I believe the fusion program is too ambitious in attempting pure fusion, that is the use of the 14 MeV fusion neutron’s kinetic energy to boil water. A much better plan is to use its kinetic, AND what, for want of a better term, I’ll call its potential energy to breed nuclear fuel for separate thermal nuclear reactors. The optimum next step for the American magnetic fusion program would then be to build what I have called ‘The Scientific Prototype’ which is a steady state Q~1 tokamak approximately the size of TFTR, but which runs in DT, breeds its own tritium, and perhaps 233U also. It would answer the major issues not addressed by ITER. Realistically, there is nothing else for us to do. This would put America back in fusion’s major league, where we have not played since the disassembly of TFTR. The advantage of this plan is that from a success in the scientific prototype and ITER, there is almost certainly a straightforward path to mid century economical fusion breeding. There is almost certainly NO straightforward path from such a success to economical pure fusion; this would require additional scientific breakthroughs of a fundamental nature, breakthroughs, which might or might not be possible to achieve.
Fusion breeding envisions a sustainable, carbon free, economically affordable, and environmentally sound energy architecture, with no proliferation risk. It consists of a single fusion breeder which fuels at least 5 light water, or more advanced thermal nuclear reactors, and a single fast neutron reactor such as an integral fast reactor (IFR), which burns the actinide wastes.
I have written a review article on this, which fleshes out these assertions. It is available open access, so anyone can see it, anywhere, any time. Here is the reference and link:
Wallace Manheimer, Fusion Breeding for Midcentury Sustainable Power, Journal of Fusion Energy, vol 33, p 199, 2014
Retired from NRL
These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.