Every so often I am asked to be a part of Friday morning’s panel of guests at the local ABC radio station. Guests nominate their ‘big issue’ for the week and discussion follows.
I am on tomorrow (it will probably be today by the time I post this) and I have been surfing the net and reading the papers thinking about what I might nominate as the ‘big issue’ in the morning.
The event that seems to have passed pretty well under-discussed is the announcement in Moscow on Tuesday to build a $16 billion nuclear fusion reactor in the south of France.
The advantage of nuclear fusion over the current uranium-dependent nuclear fission plants is that there is no radioactive waste. Both fission and fusion are greenhouse neutral.
I gather that the nuclear fusion rector has been on the drawing board since the early 1980s and since December 2003 negotiations had been deadlocked over where to build it with the Japanese (one of six countries involved in the project others are Russia, South Korea, US, China and European Union) insisting that the reactor be
based in Japan.
Anyway on Tuesday it was finally agreed that the site would be Cararache, near Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. Cararache apparently already has 18 nuclear installations and is already a centre for research on magnetic fusion.
I understand that nuclear fusion involves the forcing together of atomic nuclei, typically hydrogen atoms, under high temperature and pressure potentially through the creation of magnetic cages with strong magnetic fields which prevent the particles from escaping. It is claimed the technology can potentially deliver abundant cheap energy whose main by-product is water.
The sun is powered by nuclear fusion. While the concept is not new, this appears to be the first big investment in developing the technology for commercialization. With all the discussion about greenhouse and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emission, the price of oil, fear that oil will run out, and the opposition to power stations based on traditional nuclear fission technology, it seems surprising that this announcement has generated so little public discussion.