[ RadSafe ] Nuclear fusion coming soon

Ferguson, Dennis denferguso at state.pa.us
Fri Jul 1 08:05:05 CDT 2011

Actually, we probably could "bank on it" if the program was properly funded.

I was a rad tech at Princeton's TFTR during the D-T test shots: they were getting some really interesting results while I was there. Things like the record temperature, enhanced reverse shear mode magnetic fields, six-Tesla shots, and some interesting self-insulating of the plasma fields. We even had a purification system to recover unburned tritium from the exhaust gases. And this was in the 90's, using mostly 1970's technology. No superconducting magnets, etc. I often wonder how much further we'd have gone with all the new advances on the machine. But the funding wasn't there for the upgrades.

There's little industrial funding going to fusion projects, because industry is tied to the current fission technologies, which I personally feel are less safe than fusion. We had "disruptions" (loss of magnetic containment) on the system. It was no big deal, and there was no decay heat problem. I worked in the TMI2 cleanup and in commercial nuclear power, so I am aware of nuclear safety.  

Yes, it's difficult to control essentially a miniature star in a jar... but I have confidence in the folks at Princeton, UW-Madison, LANL, ITER and other projects. The Manhattan Project took theory to practical in a short period of time. I think we're up to it.

Lack of vision? It could cost us. Developing new technology to become energy independent is a worthwhile project. If we want the economy to improve, research will provide us the tools to do it. If fusion is to become viable, we need to adequately fund tokamak, inertial confinement, and other fusion test projects. Not just laugh at it. Consider it an investment in the future.

My humble opinion and not necessarily that of the management! 

Dennis E. Ferguson | Radiation Protection Program Supervisor 
PA Dept of Environmental Protection - Bureau of Radiation Protection
denferguso at pa.gov

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