Thursday, April 17, 2014

ITER: How a New Star will be Born

The ITER project is collaborative endeavor to create and offer a clean and inexhaustible energy source through nuclear fusion giving humanity an endless supply of energy. Nuclear fusion is the fusion of lighter atoms into heavier ones, similar to how a star works. The process generates the tiny loss of mass that translates into a huge quantity of energy. One gram of fusion fuel generates as much power as eight tons of oil! (Arnoux)
The ITER project is hoping to achieve this through the creation of a tokamak, a Russian machine developed in the 60’s, which uses magnetic fields to generate the pressure necessary for the fusion process. ITER’s tokamak will be the first of its kind to achieve a net production of fusion power by giving back ten times the energy invested to light the fusion fire. Properly demonstrating this process will open the doors to industrial and commercial production of fusion-generated electricity. (Arnoux)
This process of energy generation is safe and has minimal environmental impacts. There are no greenhouse-effect gasses emitted and no high-level, long-lived nuclear waste to manage. This will help mitigate most if not all of the negative externalities generated through fossil fuel consumption.  Also, the fuel supply is universally available and almost inexhaustible. The two main fuel sources are tritium and deuterium. (Arnoux) Tritium needs can be met by recycling tritium from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons while deuterium can be obtained from the hydrogen in water. ("Background on Tritium Production")
This energy production method creates an elastic supply source which is exactly what is needed for a world where there is a growing demand for electricity. Initially there will be high startup costs with developing the plants and infrastructures for this technology. However, with an abundance of fuel sources, fuel prices shouldn’t have as big of an impact on energy prices as fossil fuels do on today’s markets since fossil fuel sources are rapidly depleting. Outside of startup costs and fuel prices, the only main costs should be maintenance and regulatory costs. This is also a technology that will only improve and become more efficient as we learn more and perfect it, generating even lower costs.
The applications of this technology will have huge economic benefits throughout the world. Being able to place one of these machines in Africa will dramatically improve the quality of life in that region. Land will become more valuable since it will become more productive. The development of desalination plants will become even more feasible with lower energy costs. Land used for the development for gasoline will be reallocated for other and less harmful uses. The costs for anything that uses energy, which is just about everything, will fall and increase the welfare for everyone.
--Chris Murrow

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