Japan crisis highlights need to accelerate aneutronic fusionMarch 30, 2011
We at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics want to share the following statement regarding the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan. Given the magnitude of this crisis and the other environmental challenges we face, we hope for greater communication and collaboration as we work towards a more sustainable future.
Japan’s Nuclear Accident Dramatizes the Need for Government Funding of Safe, Cheap, Clean Energy, Including Aneutronic Fusion
The nuclear crisis at Fukushima that has increased the suffering of the people of Japan, battered by earthquake and tsunami, was wholly avoidable. We can do little to control the natural forces and movements of the earth, but this crisis is the result of failed and short-sighted energy policies. These policies must be changed now. While traditional renewables such as solar and wind are rightfully touted as deserving even higher priority in the wake of the crisis, it is similarly important that aneutronic fusion energy research also now be encouraged and accelerated. Our work at LPP illustrates that fusion could be a truly sustainable energy choice that eliminates the need for nuclear fission, not decades from now, but within five years.
In today’s nuclear power plants, the process called nuclear fission splits the nuclei of heavy atoms (like uranium) into smaller atoms, releasing their energy in the form of high-speed neutrons, which generate heat, to produce steam that is used to make electricity. Fission generates nuclei that are highly radioactive—they decay producing dangerous ionizing radiation that can harm human and animal cells. The fuel is radioactive, the waste is radioactive, and the energetic neutrons cause the reactor itself to become radioactive. This is long-lived radioactivity that can last for years if it escapes into the environment in accidents like that at Fukushima. The dangers of fossil fuel power in polluting the environment have also been dramatized by recent events such as the BP oil spill.
In contrast, aneutronic fusion energy can harness the huge energy of the nucleus without creating dangerous long-lived radioactivity. Fusion is the process of combining small atomic nuclei into larger ones, which releases the excess energy in the motion of neutrons or charged particles. Fusion powers the universe and all the stars, including our sun. Aneutronic fusion fuels can be used in this process, which then releases no high-energy neutrons. There is no radioactive fuel used, and no radioactive waste—no dangerous long-lived radioactive materials. While this very different form of nuclear energy is still being researched, if it can work, it promises power that is cheaper, safer and cleaner that any energy source available today. Later this year, LPP will attempt to demonstrate one approach to aneutronic fusion, but the crisis in Japan shows that regardless of any single experiment, research on this potentially ideal energy source needs to be expanded.
LPP joins with many environmental and other groups around the world in urgently demanding a great and immediate expansion of government funding for clean energy research. We urge that aneutronic fusion be included in this expansion of funding. We urge environmental groups and all others organizing for a clean energy future to include aneutronic fusion energy among the alternatives that they are advocating. Fusion is the cleanest, most robust, safest and longest-lasting energy source in the universe. In light of the environmental disasters caused by other energy sources, we need to accelerate the development of fusion power here on earth. At LPP, we play an active role in that development. We ask others to join us.