Thursday, May 05, 2011

Not Wasting Opportunities

apilgrim A few posts down, we spotlighted continued support for nuclear energy from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The billionaire’s club may not be big, but it certainly is interested in energy issues.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has contributed to a $19.5 million round of funding for Canadian nuclear fusion startup General Fusion, marking the web billionaire’s first major investment in nuclear energy.

General Fusion describes itself as a venture capital funded company, so this infusion will doubtless be very welcome. Here’s how the company describes what it is doing:

General Fusion’s approach is based on “magnetized target fusion” concepts first developed about 30 years ago. This approach is a hybrid of traditional “magnetic fusion” and “inertial confinement fusion” methods, and involves first confining plasma in a magnetic field, and then compressing the confined plasma to thermonuclear conditions. General Fusion’s patent-pending fusion technology involves the equipment needed to contain and compress the plasma, and the systems needed to manage the process.

And a little more:

Our generator will operate in a repeating cycle, with each cycle culminating in a burst of fusion energy.

Each cycle will involve:

• creating plasma of deuterium and tritium,

• trapping the plasma within a magnetic field,

• compressing the magnetic field and the plasma within it to thermonuclear conditions, and

• capturing the heat that results from the fusion reaction and using it to generate electricity and power the next cycle.

The company says it will be ready to commercialize its technology by the end of the decade, which sort of fits the “always tomorrow” theme that has dominated nuclear fusion projects. But who knows? I’m not sure Bezos’ money will help fusion to find a commercial application any more than any one else’s money has up to now. But it never hurts to think big. Maybe this time, fusion really does have a tomorrow.

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The confluence of events this week can certainly, along with elation, cause considerable nervousness. So this seems germane:

The tires on a semitrailer delivering hydrogen to Iowa's only nuclear power plant exploded Tuesday, prompting an alert, but the safety of the plant and the public were never affected, a spokeswoman said.

That would be Duane Arnold. Naturally, that led to:

The tires that blew were on a trailer holding several long tanks of hydrogen. A fire started, but officials didn't know whether the exploding tires caused the fire or the fire caused the tires to pop. The plant's on-site fire brigade and local firefighters responded, prompting the alert.

A fire. Around hydrogen. The fire was put out quickly enough, the driver sent to the hospital and the hydrogen put in storage, but anyone who read about this in little bursts had every right to jitter just a little. But the end result?

The plant remains at 100 percent power. It's operating safely," Nelson [Renee Nelson, spokeswoman for NextEra Energy Resources] said.

So there you go. I doubt this would have made the Iowa papers (much less Business Week, where this account originated) most other weeks.

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So why waste an opportunity?

A grass-roots group organized after the Japan nuclear disaster is holding what is expected to be a large rally for nuclear safety at Plymouth Rock on Saturday. Its leaders say it is neither antinuclear nor political in purpose.

“It’s about families. It’s not about politics,’’ said Anna Baker, coleader of Pilgrim: Make Us Safe Today, or Pilgrim: MUST.

The Pilgrim plant? Really? It went online in 1972 and has quietly gone about its business for 40 years, powering about 600,000 homes around about Plymouth (and creating jobs and economic activity and not producing a bunch of emissions). It’s up for license renewal in 2012, so that’s the reason to do something this year.

The protesters sort of grasp that this is a protest against nothing in particular:

To make the rally more positive, the group is focusing on specific problems and proposing solutions. The list begins with the storage of nuclear waste in water inside a plant, which experts say was the source of the greatest danger in the Japanese crisis.

The protest isn’t being held directly in front of Pilgrim but in a nearby state park next to Plymouth Rock. I hope Entergy gets some of the plant employees over there to contribute to the discussion. Sounds like a friendly enough crowd inclined to listen as well as be heard. So why waste an opportunity?

The Pilgrim nuclear plant.

2 comments:

Will Davis said...

I think the original printed report on Project Sherwood which was prepared for the 1958 Geneva Conference said that fusion power was roughly twenty years in the future; the author of this blog post nailed the essence with the statement that fusion is always essentially around the corner. The problem is that when you round the corner, there's another. Kind of like in those haunted houses they build every year for benefits and so forth.... does this mean that fusion energy is indeed a phantom? I wonder.

Thanks for an interesting post!

jimwg said...

Funny how one must rename thermoNUCLEAR energy as the truncated unrelated sounding "Fusion Energy" to gain public acceptence. Educate the public on our current plants.