Event Recap: Fusion Power: The Answer to an Uncertain Energy Future – A Discussion with Dan Clery

Event Recap: Fusion Power: The Answer to an Uncertain Energy Future – A Discussion with Dan Clery

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On Tuesday, April 15th, the American Security Project hosted a discussion about fusion power with Dan Clery, moderated by Andrew Holland, ASP’s Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate.

Daniel Clery has been a reporter for Science magazine for twenty one years, as the United Kingdom correspondent. He recently released his new book, A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy, which talks about the history and future of fusion power.
13878828474_d3e862973e_bClery’s presentation shows that fusion has a great history filled with scientific challenges and politics. The idea of fusion started in the 1850s, with Herman von Helmholtz and William Thompson. They questioned the sun’s energy and realized that the current coal consumption was not a sustainable energy choice. Arthur Eddington was able to connect Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, to the sun and came to a conclusion that the sun’s energy was from the fusing of atoms.

The first person to start research towards a fusion power source, was Peter Thoneman, who created a detailed plan of a pinch device and was the first to attract attention to fusion. The problem with fusion was finding a structure that controlled the hot plasma. Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov were able to address this problem, to some extent, by inventing the tokamak, an idea inspired by Oleg Lavrentiev, which used a magnetic field to confine the plasma in a donut shape.

After the oil crisis, fusion energy became a higher priority. Fusion became an international project because Mikhail Gorhachev saw fusion energy as a solution for the “two nations to work together to develop fusion for all mankind.” Recently, ITER has been met with a lot of controversy and doubt but Daniel Clery believes that ITER is in a critical stage and has produced what has been supplied to the project. Clery states,

ITER project has a long history and is at a critical stage and it could go wrong. But hopefully the 500 staff in Cadarache can prove it can be done as long as we can support them long enough.

Politics plays a big role in science. ASP’s Andrew Holland posed a question,

You can never get politics out nor should you, so what you need to do is get politics involved and support. When has politics work in the 20 or 10 years you have looked at it and what are the lessons we can take from that?”

Daniel Clery believes that politics worked in favor of fusion in the 1970s during the oil crisis when energy became a top priority in government policy. He believes that because energy lacks a sense of urgency it has not been able to get political backing and funding, now.

A lot of people have told him where is the urgency; no one seems to think it is something we need and we need it now. Until there is a sense of urgency that fusion can solve this problem I don’t see politics will really get behind it. There needs to be something not connected to fusion that can make fusion the solution to it. Until we have that I don’t know if politicians will get behind it.

In the closing remarks, Daniel Clery believes that ITER will pass the point of break even power. However, because industries need simple machines, fusion will still face challenges. Andrew Holland also concludes that the U.S. has the funding capability it just lacks political will.

We have to move it from a science experiment to an engineering problem and start figuring out the solutions to the engineering problem. But that takes political will and some funding.