Magnetic fusion 1985: what next Page: 4 of 10
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The outstanding feature of this new tokamak reactor design is its small
size and power output. What a contrast with 10 years ago when tokamaks were
perceived as gigawatt plants at the very least? But is it the right
direction? I believe it is, if for no other reason than that a smaller
commercial reactor implies smaller developmental reactors as well, and hence a
lower development cost for governments to bear until fusion is ready to enter
the commercial arena. I remarked earlier that, as we all know, the high cost
of fusion research is one of its problems. While expensive engineering
development is the norm, the fact tnat even technical feasibility is expensive
for fusion is a special problem that would be alleviated if, by the time we
contemplate building experimental reactors, concepts of smaller size and power
output could emerge. Tihiro Ohkawa of GA Technologies has a nice way of
expressing this. Man imitates nature, he says. To fly, he observed a bird,
and feasibility was the flying jenny. For fusion, again man imitates nature,
but now the sun. In this case, feasibility experiments may be the largest
devices we would ever build, assuming that more knowledge will help us shrink
our earthbound suns even more. Clearly concept improvements that whittle down
the feasibility barrier would be a big help.
There remains, however, the role of economy of scale at the time that
fusion is actually commercialized. Figure 2 shows one approach to this by
ganging several small reactors with some components common to all, an approach
called multiplexing. Here fusion borrows from fission, for this is also the
approach taken by the advocates of small second-generation fission reactors.
Turning to tandem mirrors, Figure 3 shows a small 250 megawatt design now
in progress. A 600 megawatt version called MiniMARS is also being carried out
in order to test the economy of scale. These are to be compared with the 1200
megawatt MARS reactor that you have seen before. Like MARS, these smaller
designs very deliverately incorporate features of inherent safety by passive
cooling in the event of an accidental loss of coolant or flow, and also
attention to a choice of materials to minimize waste disposal problems by
avoiding materials tnat generate long-lived neutron activation products
requiring long-term waste storage. At Livermore, we have long believed that
these environmental advantages of fusion are every bit as important as
economics if fusion electric power plants are ever to be preferred over other
alternatives, by utilities and by the public. At the same time, by virtue of
new design features, the smaller MiniMARS actually weighs and costs less
relative to its power output than did the MARS or Tokamak STARFIRE designs.
As you will hear in later talks, the mass and volume of these small tandem
mirrors is in fact the same as comparable second-generation fission reactors
such as advanced HTGR's. They even have the same cylindrical shape. Thus
these new tandem mirror designs should compete economically with
Here’s what’s next.
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Fowler, T.K. Magnetic fusion 1985: what next, article, March 1, 1985; [Livermore,] California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1104093/m1/4/: accessed November 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.