Eureka! How a magic doughnut that fakes the sun could save o

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PostSun Mar 23, 2014 4:58 am » by Malogg


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Eureka! How a magic doughnut that fakes the sun could save our planet: But the Chinese will get it first thanks to the billions we spend on the 'eco-power' gravy train

It could stop man-made global warming once and for all – and give the world limitless, clean energy for as long as humanity lasts.

Nuclear fusion – zerocarbon electric power produced from sea water in a doughnut-shaped reactor that imitates the sun – is also far closer to a reality than most people think.

But while Britain, the United States and the European Union spend hundreds of billions on subsidies for wind farms, solar panels and power stations fuelled by wood pellets, fusion is being starved of funds.

As a result, the ultimate prize of developing this revolutionary technology now looks certain to be claimed by China and South Korea – despite the fact that the science behind it was pioneered here and in the U.S.
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Nuclear fusion - zero carbon electric power produced from sea water in a doughnut-shaped reactor that imitates the sun - is also far closer to a reality than people think. It could stop man-made global warming once and for all - and give the world limitless clean energy for eternity

The challenge posed by fusion has always been daunting.

A conventional fission reactor, of the type developed to build the atom bomb by the Manhattan Project during the Second World War, harnesses the energy produced when atoms of uranium split.

This can be dangerous, but it isn't difficult, once you obtain a critical mass of enriched, radioactive uranium – when the chain reaction develops of its own accord, and continues unless you stop it.

But it also has a nasty by-product – nuclear waste – that has to be buried in sealed containers.

By contrast, a fusion machine taps the much greater amount of energy unleashed by fusing atoms of hydrogen.

This has advantages. A fusion reactor's fuel is heavy hydrogen – atoms that contain one proton and one or two neutrons – and can be refined from sea water.

The helium gas created when the atoms fuse is not radioactive and is harmless.

But to get the reaction going requires the gas to be heated by giant magnets to temperatures of up to 200 million degrees Celsius, so that it becomes a plasma – the fourth state of matter, where the electrons that normally orbit the proton and neutron nuclei become detached.

'I'm always being asked, how can we get the sun in a bottle? But we've already done that at JET, and we've done it predictably. So far, the scale has been small'
- Professor Steve Cowley


The challenge facing scientists developing fusion is containing a plasma and keeping it stable.

Sceptics often sneer that fusion energy has been said to be '50 years away' for decades, and that however hard scientists try, it always will be.

But according to Professor Steve Cowley, director of the UK's Centre for Fusion Energy at Culham, near Oxford, huge technological milestones have already been passed in the quest to develop fusion on a large scale.

These have been largely ignored by the media.

The design of a fusion reactor as settled long ago: a hollow doughnut known as a 'tokamak' or 'torus', ringed by powerful magnets.

These keep the plasma in place. At JET, the Joint European Torus at Culham, nuclear fusion first generated an output of 16 megawatts (MW) back in 1997.

'People just didn't seem to realise how significant that was,' said Prof Cowley. 'I'm always being asked, how can we get the sun in a bottle?
While Britain, the United States and the European Union spend hundreds of billions on subsidies for wind farms, solar panels and power stations fuelled by wood pellets, fusion is being starved of funds

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While Britain, the United States and the European Union spend hundreds of billions on subsidies for wind farms, solar panels and power stations fuelled by wood pellets, fusion is being starved of funds
'But we've already done that at JET, and we've done it predictably. So far, the scale has been small.

'But would you have told the Wright brothers that their first flight didn't count because they'd only flown 100ft?'

Dave Rasmussen, leader of the fusion energy group at the US National Laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which was once the Manhattan Project's home, describes other advances.

For example, the discovery that plasmas are prone to disruption – shockwaves that can cause them to lose heat and damage the reactor – presented a major hurdle.

But an extraordinary solution has been found: firing into the plasma pellets of solid gas, cooled to minus 263C. Thanks to this breakthrough, plasmas have been kept going for many hours at JET.

Prof Cowley and Mr Rasmussen are both playing key roles in the International ThermonuclearExperimental Reactor (ITER), whose construction is now under way at Cadarache in France.

This will be five times bigger than JET, and its goal is ambitious: to achieve, some time in the mid- 2020s, an output of 500MW – as much as a fair-sized commercial power station – far exceeding the power it takes to start the fusion reaction. This would be a gamechanging event.

Debate about climate and energy policy would start to end right then, as people and governments realised that a safe and infinite low-carbon energy source was within reach.

The scientists are confident.
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The prize of developing this revolutionary technology now looks certain to be claimed by China and South Korea - despite the fact that the science behind it was pioneered in America

'We've solved more or less all of the physics problems, and most of the engineering issues,' Mr Rasmussen said.

Prof Cowley added: 'A large-scale demonstration of nuclear fusion isn't five decades away, but a little more than one.'

However, enormous obstacles remain – not least those imposed by humans.

At about £17 billion, building ITER isn't cheap, but this compares to the £46 billion the UK will have spent on subsidies for wind, biomass and other types of renewable energy by 2020, plus many billions more on connecting installations to the grid.

The taxpayer-funded Engineering and Physical Science Research Council budget for fusion costs just £40 million a year, but research into renewables is more than three times as much at £130 million.

'A large-scale demonstration of nuclear fusion isn't five decades away, but a little more than one'
- Prof Cowley


As for Europe, by 2011 the total EU investment in renewables was running at £67 billion a year – a figure which, thanks to colossal subsidies, has continued to rise.

Yet though the EU is one of the main international sponsors for ITER, its total contribution is just £400 million a year.

The reluctance to spend big money means ITER has had to be funded by an unwieldy coalition, including the US, China, India, Japan, the EU and South Korea.

Insiders say the project is bogged down by bureaucracy, and sometimes those involved are forced to make decisions that make no scientific sense.

For example, its tokamak will be assembled from nine identical segments.

Because each ITER partner wants to stimulate their own hitech industries, it has been agreed that seven segments will be made in Europe, and the other two in South Korea.

What will happen if they don't quite fit together? 'It will be a disaster', Prof Cowley admitted.

And while funding shortages have delayed ITER's construction, they are already holding up the next stage of delivering commercialm fusion power.

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The reluctance to spend big money on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor means it has had to be funded by an unwieldy coalition including the U.S., China, India, Japan, the EU and South Korea. Insiders say the project is bogged down by bureaucracy

The next big technological hurdle – and, perhaps, the last – is the development of tiles for the tokamak's lining. These will have to be tough enough to withstand the highenergy bombardment of neutrons produced by fusion.

It is not that these tiles must be made before ITER will work, but for a fusion reactor to be commercial, they need to last a long time. Scientists– led by a team from Oxford University – have many theoretical ideas about how to do this.

But, to be sure, said Mr Rasmussen, they need a 'neutron factory' in order to test new alloys under the conditions they will meet inside a tokamak.

He and Prof Cowley agreed that this could be done now, so that the tiles were ready at the same time as ITER – if the total budget were roughly doubled.

Instead, said Prof Cowley, 'we'll have to wait until the world sees that ITER works. Then we'll have to spend another decade or more on the materials. This delay could simply be eliminated'.

While Europe and America hang back on the sidelines, South Korea and China are already planning 'son of ITER' reactors and investing billions in the technology.

'The Chinese have decided that the pace of fusion development is too slow, and that they'll take the risk,' said Prof Cowley.

'They're assuming that ITER will work, and they are pouring money into the next step.'

Greens hail MoS expose of forests destroyed to give UK 'clean' energy

Britain's leading green groups yesterday condemned the practice of burning American hardwood trees in British power stations – as revealed by this newspaper last week.

And in a development with potentially huge significance, senior Friends of the Earth (FoE) official Kenneth Richter revealed the European Commission has launched a formal investigation into the subsidies decreed by the Government for Drax’s ‘biomass’ operations, following an FoE complaint.

Mr Richter said: ‘Cutting down forests to burn them doesn’t make sense as a way of cutting carbon emissions, and it endangers the forests.

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Britain's leading green groups have condemned the practise of burning American hardwood trees in British power stations, including Drax Power Station in Yorkshire

‘Wood is dirtier than coal, and even if the trees regrow, for many years they willabsorb much less carbon than they would have if left alone.

‘Subsidising this practice is the opposite of what we should be doing.’

The Mail on Sunday showed that Europe’s biggest supposedly ‘renewable’ energy power plant, Drax in North Yorkshire, uses US firm Enviva as its main supplier, and pumps the greenhouse gases emitted by more than one million tons of Enviva’s wood pellet fuel from its chimney stacks each year.

At least 80 per cent of Enviva’s pellets come from hardwood species such as oaks and maples, not fastgrowing conifers.

Much of the wood is cut from the unique ecosystem of the ‘bottomland’ forests of North Carolina, then
shipped 3,800 miles to Hull and Immingham.

At present, Drax receives £62.5 million a year from the subsidies because biomass counts under EU rules as a ‘carbon neutral’ form of energy.

This is paid by consumers from levies added to their bills – a sum that is set to triple as Drax’s biomass operations grow.

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Last week it emerged that the Drax Power Station uses U.S. firm Enviva as its main supplier. At least 80 per cent of Enviva's wood pellets come from hardwood species. Much of the wood is cut from the unique ecosystem of the 'bottomland' forests of North Carolina then shipped 3,800 miles to Hull and Immingham

The Government also gave it a loan guarantee to underwrite some of the £700 million cost of converting its furnaces from burning coal to wood.

The investigation will consider whether this amounted to unfair competition.

Greenpeace UK called on the Government to rethink its approach to biomass, saying that contrary to the claims made by the Department of Energy & Climate Change, it was not ‘sustainable’.

A Greenpeace spokesman said: ‘Biomass power stations are supposed to burn waste wood – not timber harvested from natural forests.

Properly regulated, biomass can play a supporting role in our energy mix, but the Government needs to set out a clear policy to make it work.’

Greenpeace supports other forms of renewables, such aswind and solar energy, but not ‘inefficient systems burning coal, gas or wood’.

Another campaign group that has been fighting biomass subsidies since 2006 is Biofuelwatch.

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Large swathes of the hardwood forests in North Carolina, pictured, have been cut down to make wood pellets to fuel the Drax power plant

Almuth Ernsting, the group’s UK director, said there was now ‘a scientific consensus that burning wood is harmful’.

She said the argument made by Drax and Enviva – that it does not matter if the cut down trees take 100 years to regrow – is misleading.

‘Once cut, they may never recover, and resources such as the North Carolina bottomland woods have already shrunk drastically,’ she added.

Meanwhile, top brokers Societe General have advised investors to sell any shares they may hold in Drax because the future of the firm’s subsidies on which its biomass business depends is uncertain.

If the European Commission rules against the loan guarantee and subsidies, this would represent a
substantial downside risk, one of its reports states.

... as BBC boss gags 'sceptics' from climate change debates

A BBC executive in charge of editorial standards has ordered programme editors not to broadcast debates between climate scientists and global warming sceptics.

Alasdair MacLeod claimed that such discussions amount to ‘false balance’ and breach an undertaking to the Corporation’s watchdog, the BBC Trust.

Mr MacLeod, head of editorial standards and compliance for BBC Scotland, sent an email on February 27 to 18 senior producers and editors, which has been obtained by The Mail on Sunday.

It reads: ‘When covering climate change stories, we should not run debates / discussions directly between scientists and sceptics.
Alasdair MacLeod, head of editorial standards at the BBC, has ordered programme editors not to broadcast debates between climate scientists and global warming sceptics

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Alasdair MacLeod, head of editorial standards at the BBC, has ordered programme editors not to broadcast debates between climate scientists and global warming sceptics

If a programme does run such a discussion, it will... be in breach of the editorial guidelines on impartiality.’

Two weeks before the email was sent, Lord Lawson, chairman of the sceptic think-tank the GlobalWarming Policy Foundation, was invited on to Radio 4’s Today programme to debate with Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change Research at Imperial College, whether this year’s storms were the result of climate change.

In fact, as Lord Lawson made clear, he is not a climate ‘denier’ and accepts that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases have warmed the planet – but he believes their effects will not be as serious as some people argue.

However, his appearance sparked protests from green groups, which said that such debates should not be broadcast.

'All viewpoints continue to be given due weight in our output'
- A BBC spokesman


Mr MacLeod wrote that the reason the Trust decided that there should be no attempt by the BBC to give equal weight to opposing sides on climate change was that sceptics’ views were ‘based on opinion rather than demonstrablescientific validity’.

Last night a Trust spokesman said: ‘We agreed that there should be no attempt to give equal weight to opinion and to evidence in science coverage, but we said specifically that this does not mean that critical opinion should be excluded.

‘We did not specify that the BBC should not broadcast debates / discussions between scientists and sceptics.’

A BBC spokesman added: ‘All viewpoints continue to be given due weight in our output.’

Asked whether the BBC was prepared explicitly to disavow Mr MacLeod’s email, both officials failed
to comment.

GWPF director Dr Benny Peiser said BBC coverage of climate change has been ‘far too biased for far too long’.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... train.html
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