Kevin Jacobson

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Could you use controlled reactions in a thermonuclear core to produce electricity? Would it be worth the possible meltdown consequences?

Think of a hydrogen bomb. Many people know that intense gamma and x rays from a fission bomb inside the device compresses and heats a fission/fusion explosive. What if you could take a thermonuclear core and control its fission/fusion reactions to still produce large amounts of heat to create steam and drive a turbine without causing a nuclear explosion. Would having thin layers of lead between the layers of the core control the reactions, acting as a sort of control rod but still allowing a lot of heat to be produced without melting the reactor vessel? If this were to work, it could provide a lot of energy that didn't produce nearly as much waste as a normal fission reactor and it would run longer. Would it be worth the risk?

  • Jul 22 2012: Yes, meltdown consequences can be avoided and nuclear energy has the potential to be an excellent power source in the future, but there eare other consequences on nuclear energy that has to be addressed before it can be widelly accepted.
  • Jul 3 2012: Hi Kevin,

    I think that it's very much worth pursuing fusion reactors, but I don't think they will work the way that you've described.

    The big difference between the fission reactors (which are widely used) and fusion reactors is the environment needed to create the reaction. Fission is accomplished anytime enough of the correct material (meaning uranium, plutonium or a few other elements) is piled together. Nothing else is needed to start the fission process. In fact that's part of the problem. The reaction can continue even if the reactor and it's control systems are damaged, as happened at Chernobyl, Three mile Island, and Fukashima.

    Fusion reactions require astonishing high temperatures and pressures. The Uranium and Plutonium used as a match to trigger a fusion reaction in an H-Bomb are as you mention, a full blown atomic explosion. It's the only known source that's powerful enough to do it. Needless to say, there is no such thing as a control process, or even anything resembling a solid reactor that could hold it.

    Current research on fusion power reactors has not yet been able to get any kind of sustained reaction. We have not yet been able to generate or sustain those temperatures for more than a few milliseconds. Doing that, and containing the energy released if we do, are daunting technical challenges. I doubt that we'll need special controls to shut off the reaction. All one has to do is stop supporting it. That's the exact opposite of a fission reactor.

    There is lot's of work going on in this field. I wish them well.

    Best wishes,
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      Jul 3 2012: Well, my idea may be to difficult and just outright outrageous, but a magnetic pinch fusion reactor would actually be pretty easy to operate. You simply heat the deuterium/tritium gas to a plasma, then you zap it with high voltage to create a magnetic field that essentially crushes the plasma into a denser state. Eventually, it would get denser and denser and hotter and hotter until it sustains a fusion chain reaction. All by continuously zapping a plasma. Then all you have to do is contain the plasma with an electromagnetic field.
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    Jun 29 2012: Hi Kevin.

    I don't know much about the subject. But what you are proposing isn't what is happening right now with the nuclear plants? They produce energy. And the risk of them are really high, let's see what just happened in Japan, or Chernobyl for that matter.
    Trying to resolve one problem with the chance of creating a major one is a great risk, specially if we have another sources of power that doesn't represent a risk for human kind, and that can be easily used.
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      Jun 29 2012: My idea isn't the same. Modern reactors use uranium 235 and a neutron emitter to spark fission which, once the uranium is spent, leaves radioactive waste. My idea uses the thermonuclear device inside a hydrogen bomb which uses Lithium Dueteride as a fusion fuel and a little bit of uranium or Plutonium to help jump start fusion. This would be cleaner and, actually safer since layers are added to the core to act as control "rods". So, the nuclear reaction would be automatically controlled without electricity or human interference.