I am writing an EPQ about Nuclear Fusion and I need some help :)

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EgorTerl
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Hello,
I am writing a 5000 word dissertation on the essay title: "To what extent can Tokamaks such as the ITER be an efficient and sustainable energy source within the next 20 years?" and I need some help.

I am quite stuck on what to write about. So far, my only main section is the Chemistry Section which consists of my writing about containment (containing plasma, the high temperatures and the radioactive discharge).

I was thinking of writing about the environmental side of things, or maybe the political side of things, but I would ideally prefer to look into the more chemistry/physics side of things.

Help would be appreciated.

Many thanks.
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TSR Jessica
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Sorry you've not had any responses about this. Are you sure you've posted in the right place? Here's a link to our subject forum which should help get you more responses if you post there.
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artful_lounger
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Well the environmental side of things incorporates elements of the physics and chemistry necessarily, so that is isn't the case that one is to the exclusion of the other. Although it's been a long time since I looked at that material I did use that as a topic for a couple of short presentations in first year when I was studying engineering, so off the top of my head some things to consider:

1. Radioactive waste from the materials used to build the tokamak: as I recall the cladding or walls of the tokamak will over time become irradiated by neutrinos and structurally weakened, but will become radioactive as a result, so this creates requirements for nuclear waste storage and decommissioning which is expensive and requires planning not only in terms of how it might affect the environment it is stored in, but also how environmental change will affect it (see the issues with the Marshall Islands nuclear waste storage with respect to rising ocean levels). There are also political issues involved with this (where is this material going to be stored - are there people nearby? Also will it just be shipped off to be stored in some second or third world country, and potentially cause problems for a different community than the one reaping the benefits of the reactors?) that can be evaluated.

2. Sources for the fusion material: while as I recall the deuterium and tritium (and I think there was some isotope of lithium or something that could be used as well) used in fusion are naturally occurring, extracting it is an endeavour unto itself. With water scarcity already being a major issue, figuring out how to incorporate the industrial scale extraction required for obtaining enough deuterium or tritium might be an issue. There are various environmental, socio- and geopolitical and also technical (engineering/science) based limitations here that can be considered.

3. In relation to the above, scalability and implementation: currently all fusion reactors and work on it is experimental I believe, purely existing in academic contexts. Even assuming that stable fusion is able to be achieved, how easy will it be to build these kinds of tokamaks for widespread energy generation for the general public?

Many of the materials and structures involved are rare and/or expensive, and may entail an enormous amount of energy in the first place to produce and generate. Additionally some of the materials used may have environmental effects, or be subject to geopolitical influences, due to their extraction, production, or active usage, e.g. cryogenic gases needed to cool magnets, the rare earth metals that might need to be used to manufacture said magnets, etc.

Also there are economic issues of scalability, there are no current factories making these of course - how much will need to be invested to create these, who will put up that money initially (the government? private sector?), and are there any existing production and supply chains that could be co-opted for this use (e.g. some components may be able to use the same supply chains as MR manufacturers or be made by them as an additional range of products they offer).

4. economic disruption: how will these affect other energy sector activities? Will we see a collapse in the value of oil for example? What kind of knock on effects would this have politically and environmentally? Will we see a "two tier" energy society where certain countries use the fusion reactors while others still rely on fossil fuels and other "old" sources of energy - and if so who will end up on which side of that coin? Could there be military activity directed towards fusion generators and the countries using them by those who stand to lose from them being adopted?
Last edited by artful_lounger; 1 month ago
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