an “energy utopia” too late to “save” us, some researchers believe

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The major breakthrough in nuclear fusion, announced earlier this month, has boosted the hopes of scientists and politicians to build the world’s first nuclear fusion power plant by 2030. But other scientists, more pessimistic or realistic, warn of the energy “holy grail” represented by this energy source. According to them, it would already be too late to get us out of the energy and climate crises we are entangled in.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated a milestone in harnessing fusion power on December 13, describing how scientists were able to produce more energy than needed to get it going for the first time.

According to EE newsU.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at a DOE ceremony celebrating the results of an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: This step brings us one step closer to the carbon-free fusion energy that powers our society and a pilot reactor by 2030, according to DOE estimates.

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All experts stress the importance of the discovery, but point out that there are many technical and scientific challenges ahead to make fusion viable. Commercial fusion, they say, will likely take several decades to achieve, raising questions about how quickly technology can play a role in decarbonizing electricity.

Recently, several journals have published letters from scientists warning about the “holy grail” of nuclear fusion, even suspecting a revival of this technology in the nuclear weapons industry.

A technological feat too late to “save the planet”

Ecologist and specialist in renewable energy Mark Diesendorf from the University of New South Wales in Australia, explains in a letter published by The Guardian : ” Going from break-even, where energy production is greater than total energy input, to a commercial nuclear fusion reactor can take at least 25 years “. He adds: “At that point, the entire world could be powered by safe and clean renewable energy, primarily solar and wind “.

The energy prowess is certainly a major advance for the pure study of nuclear fusion and a highlight of American skill. Nevertheless, it is a challenge that is far from overcome, as we are still deprived of the means to do so, when it comes to the implementation on the scale of an entire country, and so for the whole world, while ensuring that this energy is affordable. Chris Cragg points out in a letter to Guardian : ” I’m willing to bet that a real fusion power plant is unlikely to work until my grandchildren are 70. After all, it took about 60 years and huge sums of money to get here. “.

In fact, the time scales involved in the development of fusion as an energy source are too large to solve the most pressing climate problems, which involve an immediate reduction of carbon emissions.

This is what Aneeqa Khan, a nuclear fusion researcher at the University of Manchester, tells us Forbes : ” Fusion will come too late to deal with the climate crisis. We are already facing the devastation of climate change on a global scale, just looking at the floods in Pakistan, droughts in China and Europe this summer “.

A breakthrough that hides our passivity

Experts point out that carbon reductions cannot wait years or decades to begin. The world is facing an acceleration of climate change, loss of biodiversity, degradation of natural habitats, in addition to economic, social and political crises. The world that was hoped for after the COVID-19 pandemic is the opposite.

Dick Willis from the University of Bristol says: We only have a few years to make the changes necessary to avoid the social catastrophe of what is happening to the biosphere, and that is assuming it is not already too late. Even optimists understand that it will be decades before fusion power can contribute to the grid, whatever that achievement might be. “. He adds pointedly: Meanwhile, the headlines following this result only serve to placate and distract from the urgency of what needs to be done now. “.

A long history in the nuclear weapons industry

You should know that the technological breakthrough celebrated earlier this month was achieved by the US national ignition facility, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The latter was founded in 1952 after the explosion of an atomic bomb by the Soviet Union in 1949.

In this context, the danger associated with this “clean and safe” energy research, according to Mark Diesendorf, is clear. In short, future fusion reactors could provide military powers with new ways to generate the raw materials for nuclear bombs.

As he explains in his letter, nuclear fusion can produce neutrons that are used to make the nuclear explosives plutonium-239, uranium-235 and uranium-233. He emphasizes: ” It could also produce tritium, a form of heavy hydrogen used to increase the explosive power of nuclear fission, making fission bombs smaller and therefore more suitable for use in missile warheads. “.

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