Sunday, January 27, 2013

South Korea is betting on nuclear fusion

I opened with a lament in Where's my retro future?
Flying cars aren't alone among examples of things Americans thought we'd have by now; Popular Science has an entire slideshow of technologies people expected would exist by now, including personal jetpacks, nuclear fusion, and robot armies, along with reasons why they haven't appeared. Too bad, as nuclear fusion would come in very handy right now.
I repeated that lament in Nuclear fusion; better news than flying cars, elaborating on it with a quote from the Popular Science slideshow.
Don't hold your breath for this one. “It's been 35 years away for half a century, and it's still 35 years away. And I suspect 35 years from now it will still be 35 years away,” said Seife, “If you look at civilizations in 2500, then I wouldn't be surprised if they used fusion.
I tempered that estimate with some cautious optimism after taking into consideration a scientific breakthrough I quoted in the post.
This discovery may solve a scientific problem with fusion that will cut off five years from the 35 mentioned above. As for the engineering, financial, and political problems, I those are still worth ten years each. Still, thirty years is better than thirty-five, so it's reason to hope.
It looks like South Korea has decided that thirty years is doable, as Nature Magazine reprinted in Scientific American reports.

South Korea Makes Billion-Dollar Bet on Fusion Power
A fusion power demonstration reactor to be built in the 2030s in collaboration with the DoE's Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, represents a step toward commercial use
By Soo Bin Park and Nature magazine
South Korea has embarked on the development of a preliminary concept design for a fusion power demonstration reactor in collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in New Jersey.

The project is provisionally named K-DEMO (Korean Demonstration Fusion Power Plant), and its goal is to develop the design for a facility that could be completed in the 2030s in Daejeon, under the leadership of the country’s National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI).

South Korea is already developing the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (K-STAR) project and contributing to ITER, the €15-billion (US$20-billion) experimental reactor being built in Cadarache, France, under the auspices of an international collaboration. K-DEMO is intended to be the next step toward commercial reactors and would be the first plant to actually contribute power to an electric grid.
That's more optimistic than I expected, as even 2039 would be less than 30 years away.  Of course, South Korea managed to hurtle the obstacles in reverse order from how I listed them--political first and then financial, letting the engineering and scientific ones take care of themselves later.  Maybe that's the problem.  Everyone else is waiting for the science before committing the money and mustering the political will.


  1. The robot armies are well underway.

    1. Well, the robot air force is just about here. I'm not sure about robot soldiers.