Nextbigfuture has tracked and analyzed nuclear fusion, nuclear fission and other energy.
Nextbigfuture has written hundreds of articles about air pollution and the problems with coal, oil and natural gas. Air pollution is bad and indoor and outdoor air pollution causes 7 million deaths per year. Poverty is worse and causes about 18 million deaths per year. Thus getting inexpensive energy from burnable dirt (coal) to lift a nation out of poverty is actually a net gain. This especially true if the energy can be cleaned up as soon as possible.
The USA and UK had very dirty air from 1880-1970 and then cleaned up their air. China has very dirty air from 1970-2020 but should have fairly clean air by 2030.
Cheap, Clean Energy Would Be Great
The World spends about $6 trillion a year buying energy and building energy. If we cleaned up the fossil fuels we would save 7 million lives per year. However, fossil fuels are 80% of global energy usage. If we can make energy half as expensive, then the world might spend $3 trillion per year instead of $6 trillion.
In 2013, Nextbigfuture noted that the world should not have debates which treat money for energy research as scarce. The World spends about $100 billion per year on energy research.
Energy research and development (angels and venture capitalists) in the USA is about $10 billion per year. Worldwide it is about $50-100 billion (government and industry). For a $6 trillion per year industry with an average of 2% for research, there should be $300 billion being spent on energy research.
The top countries in research (Japan, Israel) by percent of GDP spend 3.5-4.2% on research. Get energy right and the world can double the entire economy. Instead of targeting double the world energy and world economy in 2040, we could target triple or quadruple. With energy that is four times cheaper then we have a lot of energy for clean water and other ways to change the world for the better. We would have the energy and money for space.
Energy is money. The energy efficiency of an economy is slow changing relationship between GDP per unit of energy used.
Natural gas became low cost and abundant because of fracking and horizontal drilling. This shows that technology can shift energy markets and the cost of energy within a few years.
We can target transforming nuclear fission energy with factory mass-produced deep burn (burn 99+% of the uranium, plutonium or thorium) with a cost of 1 cent or less per kWh. Deeper burn breeder reactors that are about three times more efficient with Uranium have been created.
China will soon be mass producing deep pool nuclear fission reactors that will be walkaway safe and have costs of about 1.65 cents per kwh of thermal heat. Regular nuclear reactors for electricity can get down to $2500 per kilowatt in China for the Hualong 1 reactors. China is down to 2.5 to 3 cents per kwh for existing nuclear fission when the interest rate for financing is 3%.
Cheap energy is good for humanity. Inexpensive nuclear fission with less nuclear waste is achievable. There are less technical questions than for reaching a commercial nuclear fusion breakthrough. Using a baseball analogy, we should continue to go for energy projects that get singles and doubles. However, going for home runs with breakthrough 99% deep burn nuclear fission and for commercial nuclear fusion should still be done.
Fairly predictable energy and transportation projects with relatively low technical risk:
Converting all new cars to electric cars. Tesla has made 1 million electric cars and there are about 5 million electric cars on the roads now. Electric cars can be used for 1 million miles of driving because they have fewer moving parts and easier maintenance.
Electrifying transportation can happen faster than replacing all new (100 million per year) and used cars and trucks (1.5+ billion old cars and trucks). We can convert the ridesharing vehicles to electric first.
Trucks use far more fuel and generate far more pollution than cars. The Tesla Semi could allow trucks to be converted to electric and get polluting trucks away from cities where most people live.
Electrifying vehicles would stop the use of about 15-20 million barrels per day of oil.
Converting coal plants for heating in Northern China to nuclear district heating reactors could stop the burning of up to 500 million tons of coal each year.
ThorCon is working on mass production of a molten salt nuclear reactor. Molten Salt nuclear reactors were built and operated in the 1960s in the USA at a few megawatts of power.
About 15% of the World’s nuclear waste (unburned uranium) is reprocessed every year. China has plans to scale up reprocessing to close the nuclear fission fuel cycle. This would involve building many breeder reactors. Breeder reactors have been built and operated. There are improved versions that have been funded and are in development and construction.
Mass production of conventional nuclear fission reactors could see 500-1000 Gigawatts of nuclear power by about 2060 and if breeders and reprocessing facilities are built the fuel cycle can be closed. The main place this will happen is in China. If China does not choose a mass nuclear fission route then the nuclear fission industry will be far less unless there are energy project breakthroughs.
If we are managing the World’s energy project portfolio, then we should increase overall energy research to $300-600 billion each year. The molten salt fission reactors and district heating deep pool reactors should be developed. About 5-10% of overall research should go for various nuclear fusion projects. More technologies should be explored because there will be the benefits from reduced air pollution damage (economic, lives and health) and from the economic cost of more expensive energy.
Correcting a Critic About My Nuclear Fusion Coverage
Daniel Jassby is a research physicist, who worked on nuclear fusion experiments for 25 years at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. Daniel has written a paper which he has published at Vixra called “Voodoo Fusion Energy”.
Daniel cites about 15 of my nuclear fusion articles and ignores where I had critical articles of nuclear fusion, summaries of fusion and contextual analysis. My summaries and criticism occurred many years before Daniel’s article. Daniel himself is a massive hypocrite. He worked on the goal of nuclear fusion experiments for 25 years and did not start calling it out publicly until 18 years after he retired.
Of the nearly 30,000 articles that I have written on Nextbigfuture, I have written about 700 about nuclear fusion and are tagged with fusion as a category. There are nearly 2000 articles on energy.
Daniel complains in the 15 articles, I did not slam each project as they were being announced.
Daniel got paid for 25 years working on nuclear fusion and has been retired since 1999. Daniel could have written about each nuclear fusion startup as they announce and criticize timelines and proposals as they are made. However, he did not. He has written two articles for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist. One slams the ITER project and another claims that even if nuclear fusion energy is commercialized that it will not be that good.
So Daniel chose to get paid for 25 years working towards a goal that he now claims sucks.
Nextbigfuture Has Cited Delays, Technical Risks and Other Problems for Years Before Daniel’s Voodoo Fusion Article
Daniel ignored the multiple Nextbigfuture fusion summaries and analysis articles. He cherry-picked the 3% of the articles on announcements.
In 2018, one of the bold sub-titles noted the problems and large delays in schedules.
Most of the venture-funded possibilities for breakthrough nuclear fusion have stalled or have slow progress
I note in the summaries that schedules slipped and work is proceeding more slowly than claimed. I had a summary of fusion projects in 2010.
Daniel claimed I was always uncritical. This is false. I also provided better summaries and analysis than Daniel has. I would also note that Daniel is a hypocrite for taking 25 years of salary from Princeton Plasma Physics Lab before choosing to be critical of the goal and projects. Is Daniel going to give back part of his salary to the taxpayers that partially fund Princeton?
For the last dozen years, Wang has quoted uncritically predictions of future
accomplishments with dates furnished by project promoters. Wang treats all projects
and unjustified claims seriously, but you, dear reader, will merely take note of the dates
promised for commercial fusion reactors.
In 2010, I noted Eric Drexler’s criticism of the Tokomak and some other nuclear fusion projects.
Eric : As several of you have noted, what I say about “fusion power” is really about tokamaks, the dominant approach to fusion today. I’ve been following the evolution of fusion power concepts, including the many alternative approaches, for decades now. All machines that look more-or-less like current tokamaks (stellarators, for example) would have similar capital-cost problems.
Laser-driven inertial confinement schemes are different but have led to sketches of power plants that again seem highly implausible.
Bussard suggested several fusion-machine concepts, including a scheme for a very different kind of tokamak (with a small, disposable core), and, of course, the entirely different Polywell approach. There’s not much in print about Polywell, at a technical level, but from what I‘ve read, (1) I’d give long odds against the proposition that the scheme actually makes physical, technological sense, and (2) I’m glad to see that it’s being investigated more closely.
I said in 2010. I think ITER is inferior to deep burn fission by itself. I promoted deep burn fission and getting to faster construction times and annular nuclear fuel and other improvement to reach 1-2 cents per kilowatt hour with minimal waste.
Nextbigfuture has written articles about bad claims from ITER and nuclear fusion startups.
The hope and speculation is that after DEMO’s a country could then proceed to make a commercial fusion reactor prototype. But the science and physics could complicate things and another pre-prototype could be needed.
So multiple pre-prototype projects out to 2060. Say four countries each with their own $100-200 billion project out to 2060.
Then prototypes out to 2070. This is all assuming the technology is working.
In 2012 European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) presented a roadmap to fusion power with a plan showing the dependencies of DEMO activities on ITER and IFMIF
Conceptual design to be complete in 2020
Engineering design complete, and decision to build, in 2030
Construction from 2031 to 2043
Operation from 2044, Electricity generation demonstration 2048
So now with the eight year delay in ITER, Nextbigfuture added the time to 2012 DEMO first commercial fusion reactor plan
Conceptual design to be complete in 2028
Engineering design complete, and decision to build, in 2038
Construction from 2039 to 2051
Operation from 2052, Electricity generation demonstration 2056
Daniel has written two articles for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (anti-nuclear weapon organization.)
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.