Friday, 15 November 2013

It has been heralded as the solution to the decline in fossil fuels, the solution to global warming and the power source of the future. But is nuclear fusion really the best option for us to pursue?

Nuclear fusion works by harnessing the same reaction that occurs in the sun. Atoms of hydrogen are fused together to make helium, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. On Earth, scientists believe that we could achieve this using sea water, which would provide over 30 million years of fuel.

Fusion also produces high amounts of output energy from low amounts of input energy: the current record of gain is .7, meaning that the energy put in is returned, plus 70% more. The aim of fusion researchers is to create a reactor that can run without any input energy: a self-sufficient fusion plant. Producing no carbon dioxide or radioactive waste products, fusion is unlike fossil fuels and nuclear fission stations, such as the recently approved Hinkley Point C power plant, in that it is a clean source of power.

But is nuclear fusion the way forward? The ITER facility, currently under construction in southern France, is expected to inspire a transition from traditional energy production to an age of commercial fusion reactors. However, the cost of this facility alone is very high: as of July 2013, it is expected to cost €15 billion. Some scientists and politicians believe that the cost of fusion research is too high to justify what is, in essence, an experiment. There is no guarantee that these projects will even achieve their goal of making this experimental technology viable for public use. The question we must ask ourselves is simple: is it worth spending so much money on research projects that may or may not yield results?

The costs come not from the fuel, but from the reactors themselves. Fusion reactors use rings of incredibly strong electromagnets to pinch and squeeze the hydrogen gasses in order to produce the temperatures required for the process to take place (200m degrees.) This hi-tech equipment not only costs millions to produce, but is also unreliable and must be maintained in order to keep the reactor running safely. Even if commercial fusion reactors were developed, each one would cost potentially billions in order to build and maintain. However, many people believe that these costs are a necessary sacrifice in order to future proof our energy industry against the inevitable demise of fossil fuels.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A few weeks ago, following our trips to the recycling plant and EcoTech centre, we gave a presentation on what we have been up to and our future plans with the Eco group to our local MP, Mr Peter Aldous, as well as our school's guests from India - the head teachers of Him Academy Public School.

I was hoping the whole process would run smoothly, but our first problem was when we first arrived at our presentation room - there was no computer or projector. Once we finally got a computer and projector and set them up to work (with only 7 minutes until the presentation) we encountered another problem which was purely down to my wrong-doings! The night before, when I was making the PowerPoints, I had three which were all linked together; a main one with pictures from the trips and using the solar panel, a one with depressing info graphics on global warming and climate change, and one to accommodate the points talked about by my friends, Tom and Tom.

Upon setting up the computer I went to open the presentations when I found that I had forgot to bring in the main PowerPoint, with the pictures! Quickly we had to throw together a PowerPoint for that time slot in the presentation which would fit in okay.

Other than these few problems, the presentation went excellent! By the looks of things our guests were impressed and we had done well. After our presentation our guests from India did a presentation on composting which was very interesting and we will definitely be taking some of their ideas!

We would like to thank Mr Peter Aldous and the Head Teachers of Him Academy Public School for taking the time to come to our school and listening to what we had to say about everything we have done.