Mention these problems about nuclear energy to any nuclear cheerleader and they inevitably bring up the issue of nuclear fusion, usually with some absurd statement such as it being “30 years away”…which they’ve been saying for the last 60 years! The current timetable for Fusion is that the ITER magnetic confinement fusion experiment will come online in 2018. ITER will only be capable of sustaining Fusion energy pulses for periods no longer than 1,000 seconds, a significant technical step forward it should be said, but still some way from a system capable of running 24/7, and of course doing so commercially. The purpose of ITER is to essentially prove the concept as well as acting as a research tool, which will allow several of the outstanding technical barriers towards a commercial fusion reactor to be overcome. These experiments are expected to continue running until 2035. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iter#Objectives
One of the problems I have here is that ITER’s goal is merely to solve the Fusion Reactor side of the equation, and even then it will still require the follow on DEMO plant to come up with a “proper” fusion reactor….sometime between 2035-2045 if the current timetable is stuck too. However, everyone seems to be forgetting that even after we get DEMO working there’s the not so small matter of getting the heat energy out of the reactor and converting it into electricity. And of course doing so in an economically viable way. Fusion reactors using the Deuterium-Tritium route will produce a very high neutron flux, much like fast reactors (indeed some suggest the idea of using them for this very purpose) and they will likely suffer from the same problems that fast reactors have suffered (see myth VIII), i.e that the first generation of fusion plants (which we probably won’t see build until the latter half of this century…or indeed much later) will likely be expensive (to build and operate), complex, unreliable and with low load factors (off as much as they’re on). It will likely take a generation or two of Fusion power stations before we have something capable of operating in a reliable and economic manner, if of course it ever happens at all.
The way the nuclear advocates talk you’d swear we’d already developed nuclear fusion! The truth is we’re making progress yes, but it’s a case of slow and steady progress, and we’re still a long way still from achieving the necessary breakthroughs. Let’s not start counting our chickens before they’ve hatched!