‘Holy Grail’ Nuclear Fusion Isn’t the Answer to Our Energy Prayers

You report on the so-called “breakthrough” in nuclear fusion, in which US researchers say the break-even point has been reached (Breakthrough in nuclear fusion could mean “almost unlimited energy”, December 12). Going from the break-even point, where the energy production is greater than the total energy input, to a commercial nuclear fusion reactor could take at least 25 years. By then, the whole world could be powered by safe and clean renewable energy, mainly solar and wind.

The researchers’ assertion that nuclear fusion is safe and clean is incorrect. Laser fusion, particularly as a component of a hybrid fission-fusion reactor, can produce neutrons that can be used to produce the nuclear explosives plutonium-239, uranium-235, and uranium-233. It could also produce tritium, a form of heavy hydrogen, which is used to increase the explosive power of a fission explosion, making fission bombs smaller and therefore more suitable for use in missile warheads. This information is available in the open search literature.

The US National Ignition Facility, which carried out the research, is part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which has a history of involvement with nuclear weapons.
Dr. Mark Diesendorf
University of New South Wales

• As someone who once wrote a critical report for the European Parliament on fusion energy in the late 1980s, I hate to rain on Arthur Turrell’s magnificent parade (Carbonless Energy of the Future: this fusion breakthrough changes everything, December 13).

It is indeed good news that the US National Ignition Facility has achieved a “net energy gain” of 1.1 MJ from an inertial confinement fusion device using lasers. In this regard, what is really nice is that the community can now focus on this type of reactor, rather than other designs like the tokamak.

However, I’m willing to bet that a real fusion power plant is unlikely to be working until my grandchildren are 70. After all, it took about 60 years and huge sums of money to get here.
Dr. Chris Cragg
London

• Arthur Turrell writes that achieving a “net energy gain” has a psychological effect similar to a trumpet in the ear. Well, it might hurt him but not me. Yes, this is a fantastic achievement for the scientists and engineers who worked to achieve this proof of concept; kudos to them. But it will make no positive difference to the challenges my children and grandchildren will face due to the climate crisis.

We only have years to make the changes needed to avoid the social catastrophe of what happens to the biosphere, and that’s assuming it’s not already too late. Even optimists understand that it will be decades before fusion power can contribute to the grid, whatever that achievement may be.

Meanwhile, the headlines that followed that result, Turrell’s psychological trumpet, merely serve to reassure and distract from the urgency of what needs to be done now.
Dick Willis
Bristol

• It’s great news that scientists have managed to extract more energy from fusion than they put in. It reminds me of a quote from a former director of the Central Electricity Generating Board: “One day you can get more energy from nuclear fusion. than you invest, but you will never withdraw more money than you invest.
Martin O’Donovan
Ashtead, Surrey

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