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Proponents Push Fusion Power as Renewable Energy Source

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Atomic Energy Agency and ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Organization have signed a Cooperation Agreement, which aims to further the development of fusion nuclear energy. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA the signing ceremony took place within the context of the 22nd Fusion Energy Conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the "Atoms for Peace" conference, which was held at the United Nations in Geneva. The conference provided a practical platform for scientists to come together, to share research and findings in the interest of all peoples.

Though the first conference took place in the midst of the Cold War, discussions were held on declassified activities of nuclear fusion. Today, the Cold War is over, and research and development into fusion energy has advanced thanks to the close collaboration of countries that were not always on the best of terms.

Kaname Ikeda is the Director General of the ITER, International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Organization. He says the European Union, United States, Russia, Japan, China, Korea and India are committed to build the huge ITER machine.

"It takes 10 years for construction and 20 years for operation and commissioning and so on. It is a long-term project and we count on support from member parties according to ITER agreement, international treaty," he said.

The fusion energy reactor is being built in Cadarache, southern France, near the French nuclear center at a cost of $13 billion.

Fusion is the process that powers the sun and other stars. It is the reaction in which two light atoms, such as atoms of hydrogen, combine or fuse to form a heavier atom, such as an atom of helium. In the process, some of the mass of the hydrogen is converted into energy.

For years scientists have been trying to use controlled fusion as an energy source because the fuel is widely available and the reaction is relatively clean, but the process has required more energy to trigger the process than was released as an end product.

The deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yury Sokolov, says fusion technology, unlike fission, is benign and fits in nicely with the IAEA's mandate of promoting nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

"In fusion, in principle, we are not working with fissile material in fusion. So, a lot of concerns connected with non-proliferation are not relevant to fusion. Waste management is much simplified in comparison with fission. Also, fusion is using tritium, but, again, this is not fissile material. This is not the material, which can initiate nuclear bomb," said Sokolov.

Scientists say fusion energy would be an affordable and environmentally attractive source of electric power. They say fusion would not produce any "greenhouse" gases as do fossil fuels and would not contribute to global warming.

Once fusion energy is developed, they say it will become an important part of a larger energy mix, which does not harm the environment.

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