The Coastal Post - January, 1997

Fusion—Too Hot To Handle

By Jim Scanlon

When nuclear power first came on the scene in the 1950s, it was promoted as a power source which would make electrical power, "too cheap to monitor."

Gradually the hidden costs of safely operating conventional (light water) nuclear power plants and safely disposing of their toxic dangerous byproducts became known and the industry has stagnated.

French and Japanese efforts to operate experimental "Fast Breeder" nuclear power plants, or systems which produce more nuclear fuel (plutonium) than they use, have proven unfeasible and highly dangerous.

Radiation weakens metal pipes which must carry liquid sodium coolant, and sodium burns or explodes when it comes in contact with water vapor or water. A serious sodium leak in a Japanese plant was covered up and a false report of the incident was deliberately presented to the media.

During all this time, up to the present, U.S. and Soviet efforts to experiment with obtaining power from nuclear fusion received little notice-and little success-although billions of dollars have been spent.

A debate on a new phase of this project, the International

Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) was held in the pages of Physics Today (June 1996). In the December issue, a Munich based scientist, criticized the debaters for not having mentioned several serious problems associated with fusion power generation.

It has been long known that any reactor using deuterium (heavy water) would have to be large and very expensive due to the need to deal with high energy neutrons.

These neutrons make any material containing the reactor highly radioactive, in addition to making it structurally weak. Planning for the commercial version calls for replacing the containment walls of the chamber every two years. This would result in the necessity of disposing of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Tritium (a radioactive gas and an ingredient of Hydrogen Bombs) fuel would lie in a "blanket" of lithium which adsorbs neutrons. Lithium, like sodium burns or explodes upon contact with any water. So any accident has a great potential for disaster.

It appears that fusion power, like the other types of nuclear power generation hyped as producing electricity "too cheap to monitor" is "too hot to handle."