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February 05, 2011

Quickly reviewing the scale of money spent on different energy


The IEA world energy outlook discusses the money spent subsidizing renewables and all other types of energy

Energy is not cheap. There is a recent estimate that $25 trillion will need to be put into building what is needed to meet global energy demand increases between 2010 and 2030. A lot of that money will still go to more coal power plants. Perhaps one or two trillion will go to conventional nuclear power. 120 nuclear fission reactors could be built by 2020 for about $300-500 billion.



China and other countries will spend a few billion per year researching new nuclear fission technology. Factory built modular reactors and breeder reactors are being developed.

ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, tokomak fusion funding

As of 13 July 2010, the total price of constructing the experiment is expected to be in excess of € 15 billion. Only a year earlier that estimate was € 10 billion. Prior to that, the proposed costs for ITER were € 5 billion for the construction and € 5 billion for maintenance and the research connected with it during its 35 year lifetime. At the June 2005 conference in Moscow the participating members of the ITER cooperation agreed on the following division of funding contributions: 45% by the hosting member, the European Union and the rest split between China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA (the non-hosting members). During the operation and deactivation phases, Euratom will contribute to 34% of the total costs.

Although Japan's financial contribution as a non-hosting member is 1/11th of the total, the EU agreed to grant it a special status so that Japan will provide for 2/11th of the research staff at Cadarache and be awarded 2/11th of the construction contracts, while the European Union's staff and construction components contributions will be cut from 5/11th to 4/11th.

It was reported in December 2010 that the European Parliament has refused to approve a plan by Member states to reallocate 1.4bn euros from the budget to cover a shortfall in ITER building costs in 2012-13. Closure of the 2010 budget means this financing plan will have to be revised and the European Commission (EC) will put forward an ITER budgetary resolution proposal next year.

There are a few hundred million that does to funding the laser fusion programs around the world.

There are a few tens of million per year that goes to magnetized target fusion and zpinch efforts (mainly government and university programs).

There has been about a combined total of 20 million over twenty years for private or partially private efforts to IEC fusion and dense plasma focus fusion.

60 million has been raised by Tri-alpha energy for reversed field configuration fusion.

All the money on the smaller fusion programs would not pay for one year of work on the ITER and would not buy one conventional nuclear fission or coal or hydro power plant. It is also far less than one day of the financial support given to currently uneconomic renewable power.

There are non-electric uses of nuclear fusion such as transmutation of materials using the neutrons which could close the fuel cycle for nuclear fission.

Things like factory mass produced modular deep burn nuclear fission could be developed in ten years with reasonable funding levels and with minimal technical risk.

What it would take to get mainstream nuclear fission to the cost level of about 1.3-1.7 cents per kwh (including construction costs)

$1000/kw capital costs, 2 year construction, 80 year life, reduced fuel costs 2 cents/kwh for new construction, plus less waste handling with deep burn. I believe this will achievable in China and possibly with Russian reactors (with capital costs of about $1400-1600 per kw now). The faster two year construction times are coming. Annular fuel (dual cooled fuel developed at MIT) would also improve the economics of conventional reactors. Breeder reactors and offsite reprocessing can be used to close the conventional fuel cycle. It appears that China has committed billions per year with a 20-30 year plan that would achieve this super-cost effective nuclear fission infrastructure. China has factory mass production of pebble bed reactors and conventional reactors on the roadmap and in development and thorium molten salt reactors, breeder reactors, closing the fuel cycle with reprocessing and lowering the costs of energy. South Korea is developing annual fuel and ultra uprates of existing reactors.

Inertial electrostatic fusion – robert bussard before his death got rid of the magnetic grids to enable 100,000 times lower losses. They now have 8 million in US Navy funding. Dr Nebel now leads the project and indicates two years to confirm fusion only commercializability. IEC reactor would be very small. This system could lower energy costs by five times.

The smaller (300 Megawatt or less) nuclear fission reactors may be needed to break the bottleneck in the USA to development of more nuclear fission by enabling regular utilities to have smaller projects that they can more easily fund themselves.

Tri-alpha energy and Helion energy- Working on field reversed configuration colliding beam fusion. Tri-alpha got funded with over $40 million and has been secretive but may make some announcements this year. Helion built a one third demo and is raising more funds. Note: Helion energy’s reactor would be far smaller than ITER. As tall as a man but about 50 meters long.

General Fusion in Canada with about $30 million. A magnetized target fusion variant.

Dense Plasma Focus fusion- $1.2 million project 2009-2010 and raised another million or two in 2010 for 2011-2012. Lawrenceville plasma physics. using plasmoid nuclear pinch with about a billion gauss to get high temperatures overcome x-ray losses. This system directly converts to electricity (does not use thermal conversion). It would potentially be the cheapest system if it is successful. Fifty times lower energy cost is possible. Also, it has commercially profitable outs as a better neutron source if it comes up short for energy generation.

Muon fusion continues in Japan. 40% energy return now. They are trying to tweak it to achieve better return.

The big laser fusion projects and ITER tokomak are multi-decade projects. I think ITER is inferior to deep burn fission by itself.

Low energy nuclear reactions (cold fusion) are an interesting wild card that is also being developed with virtually no funding.



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