Every month, many of us experience the joy of gritting teeth, shaking hands, and anticipation as we see that our monthly electrical bill has arrived. I know that, other than what we pay for our mortgage or rent, the monthly electrical bill can take more out of our income than any other bill. In some instances it can even determine if we have to make the choice to eat, purchase needed prescriptions, or keep the heat on. With this in mind, I am sure that many of us can’t help but wonder just how much higher the rates can go before we choose to let them shut off our lights and live by oil lamp. Sound far fetched to you? Believe me when I say it isn’t; eventually, those trying to make ends meet on a fixed income or paycheck will find it nearly impossible to stretch their disposable incomes to meet the current inflation rate. However, don’t be discouraged; there is some good news on the horizon.
This news is the result of researchers searching for a way to safely provide affordable energy. They spent decades looking for alternatives to our current sources of energy in hopes that had been hinged on either fossil fuels or nuclear energy. What they knew was that neither of these fuels were the best alternative. In fact, the use of nuclear power plants have become a real concern and many people fear their potential to leak radioactive materials. In addition, people question what is being done with the radioactive fuel generated by these plants since the spent fuel remains radioactive for hundreds of years.
However, burning fossil fuels such as coal pollutes the atmosphere and, many claim, contributes to what is being called global warming.
With this in mind, researchers are looking to a future where a new source of energy by way of fusion — the opposite of the fission that takes place in current nuclear power plants — may provide us with clean and less polluting energy. This new technology works by taking two small particles and then heating these particles to extremely high temperatures, which results in them bonding together. As the result of this fusing of particles, energy is released. Researchers assure us that this process is safe and, if something were to go wrong during the fusion process, the process would stop automatically with no human intervention.
These same researchers also tell us that the problem of waste disposal would take a backseat since a fusion plant would only produce a small fraction of the material that is currently being pumped out by nuclear power plants. This means that the disposal and storage costs of fusion vs. fisson waste could potentially save electrical companies millions of dollars which, given the trickle-down effect, should be passed down to the consumer. Another plus of this type of plant is seen in its effects on the environment. Apparently, the waste from a fusion plant will dissipate in a mere 50 to 100 years vs. the estimated time of hundreds of years for fisson plant waste to dissipate. Though this in itself is not an ideal solution, it is a step forward in our efforts to clean up and maintain the environment.
So why hasn’t fusion technology been put to use in more areas? According to some researchers, funding for fusion has been cut every year, which poses a problem for the advancement of fusion as an energy source. However, the scientific community has used the funds that have been granted to make great strides in the development of thermal containment, which is essential to controlling the fusion process. However, some rather daunting problems remain. The major one revolves around controlling the heat produced in the fusion process since it can create temperatures that are hotter than the sun. That means that researchers still need to discover a means to cool the particles before fusion can be used as a reliable energy source.
Considering the remaining obstacles, one must wonder if fusion will even be a viable source for energy, or if these scientists are mainly looking for more funding to play with their own private experiments? I don’t really think so. I think that these scientists are dedicated to solving the fusion problem and, having made this their life goal, should be recognized for their efforts.
So this is the dilemma with which we find ourselves. Is it worth the effort and expense to continue the fusion project, or would you rather continue to grit your teeth every time you hold that outrageous electrical bill in your hand? What do you think?
Source: PHYS ORG
CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by mbambule