Nuclear fusion ‘holy grail’ is not the answer to our energy prayers | Letters

Dr Mark Diesendorf questions the claim that nuclear fusion is safe and clean, while Dr Chris Cragg suspects true fusion power is a long way off. Plus letters from Dick Willis and Martin O’Donovan

You report on the alleged “breakthrough” on nuclear fusion, in which US researchers claim that break-even has been achieved (Breakthrough in nuclear fusion could mean ‘near-limitless energy’, 12 December). To go from break-even, where energy output is greater than 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, primarily solar and wind.

The claim by the researchers that nuclear fusion is safe and clean is incorrect. Laser fusion, particularly as a component of a fission-fusion hybrid 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 boost the explosive power of a fission explosion, making fission bombs smaller and hence more suitable for use in missile warheads. This information is available in open research literature.

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

• As someone who once wrote a critical report for the European parliament on fusion power back in the late 1980s, I hate to rain on Arthur Turrell’s splendid parade (The carbon-free energy of the future: this fusion breakthrough changes everything, 13 December).

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

However, I am prepared to bet that a true fusion power station is unlikely to be running before my grandchildren turn 70. After all, it has taken 60-odd years and huge amounts of money to get this far.
Dr Chris Cragg
London

• Arthur Turrell writes that achieving “net energy gain” has a psychological effect akin to a trumpet to the ear. Well, it might do to him but not to me. Yes, it’s a fantastic achievement for those scientists and engineers who have worked to achieve this proof on concept; well done them. But it will make not one jot of a positive difference to the challenges my children and grandchildren will face as a result of the climate crisis.

We only have years to achieve the changes that are necessary to avoid social catastrophe due to what’s happening to the biosphere, and that’s assuming it’s not already too late. Even the optimists understand that it will be decades before fusion power can contribute to the grid, regardless of this achievement.

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

• It is great news that scientists have succeeded in getting more energy out of fusion than they put in. It brings to mind a quote from a past director of the Central Electricity Generating Board: “One day you may get more energy out of nuclear fusion than you put in, but you will never get more money out than you put in.”
Martin O’Donovan
Ashtead, Surrey

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication.

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nuclear energy and alternatives old and new | Letters
Letters: Let’s go for an expansive renewable energy system, backed up with energy efficiency and energy storage, says David Blackburn. Plus Mike Ellwood on the integral fast reactor, and John Barstow on the case for keeping coal as a backup

Letters

14, Aug, 2019 @4:02 PM

Article image
UK energy strategy’s nuclear dangers and glaring omissions | Letters
Letters: Josie Bassinette on Sizewell C, Morag Carmichael on generational thinking, Bob Cannell on mini-nukes, Linda Rogers on Wylfa, Jon Reeds on tidal power, Malcolm Scott on anaerobic digestion and Ian Jones on energy from waste

Letters

10, Apr, 2022 @5:24 PM

Article image
Nuclear power is helping to drive the climate crisis | Letters
Letters: Linda Rogers says the CBI has its head in the sand over nuclear reactors and Iain Climie wants politicians prepared to fund action to combat the climate emergency

Letters

02, Jul, 2019 @4:43 PM

Article image
Nuclear energy is anything but clean | Letter
Letter: The nuclear power industry has successfully rebranded an appallingly toxic energy industry by never mentioning the terrible legacy of nuclear waste, writes Ann Denise Lanes

Letters

25, Aug, 2021 @5:06 PM

Article image
Hot on the trail of cold fusion as a solution to the climate crisis | Letter
Letter: With well-funded research, cold fusion has the potential to provide us with a sustainable source of energy, writes Prof Brian Josephson

Letters

13, Feb, 2020 @6:36 PM

Article image
Chances for progress towards a nuclear-free world | Letters
Letters: Bruce Kent of CND and Linda Rogers respond to Owen Jones’ article on Jeremy Corbyn and the UK’s nuclear weapons. Plus letters from Mike Clancy of Prospect, Frank Jackson and David Lowry

Letters

01, Apr, 2018 @5:17 PM

Article image
Nuclear option is not the best for energy transition away from Russian fuels | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to George Monbiot’s article about moving away from oil and gas to nuclear power – and reflect on other ways to limit dependency on Russia for fuel

Letters

10, Mar, 2022 @6:40 PM

Article image
Nuclear energy is key in fight for climate | Letter
Letter: Ignore the myths about nuclear power, writes Rob Loveday of Generation Atomic – it is an essential source of clean energy

Letters

31, Aug, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
Strategies for nuclear weapons and waste | Letters
Letters: It is essential that Europe does not become the arena for a build-up of nuclear weapons, writes Catherine West MP. It is surely time to bury the Micawber principle, says Professor Neil Hyatt

Letters

07, Aug, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
UK must take lead on nuclear weapons | Letters
Letters: The tide towards annihilation can be turned if the political will is there, writes CND general secretary Kate Hudson

Letters

17, Jul, 2018 @4:43 PM