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At the moment, with the growing demand for clean energy, society is investing more money into green technologies like wind and solar. In my opinion this looks like a waste of time: isn't it smarter to invest more money in nuclear fusion?
The promise of nuclear fusion is huge: clean, safe energy. And lots of it. So why bother with the less efficient technologies that take WAY more space (wind and solar farms) to power a country?

I understand that nuclear fusion is difficult and there is still research going on. But take for example the ITER project: almost all big and powerful nations working together on this. The current building costs are at US$14 billion. This sounds rather small to me knowing that the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States are all working on this.

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closed as off-topic by Burki, bilbo_pingouin, JDługosz, AndreiROM, DaaaahWhoosh Dec 8 '15 at 14:27

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Burki, bilbo_pingouin, JDługosz, AndreiROM, DaaaahWhoosh
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Currently, this question will most likely receive a couple of close votes, as it is not about world building. Also, it is entirely opinion-based. Since the question as such is interesting, though, may i suggest you re-phrase it so it matches the rules? $\endgroup$ – Burki Dec 8 '15 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ ITER is a political quagmire and will never get anything done. Had coordinated and properly-managed research been funded, we might have had working magnetic confinement already. OTOH, I have a working 10kW solar plant that will pay for itself in a few years. You're crazy not to buy solar as an investment, since it's available now. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 8 '15 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ Off topic? I think it could be phrased as worldbuilding. Focus on what would need to be different rather than whynit is this way for us, and use something like alternate-history tags. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 8 '15 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ There is no guarantee that a future technology will be clean, safe, or feasible until it is already done and rolled out for years. Nuclear fission seemed to be clean and safe, too - turns out there are some issues after all. Meanwhile solar and wind already work and people just try to make them more efficient, cheaper, and flexible/reliable. Finally, they also have different (though overlapping) applications - large-scale fusion does nothing for things not attached directly to the grid, while solar and others have the potential for off-grid uses. $\endgroup$ – BrianH Dec 8 '15 at 14:37
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People are investing in solar and wind instead of fusion because fusion power is not currently available and won't be available on a schedule that has significant effect on solar or wind. I'd assume that it has an effect when considering building of fission power plants since those have lifetimes long enough for potential future technology to matter. But with solar or wind you expect to get your investment back long before fusion is relevant.

And if fusion was close enough to compromise the ability get the money back on new power, all that would mean would be increased price of electricity as investors adjust pricing to make money back faster. You'd still need to build the power plants to cover the demand even if something better was available in the future.

Also the type of fusion used in ITER while better understood and whence more likely to work than alternatives seems to require large and expensive installations. The roll out of fusion power would probably be relatively slow. I doubt it would be significantly faster than natural removal of older power plants. Certainly it wouldn't be without lots of public money being spent as power companies are very resistant to doing investments that prevent them from monetizing investments they already made.

So all in all there is no real reason that fusion in the future would have much effect on renewable power investment now. It just isn't coming fast enough for that.

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The only particularly efficient use of fusion energy, at this point in history, has been the particularly terrifying Hydrogen Bomb. The biggest reason for this fact is that, in the form of the weapon, there is exactly zero need for a containment field.

The problem comes down to one sticking point, and that is essentially getting the thing to safely boil water. There are other hopes for low temperature solutions that boil something more volatile (like refrigerant or ammonia) to spin a turbine, but boiling still needs to happen.

...which means we have to be able to control not only when fusion occurs, but where it occurs, and how fast it occurs. Which is a bugger of a problem - that has already been solved.

Well, sort of, anyway. The remaining problem is that the magnetic containment methods that we know to work consume so much energy that you don't have any power left to sell. Magnetism being reasonably well understood in the engineering field, some very smart people did the math and noticed that what was needed was a bigger lump of burning plasma - the output scales faster than the needed input.

But, what ITER is attempting, years from now, is still experimental. For all the science we can throw at it, no one has any experimental data on how to effectively build something that spews that much intense neutron radiation at its core. ITER in many ways is an experiment in materials science just as much as power production and plasma physics. They are almost literally attempting to put the sun in a jar.

So you ask what is smarter? Well, it depends ultimately on the outcome of ITER. It has already tripled its budget, with no signs of stopping there, but if it can answer a few questions effectively it may be worth it. But objectively, scientifically, economically and without equivocation, I can say that the same number of dollars spent on existing power technology could have already been turning a profit on some major national grid somewhere, and probably reducing emissions at the same time. The answer to your question ultimately comes down to what risks the taxpayers are willing to take - in science, even failure is a success when you learn something from it.

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"Nine women can't deliver a baby in one month" as the saying goes.

Fusion technology will mature when it matures, not before, regardless of however-much money you throw at it.

However there are significant advantages to wind and solar that are well worth investing into. They're great for developing economies, without the power distribution infrastructure necessary to have a centralised power generation system.

There are also advantages to space exploration where carrying around a huge fusion reactor isn't practical. Mobile technology benefits all the way up to public transport where never having to refuel your solar powered car will certainly come in handy.

Indeed, the multitude of areas where wind and solar power technologies could be of enormous benefit, should lead you to the question why aren't we spending more on green tech. Don't get me wrong, fusion is great and it will deliver fruit very soon but that's no reason to ignore other technologies.

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I would like to see more investment in it, but it is still very speculative technology. Realistically, it requires public investment because it is too large and risky a cash sink for private funding. Public funding tends to go towards immediate and short term concerns such as welfare, defence, law-enforcement etc. and only a very small slice of the pie is left over for speculative science. This is without even considering powerful industrial lobbyists looking after their own interests rather than the public good.

Much of the environmental lobby are not very well educated and are more about the feelz than the facts, almost to the point of being anti-science. The very word nuclear gives them shivers so they don't argue for it.

Wind and solar are proven technologies that work and can be produced in the private-sector where there tends to be greater innovation. Even with cheap nuclear fusion, there would be applications for wind and solar power, particularly in some of the most remote off-grid areas of the world.

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Because politics:

Do you want it on your backyard?

Most "common" people will answer "No". And also, every single one Fukushima- or Chenobyl- scared citizen will eagerly vote for the one politician who will promise them to not build the power plant on their backyard.

People fear nuclear waste

Although highly questionable in fusion reactor, people will fear the nuclear disaster and nuclear pollution also outside the area where you plan to build your power plant.

No quick gain

You build the highway? - Happy citizens, you collect taxes for highway usage and from gasoline tax. Also you can "collect tax" by your police giving tickets to people for too quick ride.

You build the power plant? Who needs these? Electricity comes from my power socket, duh!

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One of the biggest benefits of solar and wind power is that it is distributed. Power outages wouldn't be as severe, and in a war situation a fusion power plant could very well be a high profile target. Terrorists would also consider it a valuable target. So having 3 fusion plants powering large parts of your country doesn't really 'protect' you, it just is efficient. Having more solar and wind power out there will have more back up and will also require less power generation from major centralized sources.

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