Fusion and climate ‘retardism’ |  Climate and Environment

Fusion and climate ‘retardism’ | Climate and Environment

It has taken a long time to ensure that the scientific evidence on climate change prevails over the strategies of the oil industry and the carbon economy to deny it and thus delay measures against global warming. Today, that inconvenient truth, as defined by Al Gore, has finally prevailed, and denialism has been replaced by a more subtle form of resistance: the retardism. It consists of admitting that progress must be made towards a new energy model, but without damaging the economy, delaying as much as possible the most harmful measures. This strategy has the advantage that it no longer goes against the current of scientific evidence and also allows campaigns to be launched greenwashing with which to obtain a reputational benefit.

The retardation it coexists and is normally allied with another way of denying climate reality, technoptimism or technological solutionism, which recognizes the seriousness of the problem, but trusts that, at the last moment, science will come to the rescue with some magic solution. Many may think that this solution is already here. The advance that has been announced this week in the development of nuclear fusion may suggest that this solution is already here. And if we have a safe, inexhaustible source of energy just around the corner, which produces no emissions and hardly leaves any residue, why rush into onerous measures that may end up being unnecessary?

Certainly, the fact that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA has managed to generate a fusion reaction for a fraction of nanoseconds in which it has obtained more energy than it has used to cause it represents a very important qualitative leap and consolidates the expectation that fusion Nuclear power may one day be the ultimate solution to the energy problem. But it’s not yet. 70 years have passed since the first experiments were carried out and no matter how much investment effort is now focused on its development, no one believes that this technology can mature so quickly as to have reactors capable of producing electricity in less than two or three decades. That being optimistic. But global warming does not wait, and by then, if more is not done than is being done to replace fossil fuels, it may be too late.

The news also has fine print. It is true that by applying 2.05 megajoules of energy to the atoms in the experiment, it has been possible to produce 3.15 megajoules, which means that for the first time there is a net gain, but it is not counted that to run the 196 lasers used in The test required a previous 322 megajoules of energy. There are still many unknowns and many barriers to jump before getting a reactor prototype and it will be necessary to see which of the two techniques developed so far, fusion by inertial confinement used by Lawrence Livermore’s laboratory, or by magnetic confinement developed by ITER ( International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor), is the best. The Italian company ENI announced last October that its collaboration with MIT in the United States would allow it to have a prototype reactor, the Sparc, before 2030, and the same deadlines are handled by those responsible for the ITER consortium. But a prototype is not yet the solution. When achieved, it will take time for this technology to become widespread. It is estimated that for it to have a significant impact, it would be necessary to build at least a thousand fusion plants. To get an idea: at the moment, fission nuclear power has some 440 reactors operating around the world, which produce just over 10% of the electricity consumed. There is no doubt that the process to achieve fusion can and should be accelerated, but in the meantime, we must continue to decarbonize the economy and invest in renewable energies.

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