(Before I get to today's blog, I want to beg everyone's patience over the next few days, as my blogs might be shorter than usual, and contain a lot more than the usual amount of typos. I have tendonitis in my right little finger which flared up suddenly the last week. I don't know how long this will last but the finger is wrapped in tape so it won't move. Needless to say, this makes typing - and playing Bruno - very difficult, so bear with me.)
The ITER experimental fusion reactor is receiving one of its most important components, its central magnet, according to this article spotted and shared by T.M. (thank you):
There's something in this story that, try as I might to be happy about the prospects of fusion power generation, I just cannot help but wonder if we're creating something that might have some unknown implications. See if you can spot it:
The world’s most powerful magnet is being shipped to France for installation in the core of ITER, the experimental fusion reactor. It is hoped that ITER will prove the feasibility of creating fusion energy on an industrial scale by replicating the process seen in the centre of our sun.
The magnet, known as the central solenoid, is being shipped in parts and will be 18 metres tall, 4.2 metres wide and weigh around 1000 tonnes once fully constructed. With a magnetic field strength of 13 tesla, it will be about 280,000 times stronger than Earth’s own magnetic field. Because of this, the structure that the central solenoid sits in will have to withstand forces equal to twice the thrust of a space shuttle lift-off.
The magnet will be constructed from six modules, each containing 43 kilometres of coiled niobium-tin superconductors. Once these coils are in place, they will be sealed with 3800 litres of epoxy and shipped to the ITER construction site in France from the General Atomics factory in California. The first module leaves this month and the next will follow in August. (Boldface emphasis added)
Now, it's nice to know that the USA can still build something, in this case, the magnet for a standard hot fusion tokamak reactor. What I find more than a little disconcerting is the revelation of the field strength of this magnet: 13 teslas, or as the article itself acknowledges, "about 280,000 times stronger than the Earth's own magnetic field." Or to put this point in yet another context that regular readers or this website might be more familiar with, that's stronger than the strongest magnets in CERN's Large Hadron Collider.
Regular readers of this website and of my books also know that I'm suspicious of those strengths, for they seem to be of a strength were they might be causing unknown environmental effects on the Earth and its magnetosphere itself. I've even speculated that those strengths might be enough to "tickle" the Earth's magnetic field, and via its coupling to the Sun, the Sun's as well. I wonder too about the human health effects. It's well-known that prolonged exposure to high voltage electromagnetic fields can "mess" with people's minds, and I wonder about prolonged exposure to such strong purely magnetic fields. Obviously, this magnet will be shielded, but no matter how good it is, there is always a bit of bleed through.
But back to the first point: suppose that ITER is successful when it's fired up, and actually manages to produce more power than it consumes. The next step will be obvious, as more and more fusion power plants will be built. What will be the cumulative effect on the Earth of all these strong magnetic fields? I suspect that ITER will conduct - quietly of course - "data correlation" experiments much as I hypothesize and speculate that CERN has done: will there be noticeable aggregate human behavior effects when ITER is at full power, will there be noticeable correlations between weather systems, local magnetic field strength, solar activity, and so on. But what will be these effects with multiple plants operating? We simply do not know.
And there's a final question I never see addressed in the articles touting hot fusion as a wonderfully safe way to generate electricity, and it's hinted at in the second sentence opening the article: "It is hoped that ITER will prove the feasibility of creating fusion energy on an industrial scale by replicating the process seen in the centre of our sun." It is indisputable that most physics models of what occurs in the Sun's fusion regard the process as a great big, chained-up hydrogen bomb in a perpetual state of "explosion". What contains that explosion and keeps the reaction self-sustaining is the enormous gravity of the Sun (so the standard explanations run). In typical fusion reactors, gravity containment is replaced by magnetic containment.
But what happens if, in spite of all the backup systems and safety measures, the magnetic containment field breaks down suddenly? and worse, what if "tickling" the Earth's magnetic field, and its coupling to the Sun's, begins to interfere with the normal reaction functioning there?
I know... wild, off-the-end-of-the-twig speculations. But better to entertain them now, than find out about them too late...
... See you on the flip side...