Environmental Engineering Reference
could operate a 1,000 megawatt power station for a year.
The waste from fusion is much less toxic that of fission reactors. Most
of the waste will occur in the surrounding materials of the process, the
steel vessels and piping. The materials have half-lives in tens rather than
thousands of years and are expected to be reusable in 20 years.
Much research has been done on this technology but instability and
efficiency problems remain. The U.S., Japan, France, Germany, Russia and
other European countries have all been involved in fusion research. Some
fusion energy systems may use energy pellets which would make them
similar to coal-fueled power plants. Energy production in the future could
be greatly altered with small, clustered, safe high-temperature fusion reac-
tors burning cheap, abundant fuel.
In 1989, two scientists, at the University of Southampton in England,
announced that they had generated a fusion reaction that produced more
energy than the reaction consumed at room temperature. They believed
that commercial reactors based on this new low-temperature fusion pro-
cess could be in operation in about 20 years. However, many experts were
skeptical of their claims and they pointed out that the announcement oc-
curred at a press conference rather than from a paper at a technical confer-
ence. It is impossible to know if the cold fusion process is valid. The pos-
sibility of such a breakthrough in nuclear energy could have a profound
impact on global energy. Although, there is still the issue of radioactive
wastes that will be generated from such nuclear reactions.
THE NUCLEAR FUTURE
The U.S. Navy has had an admirable performance record with its
fleet of nuclear surface ships and submarines. There are major differences
in the size of the nuclear systems used by the U.S. Navy. The Nautilus sub-
marine used a 60 megawatt reactor which was scaled up to 600, 900 and
then over 1000 megawatts for commercial power plants.
The reactors used by the Navy were initially about six times more
costly per kW than commercial units. In 1973, it cost about $2,400 per kW
to build a U.S. Navy nuclear reactor, compared to $400 per kW for com-
mercial plants at that time. By the 1990s capital costs for commercial reac-
tors would be reaching $3,000 per kW. The decisions made by utility regu-
lators in the 1970s and the 1980s left utilities barely able to pay for billion
dollar construction costs. Now, the U.S. produces more than half of its