ORNL Researcher Touts Fusion Energy’s Bright Future

KNOXVILLE — People have been looking toward the stars to predict their futures for years. Stanley Milora, director of the fusion energy division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, believes the stars may hold the answer for the world’s future energy needs as well.

“Fusion is the process that powers the stars,” he said. “The goal of the fusion energy program in the U.S. and the world is to harness that process for use as an energy source for mankind.”

Milora said researchers are continually moving closer toward that goal, and he will share those developments at the University of Tennessee Science Forum Friday with a lecture titled “Fusion Energy: Status and Outlook.”

Fusion energy’s outlook has never been brighter, according to Milora. By the end of the year, seven international partners — the U.S., the European Union, Russia, Japan, China, India and South Korea — will sign off on a collaborative experiment called ITER, he said.

ITER, originally an acronym for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy as a power source. The project began as an initiative at the 1985 Geneva Summit between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Milora is the project’s Chief Technologist.

The project is the experimental step between today’s studies of plasma physics and tomorrow’s electricity-producing fusion power plants, Milora said. The facility is based around a hydrogen plasma reactor operating at over 100 million degrees Celsius, and it will produce 500 megawatts of fusion power heat energy.

Once all parties have signed, construction of the facility will begin on an established French nuclear site in Cadarache, France, near Marseilles. The first plasma operation is expected to be performed in 2015. If those tests are successful, another phase of construction will build a demonstration fusion power reactor that would generate electricity as well as large amounts of fusion heat.

Fusion energy production is environmentally friendly because there are no greenhouse gas emissions, Milora said. He also noted the lack of waste created and the fact that the fuel for these procedures can be extracted from sea water, making the energy supply seemingly endless.

While fusion energy won’t be turning the lights on in our homes next week, Milora said the future benefits these experiments should produce will be worth the wait.

“In the next 50 years we’re going to continue to rely on clean fossil and nuclear and other alternative, renewable energy resources,” Milora said. “It’s going to take a while to build fusion, but we are about to embark on a very important step in fusion energy.”

The UT partnership with ORNL includes management of the lab by UT-Batelle, as well as numerous joint institutes and faculty appointments.

The UT Science Forum is a weekly, non-technical lecture and discussion designed to help others better understand research across many disciplines. It is held every Friday at noon in Thompson-Boling Arena, dining rooms C and D. Attendees may bring their own lunch or purchase it at the arena. Each presentation should last around 40 minutes followed by a question and answer session.

Additional upcoming Science Forums:

• “Who Says You Can’t Microwave a Fork?–Microwaving Metals at Y-12,” Friday, April 7, Ed Ripley, nuclear metallurgist, Y-12 National Security Complex.

• “When Ants Rule the World–Oh Wait, They Already Do,” Friday, April 21, Nathan Sanders, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

• “Brain Tumors: The Switches Are Flipped, But Are the Lights On?” Friday, April 28, Mahlon Johnson, professor of pathology.

Contacts:

Jay Mayfield, media relations (865-974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu)

Stanley Milora, director, fusion energy division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (865-574-0988, milorasl@ornl.gov)

Mark Littmann, forum program chairman, (865-974-8156, littmann@utk.edu)