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Physics World 2016 Focus on Nuclear Energy is out now

By Michael Banks

Proponents of nuclear power in the UK have endured an agonizing wait for Hinckley Point C – a European pressurized water reactor (EPR) to be built in south-west England that would fulfil 3.5% of the UK’s electricity needs. Earlier this year, it looked as if the French utility giant EDF would finally give the project the thumbs up and start construction. However, following months of political wrangling – and resignations by senior EDF executives – a final decision by the EDF board is yet to see the light of day.

Cover of the 2016 Physics World Focus on Nuclear Energy

Hinckley Point C is not the only EPR under construction that has been beset with delays and cost hikes: two in China, one in France and one in Finland have also had issues. In this first-ever Physics World Focus on Nuclear Energy, we delve into the EPR design and Hinckley Point C, as well as look ahead to other, more ambitious reactor designs in the pipeline – known as generation-IV designs – that could vastly reduce the amount of nuclear waste produced. Although work on such designs has slowed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, supporters argue that generation IV will still play a vital role in the long term.

The focus issue is not only devoted to fission, but fusion too. For decades physicists have dreamed of using fusion to generate electricity and, with construction well under way on the ITER fusion tokamak in Cadarache, France, that vision is now getting closer to a reality. But is ITER the only way forward? We explore how several private firms are developing small-scale fusion technologies, while in Germany a novel “stellarator” device has just started up that promises to deliver a “steady state” plasma.

Here is a rundown of what is in the 2016 Focus on Nuclear Energy.

• A nuclear revival – A series of next-generation European pressurized water reactors are set to come online in the next couple of years in China, Finland, France and the UK, Michael Banks finds out more

• Taking the heat – ITER will have to deal with huge quantities of particles that need to be expelled through the tokamak’s “divertor”, as Daniel Clery reports

• Planning a new generation – Edwin Cartlidge discovers how plans are progressing for commercializing six advanced-reactor concepts, known as “generation IV” designs

• An independent endeavour – Small companies are looking at ways to push fusion towards commercialization, as Jon Cartwright explains

• Plotting a carbon-free futureGene Grecheck, president of the American Nuclear Society, outlines how nuclear power can help deliver climate emission targets

• A stellar fusion deviceMichael Allen looks at Wendelstein 7-X, a novel “stellarator” fusion device

All full members of the Institute of Physics received a print edition of the focus issue along with their copy of the April issue of Physics World. You can also read the focus issue free of charge on your desktop or on any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet via the Physics World app, available from the App Store and Google Play.

I hope you find this focus issue stimulating; please do let us have your comments by e-mailing or leaving your remarks below.

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  1. M. Asghar

    The installation of about 1600 MWe EPR is suffering long delay from the lack of appropriate technical competence in producing the right type of reinforced concrete and building the reactor cuve with the right quality of material. It is clear that one should have set up a smaller working prototype before going to these big machines. Moreover, for the Hinckley Point C reactors costing about $24 billions and jointly financed by China and EDF, France, there are, at present, serious financial difficulties for the EDF.

  2. Anon

    One day, when there is a theory that explains all physics, there’ll be the knowledge to build a pocket sized cool fusion power device. Sci-fi or not sci-fi? That is the question.

    • M. Asghar

      One knows well as to what is needed to have the nuclear fusion, but to have it operating as in the Sun in the different systems being tried on the Earth, seems quite tricky, up to now, in spite of the claims to the contrary by the differnt operators in the field.

      • Anon

        We do not and maybe cannot know for certain what goes on inside the sun and stars re fusion. We do have well established models and theories that fit and explain most observations but there remain puzzles that show our understandings may be crucially incomplete. The greatest discoveries in science have confounded or surprised our assumptions of knowledge – and since practical nuclear fusion energy would be the greatest discovery of all (presently) one can predict will be the greatest surprise of all.

    • Julio Herrera

      Sci-fi :-) Indeed, new technologies may be discovered, and our descendants may someday find such accomplishments as common as we see airplanes today, which our ancestors would have hardly imagined. Yet, for the time being, and with present day and foreseeable technologies it’s just Sci-fi :-)

  3. jim

    Hyping nuclear energy seems tb a favorite topic for PW. Either a new `miracle’ in fusion or their deplorable, hi-tech backing of U235 fission reactors. No mention of the two safer alternatives, Thorium reactors OR solar energy. The former is under active R&D in China & India, w/no weapons-assoc’d uses, & solar gets only mild support from the Obama admin.,despite its safer strategic, technological, & economic advantages.
    We need to cut the cord to the nuclear industry, which cannot economically compete w/fossil fuels, as rotten as they are. Worse, there have been Zero options to store radioactive waste for over 50 yrs, keeping it DOA.

    • Julio Herrera

      The Obama administration supported solar power during its first term, with catastrophic results. I agree with you regarding the thorium fuel cycle specifically in the shape of Lithium Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs).


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