Germany tested an experimental fusion reactor last week, but the country is set to abandon conventional nuclear fission power entirely by 2022 in favor of solar and wind.
German engineers from the Max Planck Institute have successfully activated an experimental nuclear fusion reactor and successfully managed to suspend plasma for the first time. The reactor took 19 years and €1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to build, and contains over 470 tons of superconducting magnets, all of which need to be cooled to absolute zero.
The reactor passed the major technical milestone of generating its first plasma, which had a duration of one-tenth of a second and achieved a temperature of around one million degrees Celsius. If the reactor fulfills the research team’s expectations, it could demonstrate the first stable artificial nuclear fusion reaction within the next year.
The reactor will allow German researchers to study high energy plasma under stable conditions.
At the same time, Germany is continuing its decision to abandon nuclear energy after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan galvanized political opposition. This shift caused Germany’s CO2 emissions to actually rise by 28 million tons each year after Germany’s nuclear policy changed.
In the year 2000, nuclear power made up 29.5 percent of Germany’s energy. In 2015 the share dropped down to 17 percent, and by 2022 the country intends to have every one of its nuclear plants shutdown. The cost replacing nuclear power with wind and solar is estimated by the government to be over a trillion euros, without any assurances the program will actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Nuclear power’s decline has created an opening for coal power in the country. Coal now provides 44 percent of Germany’s power, despite the fact coal ash is actually more radioactive than nuclear waste.
Electricity from the new wind power Germany is replacing its nuclear reactors with is nearly four times as expensive as electricity from existing nuclear power plants, according to analysis from the Institute for Energy Research. This has triggered complaints that poor households are subsidizing the affluent.
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