Advanced fission and fusion technologies for sustainable nuclear energy

Last week, the Australian Academy of Science held their annual meeting in Canberra, and the final day’s event was focused on energy technology. The symposium was called “Power to the people: the science behind the debate“. I was invited as one of the speakers, to discuss next-generation nuclear power technologies and their role in decarbonising our fossil-focused economy.

The description of my talk, as it appeared in the programme, is as follows:

Title: Advanced fission and fusion technologies for sustainable nuclear energy

Abstract: Next-generation nuclear energy – including advanced fission reactors, fusion-fission hybrids and pure hydrogen-fusion designs  – offers a means to produce vast quantities of zero-carbon and reliable electricity and process heat. For fission, new designs that are now ready for commercial demonstration can take advantage of the superior physical properties of plutonium in a fast neutron spectrum to convert essentially all of the mined uranium into useful fissile material and abundant electricity.

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) and similar ‘Generation IV designs’ can change in a fundamental way the outlook for global energy on the necessary massive scale. These resource extension properties multiply the amount of usable fuel by a factor of over a hundred, allowing demand to be met for many centuries with fuel already at hand, by a technology that is known today, and whose properties are largely established. Demonstrating a credible and acceptable way to safely recycle used nuclear fuel will also clear a socially acceptable pathway for nuclear fission to be a major low-carbon and sustainable energy source for this century.

For fusion, there are exciting medium- to long-term prospects, based on work now being done on the International Thermonuclear Reactor Experiment (ITER) and on hybrid fusion-fission designs that use molten-salt coolants and use thorium and hydrogen isotopes as fuel.

Replacement of fossil fuels is urgently needed to sustain global society whilst mitigating environmental impacts, and sustainable forms of nuclear energy offer a realistic and effective way of achieving this goal.

Bio: Barry Brook is a Professor and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, where he holds the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change. He has published three books, over 200 refereed scientific papers, and regularly writes popular articles for the media. His awards include the 2006 Australian Academy of Science Fenner Medal and the 2010 Community Science Educator of the Year. His research focuses on the causes and consequences of extinction, analysis of energy systems for carbon mitigation, and simulation models of the synergies of human impacts on the biosphere.

Here is the HD recording of my talk – recorded professionally by the Academy, which includes many close ups of my slides. The talk runs for 28 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions. I trust you will find it useful, and be sure to pass on the link so that others can watch it and be more informed – and entertained!

There were a wide range of talks presented, generally of high quality, and many of which were also recorded. The full video cast can be viewed here. Below is the programme:

Friday 31 May
Annual symposium
Power to the people: the science behind the debate
8.40am Morning chair session I Professor Suzanne Cory AC PresAA FRSWelcome
Professor Suzanne Cory AC PresAA FRS
8.50am Welcome 
Dr Dean Morris (Platinum Sponsor)
Head of Operations, Australian Synchrotron
Representing the Melbourne Convention Bureau
9.00am Improving human well-being on a resource-limited planet – can we do it?
Professor Sir David King FRS FAAS
Chancellor, University of Liverpool, former Director, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford and former UK Chief Scientist.
9.45am Solar photovoltaics – recent developments and Australia’s key role
Professor Martin Green AM FAA FTSE FIEEE
cientia Professor and Executive Research Director
ARC Photovoltaics Centre of Excellence, University of New South Wales
10.15am Morning tea
10.45am Morning chair session II Professor Kenneth Baldwin FAIP, FlnstP, FOSA, FAPSSolar thermal power – how long till impact?
Mr Wes Stein

Manager of Renewable Energy, CSIRO Division of Energy Technology
Project Leader, CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre
11.15am Geothermal power– regulatory nirvana for unconventional energy
Barry Goldstein
Executive Director, South Australian Energy Resources (coordinating lead author for the IPCC’s 2011 Special Report on Renewable Energy)
11.45am Unconventional gas – opportunities and limitations
Professor Sue Golding
School of Earth Sciences
University of Queensland
12.15pm Direct injection coal engines (DICE) – a coal paradigm revisited
Dr Louis Wibberley
Principal Technologist
Advanced Coal Technology, CSIRO Energy Technology, Newcastle
12.45pm Lunch
1.30pm Afternoon chair session I Professor Thomas Maschmeyer FAA FTSE FRACI 

Looking out: Australia’s potential energy future
Dr Tom Hatton
Group Executive, CSIRO Energy
2.00pm Nuclear energy for Australia – policy and politics behind the Debate
Dr Ziggy Switkowski FAICD FTSE
Chancellor, RMIT University (former chair of ANSTO and former CEO of Telstra and Optus, ex-chairman of Kodak, Australia)
2.30pm Advanced fission and fusion technologies for sustainable nuclear energy
Professor Barry Brook
Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, Mawson Laboratories
University of Adelaide
3:00pm Afternoon tea
3.30pm Afternoon chair session II Professor Chennupati Jagadish FAA FTSE FIEEE

Smarter grids – why control, decision, communication, computing and network sciences are also needed
Professor David Hill FAA, FTSE, FIEEE

Foreign Member Royal Swedish Academy of Eng Sciences, Chair of Electrical Engineering, Director Centre for Future Energy Networks, School of Electrical and Information Engineering, The University of Sydney
4.00pm Energy storage – a disruptive technology for future grids?
Professor Tony Vassallo FRACI FIEA 
Delta Electricity Chair in Sustainable Energy Development, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
University of Sydney
4.30pm Can energy demand be limited while improving quality of life?
Professor Ian Lowe AO
Emeritus Professor, School of Science
Griffith University
5.00pm Conclusion and close of meeting
Professor Robin Batterham AO FREng FAA FTSE
Kernot Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
University of Melbourne


  1. Until they get at least engineering breakeven they are useless, we need something now, not when someone finally gets fusion to work and right now fission is all we’ve got (and this means LWRs, though IFRs and LFTRs are close enough to proven that we could be pretty confident they’d be ready within the decade if we wanted them, that can not be said for anything to do with fusion with the notable exception of Project PACER).

    Many of them also look to me like snakeoil (claims we can do Boron fusion certainly should set off alarm bells as should the idea that ICF is better done by hitting the fuel on one side instad of all around).

    Personally whilst I suspect fusion will be able to do the job of electricity production it not turn out to be any better than advanced nuclear (e.g. LFTR), rocketry is where fusion would really come into its own and would be worth developing the tech even if we knew it would be useless for making electricity.


  2. I watched Barry’s talk, but the picture (one of his slides) stayed the same after the 12.13 mark. But putting the mouse cursor at the bottom after that point did reveal a very small changing picture.   Did anyone else have this problem? Can it be fixed?




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