Japan Nuclear Problems May Impact UCSD Project

UCSD Among 3 Schools Studying Nuclear Fusion

The nuclear crisis in Japan could have major implications on nuclear power and research in San Diego, according to local researchers.

"This is certainly going to set back licensing for new nuclear plants, " said University of California, San Diego research scientist Russ Doerner.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, the tragic events in Japan could also impact the existence of power plants like the San Onofre Plant.

10News learned the San Onofre Plant's permits are up for renewal in about a decade.

Additionally, some experts believe nuclear-related research could also be hurt or helped.

Several years ago, three schools, including UCSD, received a $7 million federal grant to study nuclear fusion.

In current nuclear plants, the process of fission splits up atoms to create energy. In fusion, atoms are combined, releasing energy, just like on the surface of the sun. At UCSD, scientists are trying to find materials that can contain that energy.

"I wouldn't dedicate my life to this unless I believed in it," said Doerner.

Doerner said safety concerns about the Japanese plants could turn the focus toward fusion.

"If there's an accident, there's much less potential for concern," said Doerner.

In modern nuclear plants, the reactor core stays hot and can lead to a meltdown.

That's not the case for fusion.

"You wouldn't have to worry about keeping the reactor cool because it would basically go out," said Doerner.

Still, the technology has yet to generate enough energy to be economically viable.

A test plant is being constructed in southern France and is set to open in 8 years.

Doerner said more research money is needed, but that money could disappear if the Japan crisis forces a nuclear retreat in the U.S.

"It's definitely dependent on how much money is put into this to make it work," said Doerner.

Doerner said a fusion plant wouldn't generate greenhouse gas emissions and would produce less harmful radioactive waste.

Right now, nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

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