Current fusion reactor schemes require deuterium and the plan is to extract it from the ocean where it can be found in small abundance. Does deuterium serve some purpose in the oceans? What would happen if there was none left?

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean deuterium or deuterium oxide (heavy water)? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 18 '15 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ I think it just replaces one of the hydrogens with a deuterium (D). So the molecule is DHO or something. Does the small presence of D matter to life in the oceans? $\endgroup$
    – cpc333
    Jan 18 '15 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ How small is that abundant source? Just curious because then we could start thinking about some numbers. But at a minimum there is this from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy "Deuterium represents approximately 0.015% of hydrogen in water. Even so, there is enough deuterium to generate present levels of energy consumption for billions of years. Depletion of water is not an issue." $\endgroup$ Jan 18 '15 at 7:01

Replacing 20% or more of the normal water in ones body with heavy water results is toxic (Kushner 1999). Then again, a number of vitamins are toxic in high doses, but vitamins are essential to human life. Could deuterium in small doses be essential to life? That's exactly what Somlyai et al. argue in their paper (Somlyai 1993).

However, it's a bit premature to start shouting "peak deuterium." We don't even know if ITER will prove to be successful, let alone point the way to commercially successful fusion. Even if it does prove to be successful, the deuterium consumption rate will be tiny. By the time our children's children's ... children would have to shout peak deuterium, we'll have gone on to even bigger and better things (if humanity lives that long).

Kushner, et al. (1999), "Pharmacological uses and perspectives of heavy water and deuterated compounds," Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 77.2:79-88.

Somlyai, et al (1993), "Naturally occurring deuterium is essential for the normal growth rate of cells," FEBS letters, 317.1:1-4.


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