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Former Senator Wants to Mine The Moon

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the dig-that-moon dept.

Moon 351

MarkWhittington writes "Harrison Schmitt, Apollo Moonwalker, geologist, and former United States Senator, recently presented a plan to solve the world's long term energy problems by developing fusion power fueled with helium-3 mined from the Moon. He presented this plan in a speech at Williston Basin Petroleum Conference."

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Mining the moon, eh... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032312)

Well I'd like to mine the inside of my ass for cum too, but it's too expensive.

I'll stick to playing Minecraft on my iMac.

Why is this notable? (5, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032314)

We've known for ages that helium-3 is a good potential fusion fuel, and that mining the moon could be a good source of it. But we don't have fusion power plants yet, nor are we particularly close to getting them. So why talking about mining fuel that we're at least twenty years away from being able to use?

Re:Why is this notable? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032338)

We've known for ages that helium-3 is a good potential fusion fuel, and that mining the moon could be a good source of it. But we don't have fusion power plants yet, nor are we particularly close to getting them. So why talking about mining fuel that we're at least twenty years away from being able to use?

and the dumbass dune coon is discussing this with a PETROLEUM company. yeah they'll get right on that fusion project.

Re:Why is this notable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032536)

Easy oil is running dry, so prices are likely to keep rising. This provides both the capital and the incentive to diversify. After all, if you owned a large piece of an oil company, I'm sure you'd rather keep the company running, at least in some form or fashion, rather than junking it when you can't get no more light sweet crude, or any other sort of black gold.

Re:Why is this notable? (5, Insightful)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032376)

...because it's at least 20 years until the mining operation will be possible to start.

Also, think of all the nice things we got as a total by-product of the space race. Helium-3 is the tip of an iceberg. Permanent moon base, self-sustainable spacecraft to travel earth-moon on routine route, possibly fusion spacecraft propulsion, humans not only getting to the moon but going there routinely, experience in space mining in general (asteroid belt anyone?) and generally a significant leap towards making space travel easy and common.

It doesn't even have to be really profitable. It would be nice if the helium-3 deposits paid for the investment, but it's all the tech developed to get this to work, where all the REAL profit would happen.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

sheddd (592499) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032468)

Bah. Why 20 years? The US economy is tanking but I'd bet the Chinese could do it in 10! Self sustainable spacecraft? We need MUCH more technology to do; MUCH MUCH more if humans are to be on the craft. I agree as a species we need to learn how to live off of Earth before we destroy ourselves... I disagree with your reasoning. You should invest in this kind've tech and reap the profits!!

Re:Why is this notable? (3, Insightful)

The Wooden Badger (540258) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032500)

The Chinese could do it in 10? I hope that doesn't turn out like their high speed trains.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032540)

Since there was very recent news that China hopes to build their own space station by 2020, I'd wager that a Moon mining base will be more than a decade off even for them industrious railroad-building Chinamen.

Re:Why is this notable? (5, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032470)

...because it's at least 20 years until the mining operation will be possible to start.

Actually, that's pretty pessimistic.

The last time we went to the moon, it took around twelve years of R&D, using tech that's positively antiquated by modern standards, and with no precedent whatsoever to show that it was even possible to send a person to the moon and bring them back alive.

If we were to repeat that process now, we'd have the advantage of automation, precedent and over half a century of R&D to start with. And since we're talking about a mining operation, we could remove the human factor altogether, and rely on teleoperated machines (granted there's that three second delay to contend with, but there are workarounds). The total amount of He-3 fuel needed to make the trip worthwhile is small, and an unmanned return vehicle could use methods not suitable to human spaceflight.

Not that I wouldn't like to see more work on manned spaceflight mind you, but I think you're overestimating the amount of infrastructure needed for this kind of work.

Re:Why is this notable? (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032534)

And since we're talking about a mining operation, we could remove the human factor altogether, and rely on teleoperated machines (granted there's that three second delay to contend with, but there are workarounds).

Or just suck it up. There's equipment on Earth (for example, large aircraft) that have significant lag in their control mechanisms. A few second delay is a lot, if you're juggling balls. It's nothing, if you're driving heavy mining equipment.

As another example, I saw MMO players who have had lag on the order of tens of seconds to minutes. If you're doing mostly automated stuff (such as beating on a mob or driving a partly self-piloting rover on Mars), then you can still do it even with long delays.

Re:Why is this notable? (5, Informative)

dadioflex (854298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032554)

There's a company called Nautilus Minerals [nautilusminerals.com] that's developing technology to mine copper sulphide deposits 1600m under the sea and 30km off-shore. They're probably a good 2-3 years away from pulling that off commercially. I suspect that a lot of the remote controlled, hostile environment mobile drilling platform technologies they're working on would be compatible with exactly the sort of moon operation you envisage. If you check out their website, there are some cool underwater shots under the mediakit tab.

Our inherited legacy (1)

Custard Horse (1527495) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032794)

The current world may have the tech but also the legacy of pollution and rampant debt to contend with.

Assuming the budget was approved, the impact of such a massive project on the environment would be a significant hurdle to overcome before the project could begin in earnest.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

zoney_ie (740061) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032810)

Actually, modern technology isn't the wonderful magic people assume. In fact because of it being more complex, it is likely that development times in general are longer than in the past (the finished product does orders of magnitude more of course). As regards bureaucracy and project management, I think that has also gone up and again, perhaps in some ways because of modern technology. But without it, development times for modern tech would likely be longer again.

I've come to conclude that even "Scotty"-like predictions of how long something will take to complete (i.e. say 3 months when you expect it to take a month) are inadequate for hardware or software today (e.g. it might take 6 months in my example).

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032848)

It's not the problem of getting to the moon.
It's a problem of building an automated mine, processing facility and a transport fleet that makes shipping He-3 to Earth economically viable.

You're forgetting the last trip to the moon was a cold-war space race where the budget was a low-priority problem. This is not just about getting to the Moon, it's about actually making money off getting there. You can't throw as much resources and people at it as you wish any more.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

ben0s (1904604) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032516)

I'm suprised this hasn't been in the news already, I read about China and Russia also being interested in harvesting the moon for helium 3 around five years ago. Now would be the right time to go ahead and begin implementing the plan. Perhaps it would be in human kinds best interest for NASA to join with China and Russia and other countries on the mission.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032656)

You're making an argument for returning to the moon, not mining it. Mining the moon for fuel that we may never be able to use would be a fucking colossal waste of money.

Re:Why is this notable? (2)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032660)

If something like digging moon's ground for He-3 is to happen, it shouldn't be done sending humans and establishing an inhabited permanent moon base, it should be done sending robots there. It is a complete waste of resources to send humans there. Robots and automated systems and semi-automated systems can do it efficiently if it worth to do it. Humans are inefficients, costly and vulnerables at this job.

The whole humans on the moon and humans travelling the solar system, space mining or whatever else you call that thing is just a wet dream to flatter the national identity, it has nothing to do with doing actual work.Robots, probes, semi-automated systems is the way to go.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032808)

What is useful/attractive about a permanent moon base ? Would you be just as excited if there was a permanent base in the Gobi desert, with self-sustaining vehicles traveling back and forth on a routine route, humans not only getting to the Gobi desert, but getting there routinely, experience in desert mining, and a significant leap towards making desert travel easy and common ?

Besides the higher 'cool' factor of a moon base, is there anything else ?

Re:Why is this notable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032820)

To ensure long term survivability, the human race must expand off this planet. The technology gained here would be useful, and the gravity well of the moon is much, much less than that of the Earth.

Re:Why is this notable? (2)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032854)

It's much easier to just not care about long term survivability.

Re:Why is this notable? (4, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032414)

Well, don't forget that the world is running out of helium as it is. Even if fusion fizzles, having a source of the stuff in hand is better than not.

Do you realize how many hi-tech things need helium at some point in their creation or use?

You do like being able to get an MRI, for example?

Re:Why is this notable? (4, Informative)

RsG (809189) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032520)

Not really applicable to the discussion, unfortunately.

The amount of He-3 needed to fuel a hypothetical fusion power plant is small. Like "a handheld tank per year" small - that's the kind of energy density we're talking about here.

A lunar mining operation to get the fuel and bring it back to earth would cost a fortune in terms of dollars to grams. Uncut cocaine would be cheaper. The only reason mining the moon for He-3 makes sense is because the quantities needed are small enough that the fuel cost in dollars per watt is pretty reasonable. But you would not be using lunar helium as a cryogenic liquid or lifting gas, period.

Re:Why is this notable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032658)

... Uncut cocaine would be cheaper...

Its cost 3-5 USD per gram if you buy more than 100 grams.

Re:Why is this notable? (5, Insightful)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032670)

Lets run some numbers.

He3+He3 gives 12.9MeV of energy per reaction. Thus 1 mol gives 619GJ, or 206 GJ per gram. Assume 1.5 GW power station would produce an average of 1GW all year. That is 31.5e15 J for the year. Assume a 50% efficiency and we need 306 kg of He3 per year. At STP that is about 2000 cubic meters of He3. Now in the Luna surface He3 is only at .01ppm. So at 100% mining efficiency we need to process 30 million tons of rock. In reality you would be very lucky to get 50% efficiency and you still need to consider how much of that He3 you need to burn to run the mining operation. So it is probably closer to 60-100million tons of Luna rock per year.

And thats for just one power station.

Now lets consider the fact that D+T fusion is not here yet and that He3 fusion is more than a 1000 times harder to do. In fact if you can run a He3 fusion plant you can run a DD fusion plant for a fraction of the cost since it is more that 10 times easier to do. Also the ash from DD is He3! It would be cheaper to have DD fusion He3 breeder reactors, than to mine the moon.

He3 is something moon fans bring up since they can't think of any other reason to go there.

Re:Why is this notable? (4, Informative)

rainmouse (1784278) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032646)

World is only running out of helium (one of the most common elements in the universe) because the USA holds half of all the reserves and is selling it off at an artificially low price. It may run out in 30 years time because this useful element primarily wasted in pointless things like balloons at carnivals.

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032796)

World is only running out of helium (one of the most common elements in the universe) because the USA holds half of all the reserves and is selling it off at an artificially low price. It may run out in 30 years time because this useful element primarily wasted in pointless things like balloons at carnivals.

Hey, don't forget the priceless fun of the way it makes your voice sound like a chipmunk...

Re:Why is this notable? (2)

Custard Horse (1527495) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032832)

It that argument a little sensationalist? How much of the world's helium is squandred on pointless activities such as the aforementioned balloons?

Is this the same argument as motor vehicles causing pollution whereas motor vehicles account for only a small fraction of that pollution?

Re:Why is this notable? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032416)

Given the speed of political decisions, we'll have cold fusion before this plan gets anywhere close to fruition.

Re:Why is this notable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032814)

There's no hurry. Nuclear fusion has been 20 years off since then 1950's.

It'll probably still be 20 years off in the 2050's, too.

Might make a good movie (0)

md65536 (670240) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032316)

...

Re:Might make a good movie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032482)

well i think we now know how the senator gets his ideas

Re:Might make a good movie (1)

sridharo (1433649) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032636)

There's already one : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_(film)

Re:Might make a good movie (1)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032806)

Sam, get some sleep. You're very tired.

its impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032318)

its impossible just like mars.

Re:its impossible (1)

meerling (1487879) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032422)

It's not impossible, just very impractical at the moment.

Re:its impossible (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032552)

its impossible just like mars.

Last I checked, the Moon and Mars both existed and were viewable with the naked eye. That makes them something other than impossible.

Nice idea but a few missing steps (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032322)

step 1: develop practical fusion power

step 2: redevelop lunar capable space program

Re:Nice idea but a few missing steps (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032378)

Step 3: cloning astronauts

Step 4: suspended animation

Re:Nice idea but a few missing steps (1)

meerling (1487879) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032434)

I saw that movie.

Re:Nice idea but a few missing steps (0)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032812)

Step 5: profit?

Re:Nice idea but a few missing steps (0)

ModernGeek (601932) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032432)

It sounds so weird when you put it like that. "Lunar capable space program".

I think that journalists and others need to reaffirm this by using it in speech every day.

We do not have what we had before: A lunar capable space program.

The shuttle is only a small step in what we were supposed to use it for. Read 2001: A Space Odyssey and you'll see what I mean

Again, we do not have a lunar capable space program.

Re:Nice idea but a few missing steps (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032704)

It sounds so weird when you put it like that. "Lunar capable space program".

Gosh, way more weird:

1. Mark Whittington submits stories related to space faring, NASA, Moon and such [slashdot.org] . Clearly a person that has a strong passion and strange attraction for space (given the fact that his education is a BA in History [yahoo.com] )
2. the majority of his feet-on-the-ground posts are rejected, however less so for stories like: "Former Senator Wants to Mine The Moon", "The Prospects for Lunar Mining", "Does the Moon Have Military Value?"

The result? I was almost about to believe Mark Whittington a lunatic dreamer, with nothing in his mind but to start mining the Moon and install military bases there.

Didn't read TFA yet... (5, Interesting)

myoparo (933550) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032332)

but what's with the title of this story?

"Former Senator Wants to Mine the Moon"

Wouldn't it be more informative and important to mention, in the title, that he is one of the few people to actually walk on the moon?

Something like:

"Apollo Moonwalker Believes We Should Mine Moon"

Or, if you really want that Senator in there...

"Former Senator, having walked on the moon, now wants to mine it"

Re:Didn't read TFA yet... (2)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032384)

Neither actually make the idea any less retarded.

But apparently if you were one of the spam-in-a-can heroes of the 60s space program we're required to accept everything you say as gospel until you die.

Which won't be long now.. http://www.xkcd.com/893/ [xkcd.com]

Briilliant (3, Funny)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032336)

If we only had helium 3 we could easily have fusion and a limitless source of energy. Good thing that there are no other technical issues to resolve. So clearly we should take mining equipment to the moon, mine the helium 3 that might be there and then send it back to earth in huge rocket ships, no matter how much energy all of that expends. This message was brought to you by a former U.S. Senator, so you know there is no need to question the logic behind it.

Re:Briilliant (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032570)

If we only had helium 3 we could easily have fusion and a limitless source of energy. Good thing that there are no other technical issues to resolve. So clearly we should take mining equipment to the moon, mine the helium 3 that might be there and then send it back to earth in huge rocket ships, no matter how much energy all of that expends. This message was brought to you by a former U.S. Senator, so you know there is no need to question the logic behind it.

Two things to note. First, in terms of energy expenditure, it's a net gain, at least for the helium 3 and it's packaging since it's going from a higher gravity potential to a lower one. Energy costs are not the problem with moving stuff around in space.

We also know the helium 3 is there since we measured it directly from Apollo samples.

There are other itty bitty problems like our difficulty in actually creating a profitable fusion reactor that are more likely to scuttle the project this century.

baidu (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032342)

baidu.com

*Does math on max number of years* (1)

Xgamer4 (970709) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032346)

Coming from wikipedia, the volume of the moon is 2.1958x10^10 km, or 2.1958x10^13 m. A hole of 1.2x10^7 m will power one reactor for one year. Which means that mining the entirety of the moon for 1,829,833.33. So not bad at all.

Re:*Does math on max number of years* (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032586)

The helium 3 is concentrated in the regolith, the surface cruft that comes from continual meteorite bombardment. That's because the original source of helium 3 is from the Solar Wind. So if you're drilling holes 1,200 km deep, you're going to miss that.

Re:*Does math on max number of years* (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032638)

You're a bit off on your calculations. A 2km2 swath of 3m deep would be 6x10^6m3, and will power a 1GW reactor for one year. Mining the whole volume of the moon would be 2.2x10^10km^3, or 2.2x10^19m3, which at the current installed capacity of some 2750GW, would run us for about 1.3 billion years.

You made another mistake assuming the entire moon could be mined. The regolith only extends down to about 5m in most areas, and around 15m at its deepest. That means your total volume would be considerably less at around 2.3x10^17m3, or closer to 13 million years.

Now before you go off thinking strip mining the moon is a grand idea, look at the scale of what you intend to do. That single power plant will require some 5 million metric tons of material be processed each year. That's up to almost 14 billion tons to switch our power generation capacity over to it completely, and probably double that if you want to convert our fossil fuel usage as well. In comparison, the total world production of coal is somewhere around 7 billion tons per year, with the vast majority of that easily accessed through surface veins and strip mining. You're talking about mining on an absolutely absurd scale. I'm not going to say its a bad idea, but it's certainly something that will require an enormous expenditure in machinery before it becomes viable.

Re:*Does math on max number of years* (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032722)

I ran some numbers above and we seem to arrive at different results. I calculated that you would need 30 million tons per year of regolith for a 1GW plant. I assume a He3 concentration of .01ppm.

Also everyone seems to forget that if you have He3 fusion, you have DD fusion. Neutrons are just not going to be that expensive to deal with, and for the special cases where you do want He3 you can use the ash from DD fusion plants.

Re:*Does math on max number of years* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032760)

Coming from wikipedia, the volume of the moon is 2.1958x10^10 km, or 2.1958x10^13 m.

Volumes can't be measured in "km" or "m", but "km^3" or "m^3". Because you forgot the "^3"-part, you also made a mistake converting the size to "m^3". 1 km^3 = (10^3 m)^3 = 10^9 m^3, so the real size would be 2.1958x10^19 m^3.

A hole of 1.2x10^7 m will power one reactor for one year. Which means that mining the entirety of the moon for 1,829,833.33. So not bad at all.

I assume you mean 1.2x10^7 m^3, but due to the previous miscalculation your result is of by 10^6.

Re:*Does math on max number of years* (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032790)

Volumes can't be measured in "km" or "m", but "km^3" or "m^3".

I suspect he C&P'd a superscript 3 character (U+00B3), which as a non-US-ASCII character is stripped out by slashcode when comments are posted.

can we... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032350)

...create a factory that spits out cloned sam rockwells to control the mining machinery and use kevin spacey's voice to keep him docile, pliant and producing helium-3?

Re:can we... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032818)

How are you doing Sam? Do you remember what happened? You hit your had Sam.

Helium Shortage (4, Informative)

Mantrid42 (972953) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032358)

This proposal might seem outlandish, but a global helium shortage is a very real problem that we're going to have to deal with soon. Many, many industries rely on helium, and the price is artificially low since the government is trying to sell off its reserves by 2015. Aside from fusion (or somehow mining the sun), there's really no way to get new helium (it's a noble gas, there are no naturally occurring helium compounds).

Re:Helium Shortage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032426)

Aside from fusion (or somehow mining the sun), there's really no way to get new helium (it's a noble gas, there are no naturally occurring helium compounds).

Alpha emitter radionuclides produce small quantities of helium, so there is a natural source of new helium on Earth after all

Re:Helium Shortage (2)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032764)

This plan won't help. There is no significant amount of regular helium on the moon. This is about the rare helium-3 isotope, of which is there is only 1 ppm on the moon, and even less on earth.

Re:Helium Shortage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032800)

Well yes but Helium is a product of nuclear fusion, I think he refers to using that :)

Let's Do It (1, Funny)

Nukedoom (1776114) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032370)

We'll only need one man for the job.

Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032398)

Imagine the saving in transport costs of having one mine operator replaced by basement-stored clones every few years. However, to avoid media embarassment, I'd avoid omnipotent robots voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Throwback to the dark ages (1)

dimethylxanthine (946092) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032408)

To be honest, when somebody is not aware of the intricate and precise relationship between the masses and distances of the Earth, the Sun and the Moon, the importance they play (tides anyone?), how fine tuned these values are, and the effects the slightest variations in these values can have on a biblical scale, that person should not be allowed to talk on the matter.

Furthermore, if ravaging our Planet has taught us anything, is that both mining products and byproducts leave behind extensive pollution, disruption to the surrounding and global ecosystem and is something which is not sustainable in the long term, and that applications that originally required the use of metals, for example, can now be achieved using carbon and nano, and that the future is likely with these materials.

Oh yeah, recycling, anyone?

If he's looking for tritium up there, let's see a working tokamak first - the rest is trivial, Falcon Heavy should be ready by then. Otherwise, think about what effect snatching a piece of the Moon is likely to have on Earth and on a global scale.

Re:Throwback to the dark ages (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032488)

Eh, I'm pretty sure astronauts know absolutely nothing about that stuff -- since they didn't actually design the spaceship, they must be braindead morons best suited to flipping burgers for a living.

Or maybe they know even more than you do, and realize that mass removal from any mining operation we could feasibly deploy on the moon is so slow we have ages to find ways to exist with very slightly reduced tides and slight eventual cooling of the Earth (due to no tidal heating).

With you on the fusion reactor (doesn't need to be a tokamak -- I'm not married to one design), but with a few years more depletion of He, it becomes a bit of a chicken and egg problem, with no fuel to justify building reactors, and no reactors to justify mining fuel.

Cart Before The Horse (2)

sudonim2 (2073156) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032424)

First you have to be able to generate more power with fusion than is consumed generating it. We haven't done that yet. Also, all current fusion generator designs generate low-level radioactive contamination. So fusion will have the same long-term radioactive waste disposal problems as fission power currently does. If you're going to mine the moon, mine the aluminum and magnesium and make orbital mirrors for an orbiting solar-thermal plant.

Re:Cart Before The Horse (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032738)

So fusion will have the same long-term radioactive waste disposal problems as fission power currently does.

No it doesn't. Not even within 100 orders of magnitude.

Most of the waste from a fission plant is from the many tons of fuel which a fusion plant does not have. The only waste from a fusion plant is activation products from the structure. Activation via neutron bombardment results is low level and short term radioactive waste. If you choose your materials wisely, probably would be safe in less than 20 years--in fact most of the radiation disappears in just days. It is even much easier to choose materials wisely since you don't need worry about neutron economy.

A little premature. (3, Insightful)

Sitnalta (1051230) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032428)

Shouldn't we... I dunno... invent sustainable fusion first? It's kinda like buying the cart before the horse. If the cart was three hundred thousand kilometers in space.

China might get there first (1)

PerformanceDude (1798324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032436)

Given the present state of NASA and lack of vision within the US government about the space program, China may well get there first. Their space program is rapidly expanding and their thirst for energy is almost insatiable. I can easily see them pursuing this goal and reap the rewards well before the US gets its act together. If TFA is realistic, this could be a major game changer in terms of who holds economic power on a world scale.

Might as well mine empty space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032450)

We're as close to fusion power as we are zero point energy. Mining the Moon is putting the cart before the horse. Until we have a way to extract energy from fusion mining the Moon is completely pointless.

How about using the *existing* fusion reactor? (2, Insightful)

iksbob (947407) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032464)

You know... The huge one with the gravity well that holds the solar system together? What do they call that thing again? Oh yeah... Sol.

Seriously though, photovoltaics have hit and are now past grid parity. First Solar is already in the process of constructing a 2,000 megawatt solar farm in China, which is expected to produce power CHEAPER THAN COAL. This is without subsidies, tax credits or other financial BS. Another 1,700 megawatts of contracted capacity is scattered around the US, to be online by 2017.

I don't see how ferrying fusion fuel back from the moon could be cost effective compared to solar, even if it's done by automated harvesters.

Re:How about using the *existing* fusion reactor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032526)

It's not more cost effective, but that's not the primary driving factor in decision-making, at least in the US. Policies regarding energy have to be decided upon by Congress, and who are some of Congress' largest contributors? Why, the energy companies and defense contractors. The former wants to keep using tech they've already long since recouped the R&D cost of, and the latter wants the government to take any path that involves them (the contractors) getting cost-plus jobs to built poorly-designed (for the intended task) monstrosities.

Which is why, unless something changes, the next major energy breakthrough won't be happening here. Nor the next major space breakthrough. Breakthroughs imply change and take invested capital; most of Congress is all about maintaining status quo, because (for them) status quo is pretty awesome, and private corporations by and large will do everything they can to avoid spending a dollar more than they have to.

What, USA copies China? (5, Interesting)

davevr (29843) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032472)

The stated mission of the Chinese Space Program is to mine helium 3 from the moon. I believe their target timeframe is by 2050. At the rate we are going, they will probably still beat us. Wasn't there a story once about a turtle racing a rabbit?

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2006-07/26/content_649325.htm [chinadaily.com.cn]

Re:What, USA copies China? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032696)

The idea of using helium 3 as a fuel source has been around for decades. I remember watching a VHS tape like 20 years ago where Patrick Stewart was narrating it. I was a little kid at the time. Anyway, I remember from that video he mentioned that NASA wanted to go to the moon to mine Helium 3 to use for fusion energy. Even then, that idea was old news. You might think it strange that I remember that, but at the time it was the first I heard the moon had anything useful on it mineral related, so I wrote a paper on it for school or something like that.

Say turtle vs rabbit? (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032838)

Wasn't there a story once about a turtle racing a rabbit?

I don't think that story ended in a way that reinforces your thoughts. In the story, the turtle won. It is the US which is currently the turtle in space. Or maybe the three toed sloth. Or the insignificant amoeba. Not just because of the US' current funk in space exploration and exploitation, but much more fundamentally than that, because the US is history as an economic powerhouse, and could never dedicate the resources necessary.

However, by 2050 China as an economically significant force could well be a distant memory anyway. It could be all about India by then. Or Africa.

helium... (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032484)

Didn't we used to have a large stockpile of this once common-place element somewhere?

Re:helium... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032560)

No.

Re:helium... (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032664)

The strategy stockpile was 2He, which is considerably harder to fuse. The stockpile was not for fusion applications, but rather for use in cryogenics, as lifting gas and such.

Re:helium... (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032748)

I think you mean 4He. There is no such thing as 2He.

There is no petrolium on the moon (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032502)

So he went to a fossil fuel oriented convention to to talk about extracting an energy source that we don't know how to actually use. Do you think they just might have been laughing at him behind his back? Or is it possible that they were pretending to take him seriously because they love the idea of wasting resources for alternate energy development on something that is impractical for the foreseeable future?

Re:There is no petrolium on the moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032582)

They're after whale oil.

Re:There is no petrolium on the moon (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032736)

It takes quite a bit of petroleum to transport mining equipment to the moon.

I'm sorry, that will not be possible (3, Funny)

scsirob (246572) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032508)

He can't do that. I own the moon, according to this certificate I bought years ago.
Please have him call me to negotiate a deal first.

1,000 megawatt fusion reactor (1)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032522)

From TFA:

100 kilograms of helium 3 could be obtained from processing a 2 kilometer square area of lunar soil down to the depth of three meters. That amount would run a 1,000 megawatt fusion reactor for a year.

Damn. Almost 1,210 megawatts, but not quite!

Re:1,000 megawatt fusion reactor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032564)

no, dont build a nuclear power plant on the moon. It could explode and send the moon out of orbit.

Re:1,000 megawatt fusion reactor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032612)

Eh, back to the old capture-a-bolt-of-lightning energy plans... if we can only just determine when and where they will strike!

helium-3 vs ice-9 (1, Funny)

magarity (164372) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032532)

I just hope that helium-3 won't bond regular helium in some strange new way and make it into a solid.

what about the clones? (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032548)

We'll need clones cheap and quickly to run the station. I bet he hasn't thought of that. We're no where near efficient on cloning people. It's doomed from the beginning.

Great idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032566)

All we need now is a way to get to the moon...and back...and haul large cargo to the moon...and back. And a way to live continuously on the moon. And we also have to invent a working fusion reactor.

Si-Fi dreams are almost ALWAYS good ideas. The problems are; that behind implementing these dreams are engineers and scientists and their work is a bit harder than dreaming up a wet dream.

mining the moon is easy (3, Funny)

simoncpu was here (1601629) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032576)

Just point your portal gun at the moon.

Re:mining the moon is easy (1)

jargonburn (1950578) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032630)

One of my favorite moments in gaming, ever. Possibly my favorite, to date.

Stupid "Helium-3" idea. (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032584)

First, after more than half a century of work, we don't have a controlled fusion technology that generates more power than goes in. Not even close.

Second, if we did, it would probably be a deuterium-tritium reaction, which can be started at much lower energy levels. That's a good way to generate energy if it can be done. It does generate neutrons, though, which means that the containment tends to become radioactive over time. This probably means having some mildly radioactive metal to deal with. That's not a big problem.

D-T fusion also produces tritium, which is valuable,and in 12 years or so decays into ... helium-3.

So if we ever get fusion going, we'll probably have excess helium-3. Helium-3 fusion is cleaner, in that the outputs are helium and protons - no annoying neutrons. If we ever get fusion working, we'll probably see D-T fusion for fixed plants, and He3 fusion for spacecraft, with the He3 coming from the D-T plants.

Re:Stupid "Helium-3" idea. (2)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032666)

>D-T fusion also produces tritium

Before anyone jumps on Animats, this must be a reference to the idea of putting a lithium blanket around the fusion reactor to catch neutrons. The neutrons' reaction with the lithium produces helium and tritium.

Re:Stupid "Helium-3" idea. (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032826)

Your username has been tampered with.

Hot-fusion is always going to fail (2)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032824)

The real interesting work is being done by the "low energy nuclear reaction" researchers.

Did you hear about the Italian, Rossi? He's fusing a nano-nickel powder and hydrogen to create copper. Newest Cold Fusion Machine Does the Impossible ... Or Does it? [livescience.com] :

"Basically, there's a new physical effect that I think was found in the lab more than 20 years ago by Fleischmann and Pons [University of Utah electrochemists who were later derided for their work on cold fusion]," said Peter Hagelstein, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and one of the most mainstream proponents of cold fusion research. "It was not accepted by the scientific community. It's been laughed at and criticized. However, over the years the effect has continued to be seen."

As Max Planck said, "science advances on funeral at a time." Wall Street and the ghost of JP Morgan (Tesla-suppressor #1) are not going to be happy once these things hit mass production...

Wouldn't it be nice... (4, Funny)

Ardeaem (625311) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032590)

...if there were already some kind of giant fusion reactor near us in space? And what if that giant fusion reactor were constantly beaming some of its energy at us? That would be AWESOME.

Just awesome... (1)

WonderingAround (2007742) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032596)

How does on get to a position where you can suggest we mine the moon and be taken seriously? Also assuming humans will do what we always do with any resource and deplete the hell out of it, is it possible this could eventually lead to such problems such as affecting the tides perhaps?

Mine the Moon, not my mail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032644)

Nice to see that politicians start paying attention to privacy :-)

Next step... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032692)

Blow it up. [youtube.com]

Military (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032710)

Find a military application for the helium-3, then you will get your funding...

Let's blow the moon out of orbit! (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 3 years ago | (#36032830)

Look, if there are millions of tons of this helium-3 stuff just lying around on the surface and it is especially easy to "light" in a nuclear fusion "fire", maybe all we have to do is drop an H-bomb "match". Who knows, maybe the resulting explosion, if asymmetrical could blow the moon out of orbit! (Hope it doesn't fall down!)

I came up with this idea after watching "Space 1999" and thinking that there was no way that we could bring up enough nuclear waste to blow the moon out of it's orbit. However if this was merely the ignition maybe it is just within the utmost outer range of something remotely plausible.

I hope this isn't what the U.S. was planning to do In the 50s when they were thinking about nuking the moon! (you look it up :)

Old people! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36032834)

A good part of the energy problem may simply vanish if really old people just died instead of going on and on like Energizer bunny using up all sorts of resources and making senile proposals.

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