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MIT Fusion Researchers Answer Your Questions

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the and-are-awesome dept.

Power 244

You recently got the chance to ask a group of MIT researchers questions about fusion power, and they've now finished writing some incredibly detailed answers. They discuss the things we've learned about fusion in the past decade, how long it's likely to take for fusion to power your home, the biggest problems fusion researchers are working to solve, and why it's important to continue funding fusion projects. They also delve into the specifics of tokamak operation, like dealing with disruption events and the limitations on reactor size, and provide some insight into fusion as a career. Hit the link below for a wealth of information about fusion.1. What have we learned?
by jank1887

Fusion is one of those technologies that is always '50 years away,’ even 50 years ago, maybe even 50 years from now. So, looking at what's actually happened recently: What do we actually know now that we didn't know 10-15 years ago that gives support to the notion that we're making progress? Or, what are the 'big' things we know now? Similarly, what are the things we still don't know that we could reasonably expect to find answers for in the next 10-15 years?

MIT Researchers: As researchers in this field, we have heard the expression "Fusion is 50 years away and always will be" more times than we would like to admit. The implication of this statement is that no real progress has been made in the field, which is simply not true! We have made a great deal of progress, even in the last 10–15 years (which have been very lean times for funding). We’ll try to summarize some of the new findings, in no particular order:

1) Internal Transport Barriers/Reversed Shear operation –
We have actually discovered a way to improve upon the performance that we get in H- mode plasmas. These improvements come in the form for so called internal transport barriers. In the past 10–15 years we have begun to understand how to modify the current flowing in tokamak plasmas so that we create effectively what is a barrier in the middle of the plasma. Like the edge barrier in H-mode plasmas, this barrier restricts particles and energy from escaping the plasma and enhancing the overall performance. 2) I-mode –
In just the last 5 years, a new operational regime has been discovered on the Alcator C-Mod tokamak at MIT. This is termed the I-mode, or “Improved L-mode” regime. When the tokamak is operated in this manner it exhibits excellent energy confinement properties, keeping the plasma hot. At the same time the plasma does an excellent job of expelling impurities which dilute the fusion fuel and reduce the number of fusion reactions which can occur. It is particularly important to us as it was first observed on Alcator C-Mod, and is now under active development at many other tokamaks around the world.

3) Development of Predictive Models –
Great advances have been made in the development of predictive computer models, such as gyrokinetic and magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) formulations. Years of experiments have revealed that plasma turbulence is often primarily responsible for the loss of particles and energy from fusion reactors. In the past 10–15 years we have developed advanced models which are thought to contain sufficient physics to simulate plasma turbulence and predict the performance of future fusion devices. At this time we are in the process of validating these models, i.e. comparing them directly with experiment to ensure they are correct, but we are approaching the ability to reliably predict the performance of fusion plasmas without the need for a fusion reactor. This can motivate engineering design and operational choices for future fusion devices.

4) Self-acceleration of the plasma (intrinsic rotation) –
Over the past decade, it has been discovered (on Alcator C-Mod and elsewhere) that plasmas can spontaneously rotate, at speeds of tens of kilometers per second. (Imagine the donut-shaped plasma spinning on its axis.) This turns out to have beneficial effects for stabilizing turbulence at the edge, as the spinning plasma causes the turbulent eddies to break up before they can carry hot plasma out of the core. This is an exciting area of research that could have big implications for the performance of a tokamak reactor.

5) Disruption mitigation –
One of the main problems with a tokamak is the ‘disruption’, when the plasma energy is suddenly lost, stopping any fusion that is occurring and requiring a restart of the reactor. (See the question below for a lot of detail about this!) In extreme cases, these disruptions can cause damage to the wall of the tokamak – which would require repairs before the machine can be restarted. Over the past decade, we have developed techniques to mitigate these disruptions, causing the plasma to come to a rapid shutdown that does not negatively affect the wall condition. Work is underway to scale these techniques up to a reactor-size device (ITER).

6) ELM control/avoidance –
Another longstanding problem with tokamaks is periodic ‘bursts’ of energy from the edge called Edge-Localized Modes (ELMs). In today’s devices, ELMs are not a problem, but in ITER and future reactors, they could carry enough energy to damage the wall in the divertor region (where most of the energy comes out). There has been rapid progress lately (past 15 years) in ways to control these ELMs by making them more rapid and smaller, such as using resonant magnetic perturbation (RMP) coils to distort the shape of the confining magnetic field, or ‘pellet pacing’ (firing small pellets of deuterium fuel into the machine 50–60 times per second, which triggers an ELM), or vertical ‘kicks’ in which the control system suddenly jogs the plasma position a few centimeters vertically, also triggering an ELM. Between these techniques and the recently discovered I-mode (which doesn’t have ELMs), this is a problem that is well on the way to being solved.

7) High-Z walls –
This is a particular point of pride for Alcator C-Mod. Running a tokamak with walls made of refractory metals has many advantages because of the extreme capacity of these materials to absorb heat loads, but there are disadvantages as well, such as how radiative these high atomic number elements are if they get into the plasma as impurities, or how metallic materials distort when they melt, rather than ablating like carbon-fiber composites. Alcator C-Mod (which has a molybdenum wall) and other tokamaks have recently shown that it is possible to reliably run a tokamak with high-Z refractory metal walls, which will almost certainly be a feature of future reactors.

2. Power Loss Scenario in Alcator C-Mod?
by eldavojohn

Not to raise any fears -- rather out of genuine curiosity -- what happens when the magnetic fields that hold the 90,000,000 degrees Celsius plasma in place fail or loser power on the Alcator C-Mod? I understand it's probably in prototype mode, but what sort of safety advantages or disadvantages do Alcator C-Mod designs offer over conventional, large-scale designs? Does the plasma come into contact with the toroidal superconducting coil? Then what?

Geoff Olynyk answers: Actually, that’s exactly what my research is on! The event you describe is called a "disruption." Holding a hot plasma stationary using magnetic fields without it ever touching material surfaces is very difficult – Richard Feynman once compared it to trying to "hold Jello with rubber bands." For any number of reasons, like a magnetic coil losing power, the control system not being able to juggle the plasma position quickly enough, or the plasma hitting a stability limit (pressure or density goes too high), it’s possible for the plasma to hit the wall. The most important thing to know, though, is that when this occurs (and it does, frequently, in today’s experiments – although it’ll have to be a very rare occurrence in a real power reactor so it produces uninterrupted electricity), it is no risk to the environment or to safety.

To understand what happens, you have to realize that the plasma is very, very light. In the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, it has a mass of only about 0.001 grams – about one- fiftieth as much as the smallest drop of water you can get from an eyedropper. (This is with a plasma volume of about a cubic meter – a fusion plasma is actually a pretty good vacuum!) So even though it’s very hot, it doesn’t actually have a lot of thermal stored energy to flow into the wall if confinement is suddenly lost. There is actually more energy stored in the current flowing in the plasma (in C-Mod, about a million amperes), which also gets deposited on the wall. In C-Mod, thermal stored energy is about 50– 150 kJ and magnetic stored energy is almost 1000 kJ. The problem is that as we go to larger machines (like ITER, or a reactor), the amount of stored energy in the plasma scales like the cube of the size, and the wall area only scales like the square of the size. So the energy deposited per square meter of wall area gets worse (larger) as we go up in machine size.

The plasma doesn’t hit the superconducting coils - it hits (really, deposits its energy on) the “first wall” of the chamber closest to the plasma. So, we do two things to make sure that the walls can survive these disruption events. The first is making them out of materials that can take a blast of heat, like tungsten, or else materials that ablate away rather than melting, like carbon fiber composites. The second is to develop “disruption mitigation” systems which can cause the plasma to radiate all its energy evenly over the entire wall surface, spreading the heat out and lessening the chance of causing localized melting. But I want to stress again - disruptions are an operational problem, meaning they might cause a power plant to be offline for a while, but they’re not a safety problem. There is no chance of a runaway reaction or meltdown in a fusion reactor.

3. Ubiquitous Fusion Power
by monsted

When will fusion power my house (or vehicle)?

MIT Researchers: This is obviously an impossible question to answer, but we can give some thoughts about when it might happen, and why. First, the current official plan is that ITER will demonstrate net fusion gain (Q = 10, that is, ten times more fusion power out than heating power put in) in about 2028 or 2029. (Construction will be done by about 2022 but there’s a six-year shakedown process of steadily increasing the power and learning how to run the machine before the full-power fusion shots.) At that point, designs can begin for a “DEMO”, which is the fusion community’s term for a demonstration power plant. That would come online around 2040 (and would putt watts on the grid, although probably at an economic loss at first), and would be followed by (profitable, economic) commercial plants around 2050.

This seems like a long time, and it is, but it’s important to understand that this is not the only possible path. You might say that we’re not a certain number of years away from a working fusion power plant, but rather about $80-billion away (in worldwide funding). We’ll get into this more in response to one of the other questions, but there are other experiments that could be done in parallel with ITER that would certainly speed up the goal of a demonstration power plant, if there were the money for it. Here is a graph based on a 1976 ERDA (predecessor to today’s DOE) fusion development plan, showing their four paths to a reactor, as well as a business-as-usual funding case that would never lead to a reactor, and in black is the actual funding amounts. (All values are adjusted to 2012 dollars.)

U.S. Historical Fusion Budget vs. 1976 ERDA Plan

In the U.S. at least, fusion funding hasn’t been anywhere close to what would be required for a “crash program” to get to a reactor. If it were, it would probably be possible to have a demonstration reactor in about twenty years. (This is not actually that long - given that it takes almost a decade to build a large fission reactor or hydroelectric dam!)

Fusion has a reputation of “always being thirty years away” (or fifty, or twenty). We want to address that head-on here: aside from a few over-optimistic predictions made in the very early days of magnetic fusion research (the 1950s), this reputation is undeserved. The reason it has taken so long to get to breakeven (ITER) is because since the end of the 1970s, funding for fusion research has been continually slashed, up to today, when the U.S. is proposing shuttering one of three remaining tokamak experiments, the Alcator C-Mod device at MIT that we all work on. Despite this, progress has been continuous. But if we had the money, we would be getting there quicker.

4. What are the economic numbers for a successful, commercial reactor?
by kestasjk
I know that the economics of larger reactor = more economical are well known with tokamaks. Does this mean you have a good idea of the minimum cost / generating capacity of the first commercial reactors? If so, what do those numbers look like?
7. Lower Limit on Tokamak Design
by gyepi
Are there any good guesstimates on how small a tokamak-based fusion reactor (which produces more energy than it consumes) can become? Theoretical limitations on the size of the reactor would have obvious implications for pragmatic issues.

MIT Researchers: Questions 4 and 7 are similar and we answer them together here.

The current thinking is that a tokamak fusion reactor will be about 1 gigawatt electrical, and about 2–3.5 gigawatts thermal (depending on how high-temperature the blanket is and thus how thermally efficient it can be). This is about the size of a current fission reactor or large coal-fired power plant.

Fusion researchers are working on smaller designs, though! At MIT, some students are working on a concept for a 350–500 MW (thermal) class fusion reactor, which would be cheaper to field and thus more likely to be built by private industry with limited access to capital. This is still early work, though, and the economic analysis is not done yet.

Cost estimates for a new technology like fusion cannot be terribly reliable, but several studies suggest that, with suitable developments in science and technology, the costs could be competitive with other methods of electricity generation. We recommend you read the ARIES-AT study (google it), which goes through all the factors that go into the cost of electricity (COE) for a fusion reactor, and compares their concept to other electricity generation options (fission, fossil fuels, etc.) A key advantage of fusion is in what economists call "external costs." These are costs borne by society as a whole and not by the generating industry. Environmental pollution, nuclear proliferation, and military operations to protect oil supplies are all examples of external costs for energy.

5. What Problems are Holding Back Successful Reactions?
by Bucc5062

Can you explain to a non-scientist what the biggest stumbling blocks are for an effective fusion reaction? Is it truly a matter of throwing money down an energy hole, or are there verifiable, measurable benchmarks that lead us from one step to the next? I.e. we’ve achieved X, now we need Y; when we get Y, we get Z and then achieve fusion. Is it the technology holding us back, the politics, or the science?

MIT Researchers: We know exactly what we need to do. Not everything has a solution yet – that’s why it’s still a research project! – but we generally know what the big challenges are to get to a working magnetic fusion reactor. Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • 1 – Non-inductive current drive. We can’t rely on inductors to drive the plasma current since they are inherently pulsed (not steady-state). We think that lower hybrid current drive might be the solution, and are actively researching this on Alcator C-Mod.
  • 2 – Confining a 'burning plasma.' This is the big question that ITER will resolve – can we really confine a plasma that is dominantly self-heated – that is, most of its energy comes from fusion reactions rather than external heating. Will new instabilities appear? Or can we confine the plasma as we expect we can.
  • 3 – Confining a steady-state burning plasma while avoiding off-normal events. We have to do both of the previous points at the same time! And we can’t have disruptions too often or else the power plant won’t have a high enough duty factor. The goal is to have disruptions (which require a shutdown) occur less than once per year.
  • 4 – Validated predictive capability for fusion-grade plasmas. We have made great progress in this field already (see our answer to an earlier question), but it’s not at the point yet that, say, fluid mechanics codes are, where Boeing can design an entire plane in the computer before ever building a scale model. We need our models of fusion plasma behavior to be accurate and reliable enough to design first-of-a-kind machines that we are 100% sure will work the way we think they will.
  • 5 – Diagnosing a burning plasma. It’s really hard to tell any of the properties of the plasma even today, when we use pure deuterium fuel (instead of ‘live’ deuterium–tritium fuel), and our plasmas are colder than they would be in a reactor! You can’t, for example, stick a thermometer in to tell the temperature! We have to use subtle effects like bouncing a laser beam off the electrons and telling the temperature from the Doppler shift of the laser from the moving electrons (a technique known as Thomson scattering). Making these diagnostics work in the reactor environment, with higher plasma temperatures and a ferocious flux of neutrons coming out, is a great challenge.
  • 6 – Better understanding of plasma–wall interactions. The plasma is confined by magnetic fields, and ideally doesn’t touch the wall at all, except in a very small area called the divertor. This means that the material challenges in the divertor are severe – we have to figure out a way to operate the plasma so that it’s hot in the center, but cold near the divertor, so that it doesn’t erode the wall too fast. This will be a limiting factor on how long you can run a fusion power plant for before you have to shut it down in order to do maintenance. Ideally, we’d want this to be every 2 years or so, like fission power plants today.
  • 7 – Materials for plasma-facing components. We need to develop new materials that can withstand the high temperatures of the wall of a fusion reactor while resisting neutron damage and not becoming too activated by the neutrons that will pass through them. (There is some progress on this front with ferritic steels and silicon carbide.)
  • 8 – Magnets that meet the plasma physics requirements and allow reactor maintainability at reasonable costs. (Some of us are working on demountable superconducting coil concepts that may eventually be the solution to this!)
  • 9 – Design and materials for tritium fuel cycle and power extraction. Fusion reactors will breed their own tritium fuel from deuterium – this process has to be experimentally tested on a large scale (which will obviously require a burning plasma tokamak).
  • 10 – Reliability, availability, maintainability, and inspectability (RAMI) of the reactor designs. We have to show that our concepts for reactors really are as good as we think they can be.

The point is that it’s not a money pit. There are unsolved challenges, but we know what they are, and with adequate support, these challenges will be overcome. This is why we are urging everyone to go to fusionfuture.org and write Congress asking them to keep supporting U.S. fusion research! (It’s very easy – there’s a link at the right on the website.)

6. NIMBY
by GeneralTurgidson

How do you explain the safety/benefits of fusion to a generation of people terrified of nuclear anything?

MIT Researchers:This is where fusion really shines. The two big problems (at least, perceived problems) of fission reactors are the risk of a meltdown, and what you do with the high-level radioactive waste. Fusion has neither of these issues!

Regarding the first, the reason why a worst-case accident in a fission reactor can be so devastating is because there is a lot of fuel in the reactor at any one time. There are well known accidents at Chernobyl (where the reaction ‘ran away’, making more power than the reactor was designed to handle) and Fukushima, where the fission chain reaction was safely shut down, but the cores melted down when the tsunami knocked out the cooling systems, due to ‘decay heat’ which is produced by the used fuel even after shutdown.

In a fusion reactor, it’s a completely different story. There will be less than a gram of fuel in a reactor at any one time—fresh deuterium–tritium fuel is continually added as it is burned—and so a runaway reaction is simply not possible. Decay heat isn’t a problem in a pure fusion system, again because there just isn’t any fuel sitting there undergoing nuclear reactions once the reactor is shut down. In general, this is one area where it’s a benefit that a fusion reaction is so hard to sustain! We have to try really hard to keep the plasma hot enough to undergo fusion in the first place, so if we just turn off the heating and fuelling systems, the fusion reaction will shut down very quickly.

As for the second benefit of fusion (waste), the reaction is completely different from that in a fission reactor. In fission, uranium (or other heavy elements like plutonium) split into pieces, producing hundreds of different isotopes, some of which are radioactive, with half-lives ranging from fractions of a second to millions of years. In fusion, the reaction is simple, deuterium + tritium helium + neutron. So there is no “waste” from the unburned fuel – any tritium that isn’t burned gets pumped out of the chamber and recirculated back in.

This is not to say that there will be no radioactive waste from a fusion plant. The reactor vessel itself will become activated because of the flux of neutrons passing through it, and will have to be treated accordingly when the plant is decommissioned (after, say, a 50-year operational period). But it’s important to note that this kind of radioactive waste is of a much lower level – it won’t have to be stored for very long before it will be “cool” enough to simply bury in the ground safely. And there is active research going on into new materials for fusion reactors that are more resistant to activation by neutrons, such as ferritic steel and silicon carbide.

Finally, fusion has great advantages for nuclear non-proliferation. Creating enough fission power plants to avoid climate change would mean that the plutonium moving around the world would be enough to create about 100,000 nuclear weapons. For fusion, it is much more difficult to use a reactor to make fuel for weapons. This is also something that we think a nuclear-skeptical public will appreciate about fusion power.

All of us are strong supporters of fission power, and we agree that at times, the nuclear power industry has not received a fair shake when compared to other sources of energy. But we think that the advantages of fusion power speak for themselves, and the public will be able to understand the risks and will support the construction of these plants. Obviously, having media that are able to explain things clearly and fairly are a necessity.

8. What do the numbers really look like?
by Erich

ITER is a hugely expensive project, and won't produce a commercially viable power generation system. In a lot of areas where research is done on things which don't work yet -- rockets, bridges, transmission systems, etc -- there's a general idea of how things might be able to "scale up" to meet the goals. Is tokamak fusion really in sight of being a commercially viable source of energy? If we need unobtanium to make a commercially viable reactor, wouldn't it make sense to wait until the materials are viable before making even larger tokamaks? Or is it still worth learning from these new, bigger, more expensive reactors?

MIT Researchers: You are exactly correct in your statement; ITER is an expensive project which will not produce electricity upon completion. However, ITER’s main purpose is not to put watts on the grid, but to demonstrate the scientific feasibility of fusion by creating a Q=10 plasma (10 times as much energy out as we put in). We do have a good idea of how to proceed with devices following ITER, namely DEMO, a full demonstration fusion power plant which will use the steam cycle to generate electricity from the fusion reactor. The basic layout of a reactor can be found here: http://www.fusionfuture.org/what-is-alcator- c-mod/c-mod-for-energy/

Although there is still plenty of research which remains, fusion is in sight of being a commercially viable energy source. We believe that we now understand the physics well enough to create the appropriate plasma conditions (this will be demonstrated on ITER) and we are working on the engineering challenges that lay between us and a commercial fusion reactor.

It is obviously impossible to predict when fusion will put power on the grid since the estimate can change drastically based on demand and overall funding levels. You are however, correct in noting that some of the biggest challenges involve the discovery/ development of materials which can resist the unique and harsh conditions associated with fusion reactors, namely, high heat and neutron fluxes. Due to its importance to the success of future devices, this is a very active and important area of research.

The international fusion community is attempting to address these issues in the following manner: Given the scope of the ITER project and the time required to build and test it, we are planning on constructing a materials testing facility named, IFMIF which stands for International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility. This facility should be operated at the same time as ITER and will be addressing the materials issues associated with an eventual fusion power plant while ITER is demonstrated the scientific feasibility of a fusion reactor.

Given the time-scales for reactor construction, we think it would be unwise to wait for this materials testing to be complete before starting new machine construction. Addressing the remaining problems in parallel will most likely result in the quickest path to fusion energy.

9. Careers in Fusion?
by benjfowler

As practicing researchers, can you tell us about the health of the pipeline of young researchers coming into the field? Is there a glut of trained physicists at this stage, or is there still a need for trained specialists to enter the field, especially with ITER and follow-on machines coming online in the next couple of decades?

Nathan Howard answers: At this point in time fusion is actually a pretty healthy field in terms of young researchers and with emergence of the next generation devices such as ITER, there should be an influx of researchers stepping up to meet the need for trained specialists on these next gen devices. Currently in Europe and Asia, emphasis on fusion research is ramping up to support the research needs. These newly trained researchers are going to be the scientists working on ITER in 10-15 years.

Unfortunately, the US fusion program is in danger of going the opposite direction of the Asian and European programs. The current proposals made by the US are threatening the health of fusion in the US. The President’s 2013 budget proposal calls for drastic cuts to the domestic fusion budget to pay for increased funding for the ITER budget. However, if these cuts continue, there will not be a field for the young researchers to enter and the US fusion program is in danger of dissolving before ITER comes online.

This does not mean that a need for trained specialist will not remain, it just means that the young researchers in Europe and Asia will be filling these positions. Dr. Stewart Prager, the head of Princeton Plasma Physics Lab said it best, “We have a clear choice before us: The United States can either design and build fusion energy plants or we can buy them from Asia or Europe.”

As a young researcher myself, I am particularly affected by the choices that the US is currently making. Myself and other graduate students have been urging others who support fusion research to contact congress and tell them to continue to fund domestic fusion research. We put together a website, www.fusionfuture.org, which provides more information and people the ability to quickly and easily contact their congressmen to tell them to support research. Please support US fusion research and check out the site.

12. Patents?
by Anonymous Coward

Will patents get in the way of your research?

MIT Researchers: In general, we find that the tokamak labs of the world are extremely cooperative; patents have never been a problem. It does seem likely that the technologies supporting power plants will be highly patentable, but the sort of scientific knowledge we’re accumulating at present really isn’t. At some point, we expect to move from a collaborative to a competitive phase – but we’re not there yet.

11. What level of investment would get fusion going?
by Tragek
Do you think a program the size of the Apollo program could kickstart fusion to general availability? Or would a smaller program suffice?
14. What could you do with unlimited resources?
by petes_PoV
Given $1 trillion, the pick of the best brains in the world to work willingly on the project, a large enough location away from any and all governmental regulation and every facility you could ever need - when would fusion be commercially viable?

MIT Researchers: Questions 11 and 14 are similar and we have answered them together.

Any kind of question asking about a hypothetical massive increase in funding is tricky to answer. We probably couldn’t even spend a trillion dollars if we wanted to – just because it would take a long time to get enough people trained in plasma physics and fusion energy.

We can say this: an increase in funding would allow for different paths to be tried in parallel, like stellarators, tokamaks (ITER), spherical tokamaks, etc. Plus, we could build a facility in the United States to study the problem of plasma–wall interactions, which is a very important topic that has not been adequately studied up to this point (see our answer above about what steps are needed to get to a reactor).

We think that we’re roughly $80-billion away from a reactor. At current levels of funding (worldwide), that’s about 40 years. Even given access to huge amounts of money, it’s unlikely that a working reactor could be built in less than a decade – there are just too many facilities to build between current devices and a full-scale reactor in order to ensure success. But we could certainly do it faster than 40 years!

We want to note that “crash” programs like Apollo or the Manhattan Project succeeded because they took risks – they started work on building their systems before they had done all the homework. That is inherently risky, but these risks are mitigated by pursuing alternatives in parallel. Something similar could be done in fusion, given the money.

15. Your favorite books?
by eldavojohn

I'm not a physicist (software guy), but I've taken a few physics classes. At an early age I found a tattered copy of George Gamow's One Two Three . . . Infinity, which, although incorrect in some parts (I guess that's why they revised it and that's why 'speculations' was in the title), was perfectly written for my then-fifth-grade mind. It set me on a path toward science, and a few weeks ago I saw the same 1960s Viking Press edition and flipped through it, noticing what was slightly off and remembering it. I've since grown to love other obvious books by authors like Hawking, Penrose, Hofstadter, etc. So, quite simply, what are your favorite books for all minds, young and old? Also, can you annotate which are written for the layman's entry into the given field and which are written to encompass the field for the researcher? I find that some books start off with the jargon so strong and the references and footnotes so thick that you start to have to re-read every paragraph, as they're clearly condensing entire historic papers into lengthy sentences. Any fiction books worthy of influencing your work and desires?

Ian Hutchinson: My all time favorite novel is Godric by Fredrick Buechner. It's a wonderful first-person portrait of the prior life of a medieval hermit. My favorite physics teaching text is the Feynman Lectures on Physics, which comes from a remarkable effort by the most widely acclaimed american physicist of the 20th century to explain really advanced physics to undergraduates.

I really don't enjoy the genre of books that combine science popularization with metaphysical speculation. They are of course quite popular, but most are philosophically naive in a way that I find annoying.

Anne White: I like detective/adventure stories. I also enjoy reading plays, poetry and short stories – some authors I read over and over are Wolfgang Borchert, Julio Cortazar, Ray Bradbury and Samuel Beckett.

Recently, I've enjoyed reading The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

Influential books/stories that I remember reading when I was young : The Pearl (John Steinbeck), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), Flatland, and Ender's Game.

Dennis Whyte:

  • For science non-fiction books, it’s a tie: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould.
  • Novel (in general subject area of science): The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
  • Speculative fiction: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Geoff Olynyk: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes is the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. It’s a bit long, but is a fascinating, well-written exploration of the project to develop the atom bomb (both in the U.S. and elsewhere).

This is not a science book, but The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (sold in the United States as Nation of Rebels) changed my life. I was into counterculture, "culture jamming," anti-advertising, that kind of stuff, and this book made me seriously reconsider all of it. I now understand that trying to be unique is futile in a world of seven billion, and I should just try to be a good person and do good for the world (hence working on fusion!) Potter’s follow-up The Authenticity Hoax, explores the search for authenticity in more detail, but it’s not nearly as good of a book as Rebel Sell.

Nathan Howard: I first became interested in physics by reading about astrophysics. I was specifically interested in black holes and so one of the first books I read (after some of the popular books by Hawking which are written for general audiences, e.g. A Brief History of Time) was a book by Kip S. Thorne called Black Holes and Time Warps. I really enjoyed this book. It did not require much technical background, just some basic mathematics, and it gave good explanations of black holes, relativity, and gravitational waves.

16. Why is fusion more useful than exploiting thorium?
by gestalt_n_pepper

I understand that in the long term, we would want fusion. But we face increasing energy problems over the next 50 years and severe energy problems before 2100. Wouldn't it make sense to allocate research and development resources to something that we know works?

MIT Researchers: First of all, fusion will be putting watts on the grid before 2100. It’s not going to be tomorrow, but it’s not going to be a hundred years, either.

We know how to build thorium fission reactors. It's been done. They have none of the major attractions of a fusion reactor in terms of safety, fuel resources, reduced waste, or non-proliferation. Worldwide thorium fuel resources are about the same as those of uranium. Thorium reactors might become part of the commercial fission reactor mix in the future, but they don't offer transformative possibilities for nuclear power the way fusion does.

That said, we think that the that the scale of the energy/climate problem demands that we (meaning: government and private industry where appropriate) pursue multiple lines of development into new energy sources. Obviously nobody wants to waste taxpayer money, so all proposals have to be evaluated for chance of success – but today, it’s limited by funding more than by a lack of good ideas. This shouldn’t be the case.

The key thing we want to get across is that it shouldn’t be a contest between “fund fusion” or “fund thorium research”. Fusion is extremely important for humankind and should be funded – if thorium fission also has promise, it should be funded too.

17. How is fusion power harnessed?
by circletimessquare

The talk is always about reaching break-even with fusion. What about capturing the power? Are we generating heat that will drive steam turbines? What schemes exist for capture and harnessing the power generated by fusion?

MIT Researchers: In a magnetic fusion reactor, each deuterium-tritium fusion produces a 3.5 MeV (mega- electronvolt) alpha particle (helium nucleus) which deposits its energy in the plasma (this self-heating is how you can have an ‘ignited’ plasma which doesn’t require much or any external heating), and a 14.1 MeV neutron, which deposits its energy in a thick lithium blanket surrounding the toroidal reaction chamber. But in the end, all of it comes out as heat!

For a conservative fusion reactor design, this heat would be removed by a primary cooling loop (high-pressure steam or some sort of liquid metal) which would give the heat to a secondary steam loop (Rankine cycle) in a heat exchanger (steam generator). The steam would then turn a turbine, producing electricity, just like in a fission or coal power plant.

Of course, with a thermal process like a steam cycle, one is always limited by the Carnot efficiency, which increases as the temperature of the high-temperature reservoir goes up. So there are also designs to use a very high-temperature (800–1000 C) gas cooling loop and a Brayton cycle.

But the short answer is: the alpha power is captured by the plasma, and the neutron power is captured by the blanket. It all comes out as heat, which is used to heat a working fluid, which turns a turbine, producing electricity. This is not expected to be a technological problem – the challenge is in getting a confined thermonuclear plasma to produce the fusion energy in the first place!

19. Fusion Milestone Prizes?
by Baldrson

In 1992, with the assistance of fusion technologists such as Robert W. Bussard, I developed legislative language for a series of 12 milestones, each of which would be awarded a $(1992)100M prize for the achievement of objectives toward the attainment of practical fusion energy. This legislation also provided a grace period during which scientists and technologists that had been working on the US fusion program would be provided full salaries, without obligation, during which time they could seek support for their ideas to achieve these milestones. This legislation presaged a number of other prizes including the X-Prize and BAFAR / CATS prize. In 1995, Robert W. Bussard submitted this legislation to all relevant Congressional committees, copying all US plasma physics laboratories. Needless to say, the legislation wasn't passed. Do you think the time is right?

MIT Researchers: We think that the current approach, in which government-funded labs are not in direct competition, but have to justify their funding to the agency (in our case, the DOE), is the best option for the moment. Perhaps the X-PRIZE approach might work for the alternative concepts? (see our answer below regarding Polywell/Dense Plasma Focus/ IEC etc.)

20. ITER
by MpVpRb

Is the ITER project good science? Or is it a politically-motivated, pork-laden boondoggle?

MIT Researchers: ITER is absolutely good science. Governments representing over half the population of the world are backing the project because it is the logical next step – a prototype reactor that will produce ten times more fusion energy than heating power put in, for a few minutes at a time. It is also pushing forward the development of fusion reactor technology (materials, control systems, remote handling systems, etc.). The U.S. fusion community endorsed ITER as the best option for a next-step experiment at the Snowmass II conference in 2002 (see proceedings here).

All of that said, the cost of ITER has risen substantially from the original estimates, and because overall magnetic fusion funding has remained nearly flat in the United States, the U.S. contribution to ITER is threatening to swallow up the entire domestic program. This is starting with the planned closure of Alcator C-Mod in September 2012, but unless more money is allocated to fusion research, all three U.S. tokamak facilities are at risk in the next few years.

Graduate students at Alcator C-Mod have put together a web page explaining the problem: http://www.fusionfuture.org/faq/the-fusion-budget-problem/ and we urge you to go to this website and click the link to contact your member of Congress and urge them to fully fund a strong domestic program and the U.S. contribution to ITER!

21. NIF
by Grond

Is the NIF approach even plausibly capable of generating electricity in a useful way? Or is it purely a research platform / smokescreen for nuclear weapons research?

MIT Researchers: The primary mission of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) is "stockpile stewardship." That is, to ensure that U.S. nuclear weapons continue to be a credible deterrent. This is why NIF is funded by the National Nuclear Security Agency (the agency in charge of the nation’s nuclear stockpile), not the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences program. Thus, the weapons research mission of NIF is not a smokescreen, but is actually the publicly acknowledged primary objective for the facility.

Some researchers at NIF believe that their inertial fusion approach can be used for an energy source as well. We don’t want to speculate here on the plausibility of the LIFE (Laser Inertial Fusion Energy) concept. There is a National Academy of Science review of the prospects of inertial fusion energy under way right now; the final report is expected to be published before the end of this year.

18. Dense Plasma Focus
by mbradmoody
Do you see any merit in the "dense plasma focus" approach to commercial fusion power production, specifically the work of the Lawrenceville Plasma Physics group?
22. Focus Fusion / aneutronic fusion?
by mwk88
Focus Fusion Society is posting research on their project to do aneutronic (e.g. Proton Boron (pB11)) fusion. The concept sounds great, and as an engineer, I find several parts of their design, such as direct extraction of electric power, to be elegant. Is this credible research or pie-in-the-sky? I have not seen much mention of them in mainstream fusion research.
23. Polywell Fusion
by mknewman
What do you think of the efforts at EMC2 Fusion and Polywell Fusion? They seem to be making real, measurable, and open results, but the mainstream physics community seems to ignore this progress.
24. What’s wrong with IECs / Fusor?
by claytongulick
Why aren't IEC reactors based on Farnsworth's designs taken more seriously? From what I understand, IECs have been more effective at producing fusion, and they are cheap to build. People even build them in the garage. From everything I've read, no one really takes the "fusor" seriously in the fusion science realm, and it's considered a dead line of inquiry. I've never understood why.

MIT Researchers: These four questions (18, 22–24) are answered together here.

None of us are experts on inertial electrostatic confinement, magnetized target fusion / dense plasma focus, or Polywells, and so we don’t want to say too much about the specifics of those designs. We can say the following:

1. The amount of money that is being spent, especially in the United States, on fusion is far lower than the field deserves, given its track record and potential. This sounds self-serving, but we think it’s justifiable based on the facts. The graph we posted above shows how the fusion budget is far lower today than it was thirty years ago, even as we continue to make steady progress toward a reactor and the seriousness of the coupled energy/climate problem becomes more obvious.

The alternate confinement concepts program has also seen cuts. (“Alternative” in DOE Fusion Energy Sciences parlance means, basically, anything that isn’t tokamaks, stellarators, or laser [inertial] fusion.) The Levitated Dipole Experiment, an innovative magnetic-confinement arrangement based on planetary magnetic fields, was cancelled just as they were about to add significant auxiliary heating for the first time. And these small-scale alternative confinement projects are not very expensive! Some of these alternative concepts may very well be promising and deserve taxpayer money to be developed.

2. But on the other hand, these groups need to show that they deserve funding. It’s not enough to just tease these promising results and be secretive about the methods or technologies. Public funding can only come when the details are published in the open literature, and subjected to the scrutiny of peer review and the wider community reading the papers. The (hot) fusion community is still living with the aftermath of the cold fusion scandal from a quarter century ago - so it’s very important for the proponents of these alternate concepts to push the researchers to publish their results in peer-reviewed journals. Whatever negatives the tokamak might have, one thing you can’t say about it is that the research has been too secretive, and this has allowed the funding agencies to make the judgement that the tokamak is currently the most promising route to a fusion reactor, which is why this line of research gets the most money.

Special thanks to Dr. Martin Greenwald, Prof. Ian Hutchinson, Asst. Prof. Anne White, Prof. Dennis Whyte, Nathan Howard, and Geoff Olynyk for taking the time to answer our questions.

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244 comments

Very brief summary (-1, Flamebait)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39644151)

We've made improvements. But yes, it's still 50 years off as always. Give us more money. Here is a chart showing why you need to give us *A LOT* more money.

Did we mention that you should give us more money? I mean, this isn't a money pit--we swear. But we do need about $80 billion if you can spare it. $80 billion and we can probably have it done in about 20 years--maybe. We're totally good for it, man. Honest.

Re:Very brief summary (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#39644259)

And what do you think would be a better use of $ 80 billion - fusion power, or so many more months of spending on our bloated Department of Defense ?

Re:Very brief summary (2, Interesting)

hirundo (221676) | about 2 years ago | (#39644617)

And what do you think would be a better use of $ 80 billion - fusion power, or so many more months of spending on our bloated Department of Defense ?

Crazy idea, I know, but maybe a better use would be to leave it with the people who earned it?

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | about 2 years ago | (#39644823)

What for The People's Fusion Research Kickstarter Project? Here is a crazy idea: Some people are just fine with their tax money going to fundamental research.
I tire of the tax trolls that plague this site.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#39645965)

I am one of those who is fine with my tax money going to fundamental research, but let's not pretend that it isn't being done by force. For me, the act of taking someone's money and spending it on something that I like has to be outweighed by the benefit to society.

Re:Very brief summary (5, Insightful)

powerlinekid (442532) | about 2 years ago | (#39644873)

That is a great strategy if there were no looming long term issues that would eventually affect those individuals. That is the point of government funding of these projects.

A tree doesn't care about a forest fire until it's neighbor is on fire.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

spasm (79260) | about 2 years ago | (#39646027)

Sure, as long as your business or the business you work for which is 'earning' all that money starts paying directly on a per-use basis for the infrastructure on which it depends - you know, roads, the education system which gave you literate workers, a legal and police system to stop anyone with a gun just walking in and taking your hard earned money whenever they feel like it, .. If you really don't think that stuff is necessary, I hear Somalia would love to have you move there and start a business.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 2 years ago | (#39646219)

And what do you think would be a better use of $ 80 billion - fusion power, or so many more months of spending on our bloated Department of Defense ?

Crazy idea, I know, but maybe a better use would be to leave it with the people who earned it?

Yes, that's crazy! Plus, it lacks compassion - we need investment money for the truly compassionate. You know, like federal bureaucracies always are.

Also, the way I've heard it, we already tried that free market approach and it didn't work. So, now, we need stuff like the Jimmy Buffet rules, for better fairness, because wealthy basketball players shouldn't be paying a lower rate on their earnings than Secretariat.

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39646223)

>maybe a better use would be to leave it with the people who earned it?

so we can all freeze in the dark or die as the oceans rise. Great solution, genius.

Re:Very brief summary (1, Insightful)

IrquiM (471313) | about 2 years ago | (#39644657)

War with Iran! Definitely!

Nothing says money in the bank like that!
(At least for us oil-exporting nations!)

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644309)

We've made improvements. But yes, it's still 50 years off as always. Give us more money. Here is a chart showing why you need to give us *A LOT* more money.

Did we mention that you should give us more money? I mean, this isn't a money pit--we swear. But we do need about $80 billion if you can spare it. $80 billion and we can probably have it done in about 20 years--maybe. We're totally good for it, man. Honest.

jj must work on an oil derrick... like his daddy's daddy's cousins daddy...

Re:Very brief summary (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#39644345)

Wow. You read the whole summary in under a minute and still had time for first post. Quite amazing. And there was absolutely no sarcam in my post. Nope. No sarcasm at all.

Re:Very brief summary (0, Flamebait)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39644381)

Wow. You have a six digit UID and haven't realized in all those years that subscribers get to see stories in advance. Quite amazing. And there was absolutely no sarcam in my post. Nope. No sarcasm at all.

Re:Very brief summary (3, Funny)

IrquiM (471313) | about 2 years ago | (#39644685)

When did a 6 digit UID become "awesome"? I think I missed that day...

Re:Very brief summary (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39644995)

When did a 6 digit UID become "awesome"? I think I missed that day...

Probably an order of magnitude after 5 digit UIDs became "really super awesome".

Re:Very brief summary (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645103)

Okay, that explains the first post. Still doesn't explain why you are a wanker.

Re:Very brief summary (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644379)

So for the cost of a year in Iraq, we could have ended out dependence on fossil fuels. Forever.

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644481)

Or, another way, ~$250 per person living in the USA.

$80 billion is not a lot of money. Even for the *chance* that it will solve the impending energy crisis, we should be glad to spend the money.

Re:Very brief summary (2)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39644625)

Or, another way, $250 for each person's *descendent* to pay someday--since the average U.S. citizen isn't even paying for what his government *currently* spends, much less any additional investments.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#39645285)

I agree with you in principle, but I wouldn't take any dollar figure at face value. It would probably be more fair to compare the $80BN figure to the pre-war estimate of what Iraq would cost, which was, coincidentally, $50-$60 BN [cnn.com] , with an "upper end of a hypothetical" at $200BN. (And unlike the estimate for fusion, the war estimate was based on a previous, seemingly comparable situation - the Gulf War in 1990).

Re:Very brief summary (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644553)

Fusion is one of those technologies that is always '50 years away,’ even 50 years ago, maybe even 50 years from now.

I remember when stating this fact, it was certain one would be troll moderated to death. According to slashdot trolls and a sizable percentage of the slashdot readership, the above statement is a lie, which has been and never will be true.

And people wonder why its soooo easy to look down on the majority of the slashdot readership and the large packs of trollish and ignorant moderators.

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645407)

Presumably, because when you state this 'fact', it's just seen as a throw-away line. When MIT researchers in this field make a similar statement, it's worthy of consideration. BTW, is it lonely up there?

Re:Very brief summary / Obligatory XKCD (5, Insightful)

LordNicholas (2174126) | about 2 years ago | (#39644555)

Let's put $80 billion in perspective (data mostly courtesy of XKCD http://xkcd.com/980 [xkcd.com] ).

$80 billion is:

4 new subway lines in NYC (~$17 billion each)
9 aircraft carriers (Gerald Ford class, ~$9 billion each)
Less than Apple's cash on hand (~$97 billion)
Slightly more than the F-22 Raptor program (~$67 billion, now halted/wasted)
Slightly more than President Obama's 2011 high-speed rail proposal (~$53 billion)
About half of the International Space Station (~$138 billion)
Less than half of the Apollo moon landing project (~$192 billion)
3 Manhattan Projects (~$24 billion each)
80 Instagrams

In the grand scheme of Humanity, $80 billion is a trivial cost if it could help solve the world's energy concerns. At least in my opinion.

Re:Very brief summary / Obligatory XKCD (-1, Troll)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39644757)

$80 billion is a trivial cost if it could help solve the world's energy concerns.

Yes. But the VERY key word there is "if."

"If" as in "If this doesn't run way over-budget and end up costing way more than $80 billion"

"If" as in "If fusion doesn't turn out to be a dead-end money-pit"

"If" as in "If we wouldn't be wiser to invest in other forms of energy generation"

"If" as in "If these researchers are objective in their evaluation, and not just trying to solicit more funding for themselves and their own program."

Re:Very brief summary / Obligatory XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645235)

Amazing, AAPL has the cash for an armada of 3 state-of-the-art aircraft carriers stocked with a fleet of F-22s. That's enough to reach Asia from their home base in Cupertino and one carrier away from being a suicide mission. On the other hand, if they launched from Hawaii...

Re:Very brief summary / Obligatory XKCD (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#39645263)

It's about 24 feet of subway in Los Angeles, or a mile of above ground high speed (some day) rail connecting two ghost towns.

Re:Very brief summary (2)

MaXintosh (159753) | about 2 years ago | (#39644577)

If you'd read, you'd see the number is 40 years off. That's 10 less than 50!

I think you're being unfair with the money begging. Basically, here's what they'd said (by my reading): Fusion power is going to happen. It's a matter of when, not if. But if we want it in a timeframe that most humans are used to working (before most of us are dead and buried) we need to start taking it seriously. Insert allusions to the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Missions, both of which involved pouring a ton of money into a specific scientific problem.

I'm pretty disappointed they didn't talk more about the NIF. Pretty much every article I read about "Yet another fusion problem solved; thinks rosier than we thought!" has been work coming out of the NIF.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

rgbrenner (317308) | about 2 years ago | (#39644933)

If you'd read, you'd see the number is 40 years off.

It's 40 years if they go from ITER -> commercial viable reactor.. but further down, they say ITER will produce 10x more energy for minutes at a time. Pretty sure commercial reactors need to produce electricity for a bit longer than that. And I can't imagine anyone would attempt a commercial reactor when the prototype (ITER) can only operate for a few minutes.

It also assumes, they won't discover some problem with ITER, and that ITER will work as expected (ie: best case scenario).

The whole thing is incredibly optimistic.

I have a hard time it's 40 or even 50 years.. more like ITER (in 2030) -> some other reactor -> barely commercially viable reactor -> a demonstrably commercially viable reactor... then someone will actually build a commercial reactor from it.

Figure 2150... long after we're dead.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 2 years ago | (#39644965)

The answers here make clear for the first time that I've seen in a public place in a long time what the function of NIF is - it is NOT a project oriented towards civil energy generation, but a weapons research project.

They are solving problems, sure, but they are solving problems for their needs, which don't necessarily have applicability to civil energy needs.

Re:Very brief summary (5, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#39644601)

80 billion is a drop in the ocean compared to, say, USA military spending.

Plus... you actually get something in return.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

CaptainPinko (753849) | about 2 years ago | (#39646363)

Due you think that crowdsourcing might help? Anyone know what it takes to get an experiment going? I mean if we can get $2M for Wasteland 2, surely we could get at least $2M for a fusion experiment. Maybe more if we could get tax deducatable receipts... and a cool (or should I say "hot"? ;) ) t-shirt.

Re:Very brief summary (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#39644651)

Sad that the first response to a very good science article (kudos, slashdot!) is a money-worshiping luddite. Which oil company do you work for, anyway?

Shouldn't you be at Business Week or the Wall Street Journal or FOX rather than slashdot?

How many days of war in Afghanistan will that $80B buy? I not only have no problem with my taxes going to research, I encourage it. As does anyone else with more than a two digit IQ. I sure wish they'd end that damned war, though.

Re:Very brief summary (-1, Troll)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39644867)

Sad that the first response to a very good science article (kudos, slashdot!) is a money-worshiping luddite. Which oil company do you work for, anyway?

It's much sadder than any skepticism of an article written by those with a vested financial interest in increasing funding for their own program is met with the counter-charge of "Well then you must have some vested financial interest in being skeptical."

Shouldn't a request for a huge increase in funding always be met with a degree of skepticism, particularly in a field that has been VERY long on promises and VERY short on delivering them for so many decades now?

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Jiro (131519) | about 2 years ago | (#39644695)

Many of the answers to that question seem to be "here's an area in which we've improved, and in which we need more improvement". The problem is that it doesn't then state how far along they are. Something like "we improved this from 10% to 50% and we think that 70% is enough" would be very different from "we improved this from 1% to 2% and we need to get to 70%"

Re:Very brief summary (3, Insightful)

m.ducharme (1082683) | about 2 years ago | (#39644859)

I think there's good reason for that. You're basically asking them to evaluate their position on a continuum that isn't actually static. It may be that the next discovery, which for the sake of argument might be predicted to move the project along 10%, actually ends up cutting out half the upcoming work, or adds more unknown and unforeseen problems to be solved.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Jiro (131519) | about 2 years ago | (#39645433)

That's exactly the problem. They're describing their progress in order to justify the claim that they're 50 years away from fusion. If they don't know whether the next step is going to move the project a lot or show that they need to solve even more problems, then how can they know that they are some specific number of years away?

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644771)

Well, maybe I should put words in *your* mouth:

"I've already decided that this will never work, despite the evident progress in materials, modelling, computing power, and experimental results. Even though it's far less than the Apollo program, or a few months of the DoD budget - the prospect of fusion energy is a bullshit deal for taxpayers. There's no good reason to worry about energy needs, pollution, proliferation, environmental degradation, foreign oil dependencies and blow-back. If I can't charge my next iPhone with a Mr. Fusion, then it must be bullshit. The spin-offs from high energy physics research over the last century ... all bullshit."

Re:Very brief summary (-1, Troll)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39644935)

No, the thing the really perplexes me about the article (putting aside the issue of the bias of authors who have a personal financial interest in increased funding), is the fact that they seem to simultaneously be arguing that they're making progress on fusion, but that fusion can't make progress without increased funding. Well fellas, which is it?

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645299)

they seem to simultaneously be arguing that they're making progress on fusion, but that fusion can't make progress without increased funding.

I guess you didn't read it very closely then. They said something like "we're making considerable progress on fusion, but fusion will progress *much faster* with increased funding."

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645359)

This is moronic. It's like saying you've driven 1000km, you shouldn't need more fuel for the next 1000km. Equipment and research cost money. As our scientific endeavours become more ambitious, the costs get higher. The low hanging fruit is gone. It's why the Wright brothers didn't focus on stealth aircraft. It's why the LHC is orders of magnitude more expensive than the early synchrotrons.

Re:Very brief summary (2)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 years ago | (#39644803)

I'd rather spend 80 billion on something that has the ability to fundamentally change our existance as we know it.

The biggest limitation on technology right now is energy. If we throw fusion reactors with a high Q factor in the mix, chemical processes which are right now too expensive will be trivial.

Take the Pacific Gyre. A fusion plant combined with a thermal depolymerization setup will render the used condoms into usable crude that can be used for making stuff (and not just burning).

Fuel for cars and vehicles? It was discussed on /. about being able to break apart CO2 from the air and use that as a potential fuel source. Ideally, it would be nice to be able to render liquified propane from CO2, because propane is one of the most idiot-resistant [1] fuel sources around, and if it leaks, it just disperses (or ignites), and doesn't post an environmental hazard compared to gasoline or diesel.

Oil companies won't be affected by fusion -- instead of petroleum being burned, it will be used for more projects such as plastics, cements, and other items. This allows them to keep selling oil, without having to resort to more damaging ways to find more places to drill.

For a government, 80 billion is not that big a number. I'd rather see it spent on something that might do some good, and the research knowledge gained is always usable in other fields.

[1]: I did not say idiot proof. There are always people who think that disposing of their propane bottles in a campfire is a great idea.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 years ago | (#39645117)

You may have noted that there are no (or certainly not many) oil companies now, they are all called energy companies. This is because they already see the day when oil is too expensive for most people to use for energy, so they are diversifying into other ways of making energy. BP is a huge manufacturer of solar cells, for example. It is entirely probable that today's energy companies would be involved in the future's commercialization of fusion.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 years ago | (#39644821)

$80 billion isn't much. It's only very slightly over 0.1 Iraq Wars (DOD estimate of the direct costs of the Iraq war is $757bn.) At only 0.1 Iraq Wars, you can hardly describe it as a money pit.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

durrr (1316311) | about 2 years ago | (#39644905)

the banks got $800 bil just like that. And they didn't even promise anything. And that money hardly lasted a year before we were all in the same situation again.

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644919)

Not only is $80 billion a drop in the bucket, as others have pointed out... but we'd be able to be pretty sure of it working out way before we'd spent the entire budget.

I just don't understand it. If the UK alone can spend £33 billion ($52 billion) on a high speed rail network, how come the WORLD can't spend $80 billion on solving the energy crisis? A much, much, much more important problem.

Workable, efficient fusion reactors would literally revolutionise the world.

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644951)

I see Fusion as a long game. A long, long, long game that probably isn't going to see even minimal fruition before 2050. I'll be 100 in 2078. Why? It IS just that complex.

You can't look at it from money money money, and here's why.

From a laymans POV, think of it this way: You have to have the right materials housing the plasma (as yet developed and tested ; silicon-carbide note), with the right properties that don't degrade from neutron bombardment, to contain the plasma at certain energies (above this, but below that; >1x10^X K ), delivered by a static method rather than pulsed (see inductors above), to achieve an overall plasma point where you can then measure whether this combination of factors gives us what energy property output.

Now, change up the material design spec's and you must now rebuild the Reactor. That takes YEARS, if not a DECADE plus, to verify that the new spec's give you that 0.1 - 1.0+% increase in efficiecy from the old design. On paper is still theoretical untill you build the damn thing to verify!

Fusion is a long game project. Again, LONG GAME PROJECT! Think decades if not over a century. It is unlikely you or I will see it's benefit on the grid. Will your great-great-grandchildren? Depends on if we keep funding it now, and in our lifetime, or whether we kill it cause we don't see the immediate return on investment.

If you are truly worried about where taxpayer funding is going, I suggest you go investigate just how little goes to NSF, NASA, and what I call 'pure Science' endeavours, like Fusion. You'll see a good bit comes from private funding, and NOT from the Government.

At minimum, Fusion research pushes us are understanding in the areas of materials science, energy science, and whether the 'Law of Conservation of Energy' holds up over time. As of now, it does. That does not mean it always will. This is one way to test that!

Re:Very brief summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645397)

I'll be 100 in 2078. Why?

Presumably because you were born in 1978.

Re:Very brief summary (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#39645889)

$80 billion over 20 years sounds like a reasonable level of funding to me. Sure, it's not money thrown at solar panel companies, but it's in the same vein. Worst case, we learn more about high-energy physics and fusion in particular.

2050 same date as in simcity 2000 (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644273)

2050 same date as in simcity 2000

Bravo (5, Insightful)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | about 2 years ago | (#39644297)

Now THAT"S how to answer a /. ask!

Re:Bravo (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | about 2 years ago | (#39644899)

I didn't have a chance to read any of the really wordy, heady science yet. Could someone who has read it please just tell me how many Black Mesa jokes the MIT guys make? 4? 5?

Re:Bravo (2)

jtollefson (1675120) | about 2 years ago | (#39645509)

No doubt, excellent answers! We should do them one in turn as well. I think it's important to note that there's a petition on Change.org to get the funding of Alcator bumped up on the US Agenda. Added my support, it's a good thing, maybe others can do the same. We all know how important this is and what it would do for the world. http://www.change.org/petitions/continue-funding-alcator-c-mod-tokamak-and-us-fusion-energy-research [change.org]

This is why I come to slashdot (5, Interesting)

egorss78 (520386) | about 2 years ago | (#39644377)

If you want to know what the readers want to see, it is items like this, not videos, or other fluf. Focus on things like this.

Excellent answers (5, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39644395)

That's a seriously impressive, detailed, thoughtful set of answers.

Glad that the interviewees decided not to hold back, and dumb down their responses; they know their audience.

Thanks!

I r smart (3, Interesting)

DaMattster (977781) | about 2 years ago | (#39644417)

Okay, I am definitely not a nuclear physicist and I did poorly in chemistry. Could I have the reader's digest form of this? I'm very curious about fusion because, on the surface, it appears to be cleaner than fission reaction. Does it still have background radiation?

Re:I r smart (1)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about 2 years ago | (#39644825)

See first post.

Also...
There was also a lot of talk about how difficult it is to stabilize the hot plasma. Apparently, they spend years studying how to reduce "disruptions" in the trapped plasma caused by changes in currents and pressures.

Emphasis on the fact the ITER should prove that we can get more energy out of the hot plasma than it takes to keep it hot. After that, it's another 20 years to build a demonstration reactor, that will generate power from steam.

-d

Re:I r smart (5, Informative)

nthoward (2601979) | about 2 years ago | (#39644861)

Hi. This is Nathan here. I am one of the interviewees on this Q/A. I will try to briefly answer your question. Yes, there is some radiation released from nuclear fusion reactions. However, the important aspect is that the radiactive byproducts of nuclear fusion are NOT the long-lived radioactive waste that comes as the result of nuclear fission reactors. Therefore, there is no issue with waste disposal. There is only sort of low-level byproducts of nuclear fusion and it is inherently safe (there is no possibility of a meltdown like in a fission reactor). Myself and other researchers have put togehter a website written for the general public which can answer some of these questions. I encourage you to check out www.fusionfuture.org if you want some more information on nuclear fusion and on our tokamak at MIT, Alcator C-Mod. The 2013 presidential budget actually cuts our funding and we started this website to try to inform people about fusion and our machine. It has a good background section that you should check out for more answers and if you want to support fusion reserach in the US, there is a very easy way to contact your congressmen (1-2 minutes). I hope that answered your question or you can find more answers on the website, if not, ask again and I will try to provide you with more information.

Re:I r smart (3, Informative)

Yobgod Ababua (68687) | about 2 years ago | (#39644893)

This was answered scientifically in question 6, but I'll try to give a plain-language overview.

Fusion does not generate any weird radioactive isotopes like Fission does. It -does- generate a bunch of energetic neutrons, which both transfer energy to the electricity making part of an operating plant and can interact with whatever material the thermal shell is made from, possibly producing higher isotopes of that material.

They currently estimate that, after 50 years or so, the shell would need to be replaced and would indeed be generating background radiation, but they have been researching materials for it to minimize the long-term issues.

Other than that, we're good. Remember that most of the earth's current energy actually comes from our handy neighboring fusion reactor...

Re:I r smart (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39645259)

Fusion does not generate any weird radioactive isotopes like Fission does.

Here is the standard /. car analogy in very non-technical terms:

Fission is like making money by running cars thru a shredder and selling the shredded bits for recycling. You have no control over the input stream and sometimes toxic paint residue shows up in the output of the shredder. Tough shite you're going to have to decontaminate it or bury it or otherwise figure out something to do with toxic paint residue. In the big picture its not a big deal, but that reside does accumulate... Seems an unavoidable problem...

Fusion is like making money by building big cars out of tiny little parts (like the assembly line...). If you don't want to deal with toxic paint residue, then simply do not make your cars using toxic paint, crazy as it sounds, it really is that simple. Its not like the act of screwing a 12 mm bolt onto a 12 mm screw automagically makes toxic waste. Is the whole thing going to be perfectly clean, like all green and hemp and organic and natural and homeopathic and chakra aligned, well, no, even the cleanest factory does have a trash can, but its not an inherently filthy industry, like say, shredding cars and recycling the bits.

Re:I r smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644973)

The reply above yours:
----
Excellent answers (Score:2)
by benjfowler (239527) on Wednesday April 11, @11:11AM (#39644395)
That's a seriously impressive, detailed, thoughtful set of answers.

Glad that the interviewees decided not to hold back, and dumb down their responses; they know their audience.

Thanks!
---

Lolz.

Re:I r smart (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 2 years ago | (#39645005)

Fusion still emits radiation (mostly neutrons). It also produces radioactive waste (mostly because of the neutrons bashing into things). But the isotopes involved are much shorter lived than the isotopes involved in fission.

It's also much safer than fission, because the reaction is not an emergent property of just bringing chunks of fuel into close proximity. If you turn off the power to a fusion reactor, it just stops. If you do that to a fission reactor, you may have a meltdown.

Farnsworth Device? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644541)

Why can't the Farnsworth device (FUSOR) be made to work with some smarts and a lot of money?

Re:Farnsworth Device? (1)

Magada (741361) | about 2 years ago | (#39645115)

The fusor does work. It "just" doesn't work well enough. If another set of kooks had won the funding battle, it would be the preferred money sink.

Interestingly enough, the work of the guys who did this Q&A here is being defunded.

Re:Farnsworth Device? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645625)

Why can't the Farnsworth device (FUSOR) be made to work with some smarts and a lot of money?

The short answer is, a Farnsworth style device won't work primarily because the higher you ramp-up the power, the faster you burnout the inner, negative grid. You burnout the grid way before you can get any useful power out.

Dr. Bussard's (RIP) Polywell [wikipedia.org] , simply put, tries to cleverly replace the inner grid with a cloud of electrons contained/shaped by a magnetic field to create a virtual negative grid.

Current work on the Polywell is being funded by the Navy and is under a publishing embargo. I assume that since they're still being funded and we haven't heard anything negative, they must at least be hitting their milestones.

Re:Farnsworth Device? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645677)

From the summary:

2. But on the other hand, these groups need to show that they deserve funding. It’s not enough to just tease these promising results and be secretive about the methods or technologies. Public funding can only come when the details are published in the open literature, and subjected to the scrutiny of peer review and the wider community reading the papers. The (hot) fusion community is still living with the aftermath of the cold fusion scandal from a quarter century ago - so it’s very important for the proponents of these alternate concepts to push the researchers to publish their results in peer-reviewed journals. Whatever negatives the tokamak might have, one thing you can’t say about it is that the research has been too secretive, and this has allowed the funding agencies to make the judgement that the tokamak is currently the most promising route to a fusion reactor, which is why this line of research gets the most money.

Re:Farnsworth Device? Have one here. (1, Troll)

DCFusor (1763438) | about 2 years ago | (#39645941)

I do farnsworth fusors here, on my own money - no external funding/begging required. They're a nice research source of neutrons. Their "dynamic equilibrium" turns out to be the place they are the least efficient, however. I might be the first person to have discovered that and some fairly large increases in Q due to perturbing that.
.

Peer reviewed journals? That's for academics trying to keep others out of the club. Grow a pair boys, and do as I do - just make it all open source - we keep no secrets, and yes, many of us dupe one another's results, we're doing science truer to the original ideals than the so called "pros" more often than not.
.

One thing I don't like about tokomaks - energy disperses into too many degrees of freedom and while it radiates well from all of them (losses), it only makes fusion when there are near collisions. I'm working with an idea here that also takes into account various conservation laws tokomak (all thermal approaches) ignore - like spin conservation, to see if I can mess around with the relative probabilities of the 3 possible DD reactions - and it's looking promising.
.

Focus fusion is interesting, but there are some engineering problems Lerner brushes off I can't go along with as easily. Bussard's thing - well, where's even a small scale one we can compare with Farnsworth/Hirsch/Meeks? All talk, no results - even amateur - so far. NIF is as they say, a way to test nukes without breaking some treaties about testing nukes, they add an energy spin to it for PR purposes primarily.
.

See my sig for links to my work, and some of our group. It's not always at the top of the discussion boards, but there's plenty there, and some movies on DCFusor's youtube channel.
.

Best of luck MIT - while I don't think tokomaks are the way - too many degrees of freedom - I hope for success for us all!

Yay! (5, Insightful)

pz (113803) | about 2 years ago | (#39644547)

This interview gets my vote for the most informative posting on Slashdot this year. The questions were good and insightful, and the answers pitched at exactly the right level. Thanks, MIT Fusion Guys!

Re:Yay! (1)

XiaoMing (1574363) | about 2 years ago | (#39645847)

But still, everyone knows that an electrostatic travelling pebble-bed-thorium-wave reactor is the way to go!

WHAT'S A FILE CONTROL BLOCK !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39644591)

I gots to knows !! Teach me !! Tull rulez metal so suck on it Lars !!

$/kW Prediction (2)

biometrizilla (1999728) | about 2 years ago | (#39644607)

I think it's pretty safe to predict that if fusion-based power plants are ever built at full-scale the cost per kilowatt won't be any lower than from whatever competing technology is generating the bulk of a country's power at that time. Between the onerous regulatory requirements that will be put in place, the greed of the contractors building the plant and the shareholder demands of the utility company we'll never see truly low-cost electricity. The fossil fuel problem may be solved but your pocketbook won't feel any better. Witness how expensive nuke plants got from first to last in the US.

This is why Utilities need to be handled different (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about 2 years ago | (#39645985)

The trick here isn't to look at the next competitior, it's not like there will be a lock on fusion technology to one company; at least not all that long. It's to look at the production model. Grid Electric is a 'natural monopoly', so I believe that the best model for it is as a customer-owned cooperative business. Their goal should be the stable and reliable production of low cost electricity for it's customers/owners.

Nuclear plants became expensive because of all the fear about them delaying construction and introducing byzantine regulation; that much capital is expensive when you're not producing income to pay off the interest.

Re:$/kW Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39646199)

1. Nuclear power (as is) has nothing to do with fusion, except the name. It is like calling wood stove and a gas stove and electric stove the same thing - hot.

2. There will not be heavy regulatory problems with fusion precisely because of non-proliferation and inability to harm its surroundings.

3. Today, nuclear power plants are some of the most profitable generating stations we have. 2 years ago, a utility with 20% nuclear power had 50% of its total profit from the nuclear bits.

Nuclear power is profitable, provided you build it with long enough horizon. The ONLY reasons why nuclear power plants are not built today in the US is,

  a) the old ones keep getting extended life
  b) dramatic, temporary decrease in gas prices.

Fracking together with inability to export gas is the reason that today gas power plants are the cheapest to build and operate. Fast forward 5-10 years, and the situation may just be different.

PR (0)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39644953)

Sounds like parts were run thru a PR filter and thus very suspect. For example, the real answer to :

Is the ITER project good science? Or is it a politically-motivated, pork-laden boondoggle?

is not a bunch of blah blah like in the answer, but simple observation and a hair of inductive and deductive reasoning... if it were politically motivated pork then we'd have politicians chomping at the bit to fund it and take personal credit for it. Since they're shunning it instead, its obviously not politically motivated pork, this is almost a "duh" moment. Not being pork doesn't mean its automatically good science, the question itself is a false dichotomy. For example my hamburger last night wasn't pork, yet simultaneously it was somehow also not good science. Although it did taste good. None the less, good science seems to be the goal for ITER, the people doing it seem to have a great track record for doing good science, and there seems to be no obvious reason to suspect they'll suddenly fail to successfully execute "good science". Whatever the hell "good science" is defined to be. That is the true answer to that specific question, not a bunch of "blah blah rah rah team".

You can also see in the tone how the liberal arts PR people shied away from altering the "science" answers and we got the straight stuff there, while they rammed all the "policy/political" questions thru a bullshit processor.

I mean, come on, that was embarrassing for an answer. My answer was much better. Let me paraphrase their answer. "1) Its good because I say its good, I'm from MIT therefore by authoritarianism doctrine you must agree with me. 2) Governments like it and government is always a force for good therefore it must be good. 3) We need more money (which seems to have nothing to do with goodness or badness, but it was a nice place to start begging) 4) The world will end unless we get more money (well, assuming the world ending is bad, I guess this is a decent argument) 5) You should be more politically active (nice sentiment, but WTF?)."

I will give them credit, that the policy Q's absolutely sucked, so demanding fantastic policy A's is both unrealistic and a silk purse out of a sows ear situation...

Overall, if you skip the icky policy Q+A and stick to the science Q+A it was an excellent factual article, my hats off to both the interview-ers and interview-ees.

Re:PR (2)

Luyseyal (3154) | about 2 years ago | (#39645229)

Bah, I think it has more to do with the threatened researchers not wanting to step on any toes as their funding is already in jeopardy. I don't blame them for not wanting to call anyone out. In their situation, I wouldn't either.

-l

50 here 50 there (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#39644977)

As researchers in this field, we have heard the expression "Fusion is 50 years away and always will be" more times than we would like to admit. The implication of this statement is that no real progress has been made in the field, which is simply not true!

True dat. The expression is now "Fusion is 49 years away"

Hey, hey, I tease. They're big boys with big toys and can take it.

Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645113)

Cancel NASA and give fusion the money. Let private business deal with space.

Socially imperative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645179)

...if we in the developed world want to keep sucking down power like we do today. In retrospect, who wouldn't trade 1/10 of the budget for Iraq for this? And if development remains IN THE USA the $ is not utterly lost like it is when we spend it on infrastructure (or destruction) in unsympathetic foreign countries...

And so... (1, Interesting)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 2 years ago | (#39645207)

Note the overriding theme of the answers:

1) with enough time and money we will get a working fusion reactor
2) and then everything will be great

I suspect #1 is largely true. However, I am largely of the opinion that #2 is absolutely *not* true.

Let's compare a fission reactor with a fusion one. To start with, the vast majority of the generation side of the system is the same - pumps cycle some sort of working fluid through the "core", cooling the core and heating the fluid. The heat in the fluid is then used to drive a turbine. So far so good, one might expect that the cost of this section of the system will be roughly the same between the two designs - or a coal-fired plant for that matter.

Now let's examine the core. The core of a fission reactor is basically a large steel boiler. There are numerous holes into the boiler, through which pass the cooling system and the control rods. Both can be extremely simple, to the point of being manually operated if you're brave enough. Now then there is the fusion core. It consists of a fantastically complicated vessel built out of extremely expensive materials (a number of which are mentioned above). The vessel is then wrapped in a series of superconducting magnets, which are even more fantastically expensive. Around that comes the lithium blanket, which is also expensive (and we have better things to do with that lithium, like make electric cars) and requires a complex and expensive system to recycle the tritium out of it. Controlling all of this is a ridiculously expensive control system which requires real-time reactions down to the milliseconds (again, as noted in the article) based on readings we don't even really know how to make.

And finally, the fuel. Uranium and thorium fuels are literally lying around for the taking, and processing them is essentially identical to the process for making iron - dump rock in, heat, separate layers of fluid, let cool. On the other hand, fusion reactors are based on deuterium, much of it supplied from a heavy water process that is far, far more expensive than nuclear fuel it's currently used with (Pickering, Darlington). That fuel is then used with tritium, even more expensive and crazy dangerous, to breed additional tritium. The breeding takes place in lithium, a flammable metal, which could release its entire load to the air if it catches on fire.

So, does anyone ever expect this to become practical? In order for that to happen, the price of U would have to rise several orders of magnitude, and the cost of D would have to fall close to zero. I grant this a probability that my calculator represents as 0.

Re:And so... (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39645487)

and the cost of D would have to fall close to zero.

Interestingly, D production is much like Aluminum production, it primarily is electrically driven. And if you have a working fusion reactor, you conveniently have ... free electricity, therefore free D.

As an ex-chemist there are neutron efficiency reasons not to do it, but from a chemical standpoint there is no reason not to use a nice boring non-reactive lithium compound. Most /.ers would probably benefit from some lithium orotate in their diet... As an example of what I'm talking about, probably two decades ago in school we did some weird physics experiment WRT to sodium isotopes, probably because sodium has only one stable isotope, or something like that. We could have used sodium metal, but being undergrads we'd inevitably set ourselves on fire or blow the lab up, just like the o-chem guys did. So we used some sodium salt, I wanna say sodium chloride (table salt) but maybe it was something else. IIRC it was some labeled compound experiment...

Re:And so... (1)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | about 2 years ago | (#39646215)

None of what you say is individually wrong, but you're very wrong with the overall statement you are making.

Not all energy advances must make things cheaper per KW directly, not having to deal with (relatively) huge amounts of radioactive waste is a huge benefit worth lots of dough, as is complete safety and many of the other benefits of fusion.

You're not wrong, but you are so wrong...

I think I speak for everyone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645219)

I think I speak for everyone when I say, "Ow, my head hurts..." and "your student loans must be astronomical".

the world doesn't know how important this is (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 2 years ago | (#39645335)

we won't have uranium and thorium forever, we won't have petroleum and coal forever. at some point, we need to harness fusion. and solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc.: boutique sources in terms of the energy demand of a growing population and growing richer population

in the future, they won't talk A.D. and B.C., they will talk A.I. and B.I. (after ignition and before ignition). Because this really will transform the human race in terms of what we can do and instantly rendering so many petty geopolitical and economic problems null and void

and if we never reach A.I.? then we may very well be talking about a future where civilization devolves, and never musters enough willpower and resources to attempt this again. fusion is that important to the future of mankind

oh and thank you MIT Researchers for answering my question, #17

followup question:

how does it feel to know the future of mankind rests on your shoulders?

because it does, it really does

more people need to understand this

Better them than subsidized oil (1)

msobkow (48369) | about 2 years ago | (#39645373)

It would make a lot more sense to plow funding into fusion than it does to give tax breaks and refunds to trillion dollar oil industries...

$.02 Kill Obamacare, use money to fund fusion (1)

Redneck Flyboy (1278048) | about 2 years ago | (#39645459)

During the Obamacare debate, all kinds of financial tricks were used to limit the cost to roughly $1T over ten years. I argue, kill this divert the funding to fusion research. We would benefit more from solving our energy problem for the foreseeable future than we "benefit" from the mess that is Obamacare.

Re:$.02 Kill Obamacare, use money to fund fusion (2)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 2 years ago | (#39645673)

yes to fusion, yes to universal healthcare

no to social darwinists/ hard libertarians/ assorted tea party types

Peer Review (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 2 years ago | (#39645667)

Thanks for pointing out the need to be published :

Dense Plasma Focus in the journal "Physics of Plasmas" [lawrencevi...hysics.com]

It's a start...

Re:Peer Review (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39645869)

You should start by linking to the actual paper [aip.org] .

Re:Peer Review (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39646051)

Further more all this paper says is that the neutrons they detect are from confined ions not the incident beam. However, with a 3e-5s confinement time, they are long time away from getting more fusion power out than they put in.

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