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Should Google Go Nuclear?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the gooboom dept.

419

Baldrson writes "One of the founders of the US Tokamak fusion program, Dr. Robert W. Bussard, gave a lecture at Google recently now appearing as a Google video titled 'Should Google Go Nuclear?'. In it, he presents his recent breakthrough electrostatic confinement fusion device which, he claims, produced several orders of magnitude higher fusion power than earlier electrostatic confinement devices. According to Bussard, it did so repeatably during several runs until it blew up due to mechanical stress degradation. He's looking for $200M funding, the first million or so of which goes to rebuilding a more robust demonstrator within the first year. He claims the scaling laws are so favorable that the initial full scale reactor would burn boron-11 — the cleanest fusion reaction otherwise unattainable. He has some fairly disturbing things to say in this video, as well as elsewhere, about the US fusion program which he co-founded."

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Should Google save the world? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894406)

Yes.

Destroy boron! (1, Funny)

Ninjaesque One (902204) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894408)

It is quite strange that this fusion-ninja should destroy boron to create the shiniest energy. In the world.

Re:Destroy boron! (1)

Ninjaesque One (902204) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894486)

An explanation: shininess is defined as the effect something has on one's eyeballs. Hence, the shiniest energy in the world would make one's eyeballs explode dramatically and instantly. Which is exactly what it would do if your eyeballs could see it.

Also, this means that fusion is powered by exploding eyeballs.

Explode your eyeballs for the Google Cause!

I do trade boron for... (was:Destroy boron!) (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894972)

I do wish his ... "invention" destroys morons instead of borons. The planet gets a clean source of energy for handful of ... less desirables.

Valuable as PR move more than anything? (5, Interesting)

Salvance (1014001) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894416)

If Google pursues this, I don't think they'll do so for financial reasons, but rather for PR reasons (just like they used the installation of a relatively large solar capacity as PR [blogspot.com] ). But nowadays $200 Million isn't that much to Google, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them support the effort to some extent.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (0, Troll)

zptao (979069) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894444)

No. I don't trust governments with nuclear weapons, why should you entrust them to corporations whose only responsibility and therefore accountability is to their shareholders?

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (0, Troll)

zptao (979069) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894456)

And to elaborate: so much power generated single corporation is more or less equivalent to weapons, considering the effect it can produce on the global economy.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (2, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894514)

Gah! You had to post that while I was typing. :-P

A couple of things:

1. We already rely on large corporations for our power. What exactly would change?

2. I presume that the initial reactor at least would be intended to meet Google's growing demand for power. Nuts to the rest of us.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (0)

zptao (979069) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894590)

Seeing as how it's a fusion device, eventually they'll have produced enough of them that they'll be able to meet their own energy needs and sell that power to the rest of the world. The rest, as they say, would be history...

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (4, Insightful)

Fjandr (66656) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894814)

Provided it's cleaner energy than what's currently produced by corporations, this is bad how?

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (5, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894498)

I hope you realize that there is a world of difference between a confinment fusion reactor and an Atomic triggered Hydrogen Bomb. One does not in any way, shape, or form imply the other.

It's pretty much the same with our current fission reactors. There is no way that the design of the reactors would ever blow up like an Atomic warhead, because the warheads are explicitly designed to go super-critical in a very particular fashion, with the intent of burning the maximum amount of fuel possible in the shortest period possible.

There are actually shaped charges on the outside of the weapon to trigger this event. These charges *must* be properly aligned, or the weapon will never reach super-criticality. That's why the heros in the movie The Peacemaker removed one of the charges from the weapon. Without it, the normal explosives would detonate harmlessly. (There is another type of bomb that slams two carefully shaped, barely sub-critical pieces of Uranium together REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hard. Again, you have the same problem of the design having to be precise.)

About all you can get from a fission reactor is the raw materials to make a weapon. And even then, it's best if the reactor is configured to produce the materials you need. It's pretty much the same way with a fusion plant. You can use or produce materials useful in nuclear weapons, but the reactor will be nowhere close to a weapon itself. The key safety issue is thus to ensure that sufficient safeguards exist to prevent the release of any poisonous radioisotopes back into the environment. (If the fusion reaction is completely clean, then this isn't a concern.) We wouldn't want another Chernobyl, which happened mostly because there weren't sufficient safeguards, and the ones that existed had been explicitly disabled (with authorization!) by untrained personnel.

The irony? They wanted to test the reactor to see if it would fail properly without the safeguards installed. Guess they got their answer. :-/

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (3, Informative)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894630)

Not completely harmlessly, it would have the effect of a small dirty bomb when the materials in the fission trigger were powdered and spread.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894878)

Nevermind that you'd be blowing up a couple of tons of TNT or RDX. Explosions tend to not be harmless.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (0, Troll)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894538)

Is this story really about google pursuing anything, or is google's name on it just because the guy gave a talk there? I would suspect the latter (though I haven't watched it yet as Linux fails to initialize my sound card on about 1 of 5 bootups... arghhh!)

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894648)

I would suspect the latter (though I haven't watched it yet as Linux fails to initialize my sound card on about 1 of 5 bootups... arghhh!)

WTF? You're too lazy to configure your sound card properly, so you've blamed Linux? And instead of fixing it, you're posting an off-topic troll on Slashdot? Cry me a river.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (1)

sd_diamond (839492) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894572)

If Google pursues this, I don't think they'll do so for financial reasons, but rather for PR reasons

I'm not so sure about that. At the rate their data centers are growing, power is everything to them. It's so important that they built one of their newest facilities on the Columbia River [nytimes.com] , just so they could get close to a hydro plant for cheap electricity. Supporting a project like this would certainly be a PR slam-dunk for them, and I'm sure that hasn't escaped them, but if it has as much promise as it appears to, it would certainly benefit them in more practical ways.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (2, Insightful)

can56 (698639) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894840)

If Google has money to burn (aka, fuse), and has promised $20 Million/year to the Samba project (see news.samba.org Nov 3/2006), I'd suggest they offer the same deal to this guy. Subject to the condition that he shows significant (or some) progress each term, and that other researchers can duplicate his equipment, experiments, and findings. Even crackpots may have a good idea.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (2, Informative)

JFitzsimmons (764599) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894858)

That's twenty-THOUSAND.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (1)

wish (60120) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894882)

According to thepiece you reference that's $20 thousand a year. Not million.
$20K a year probably wouldn't fund much in the way of fusion research.

Re:Valuable as PR move more than anything? (1)

debackerl (1025744) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894952)

Instead of spending hundred of millions of dollars, they should first try to invest just a few millions in the Focus Fusion Society. If they idea works it would be a really neat solution. It is really sad that they have so much problems to get funds.

Google Goes Nuclear; Microsoft's Pants=Brown Alert (4, Funny)

Nova Express (100383) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894428)

Actually, the headline I wanted to use was "Google Now Officially a Nuclear Power; Microsoft Sets Pants to Brown Alert", but it was too long to fit in Slashdot's headline space...

Actually, I think that Google would be far more trustworthy with nuclear weapons than Iran or North Korea.

Obligatory science fiction refernce: Vernor Vinge's "The Ungoverned"

Re:Google Goes Nuclear; Microsoft's Pants=Brown Al (4, Funny)

RsG (809189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894532)

Brings new and interesting meanings to the concept of googlebombing :-)

Re:Google Goes Nuclear; Microsoft's Pants=Brown Al (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894606)

Actually, I think that Google would be far more trustworthy with nuclear weapons than Iran or North Korea.

That depends on whether an MAD scenario with Microsoft would increase shareholder value.

Re: Microsoft's Pants=Brown Alert (1)

mikek3332002 (912228) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894666)

Google Goes Nuclear; Microsoft's Pants=Brown Alert
. If google did have nukes they would more likely use it to minimize legal bills instead of threating an OS maker.

Re:Google Goes Nuclear; Microsoft's Pants=Brown Al (1)

CapitalT (987101) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894876)

Actually, I think that Google would be far more trustworthy with nuclear weapons than the USA.

Here, I fixed it for you. You're welcome :)

Fusion? (3, Interesting)

headkase (533448) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894430)

I watched the google video link of the presentation for a bit to just be sure - and - he does say fusion. I thought that fusion was perpetually 20 years off? If it's fusion, this will be the most important breakthrough in decades. Clean power without all that nasty global warming consequences.

Re:Fusion? (5, Insightful)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894496)

It isn't just fusion. There's some fission involved too in the particular chain of reactions he wants to use. But it's fission of light elements, and Bussard claims it won't produce gamma rays or speeding neutrons.

In fact, pure fusion reactions do produce neutrons that go flying off and have to be captured, which means that they produce harmful radiation. The seeming lack of neutrons is what makes many very skeptical of cold fusion claims. But the reaction chain he proposes involves fusion and fission and produces no neutrons or gamma rays.

Re:Fusion? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894554)

So 1) what's the fuel, 2) what's the waste, 3) what's the risk of a meltdown, and 4) is any plutonium (or other weapons-grade material) produced?

Re:Fusion? (2, Informative)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894668)

I believe the fuel is tritium (one proton and two neutron hydrogen, radioactive and unstable, but not very much so) and boron. The end result is 4 stable helium nuclei. There is no plutonium or other weapons grade material produced. These are all nuclear reactions at the very low end of the periodic table. You might be able to build a hydrogen bomb, but there are lots easier ways to do that.

From your confusion, I would suggest reading up on fission and fusion on Wikipedia.

Re:Fusion? (2, Informative)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894740)

There are 3 reactions.

Deuterium + Tritium

Deuterium +Deuterium

Boron 11 one.

Re:Fusion? (3, Informative)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894680)

Fuel:Heavy water (Deuterium or Tritium)

Waste:Helium.

Meltdown:Meltdown is the wrong word. A failure of the containment could occur, but the reaction would die when exposed to outside conditions and the magnets could explode they would throw shrapnel around. however this would not a be a sudden or instant thing. Unlike a nuclear reactor the fuel is supplied at a constant rate, when fuel is removed the reaction stops. it would be equivilant to a large piece of machinery at a factory breaking falling over or exploding. Nothing is leaving the building and its gonna be expensive. However if this happens you need to be looking at the people running the thing, and ask them why they didn't turn it off.

Weapon stuff:Well deuterium is used in a fusion weapons, but you can get the stuff isn't that hard to get, and you still need a fission reaction to start a weapon fusion reaction.

So devices use have a system that catches neutrons that leave the reaction and converts them into tritium then feeds them back into the reaction.

Re:Fusion? (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894682)

Okay the actual reactor its self could be considered waste but few of the things have half-lifes of more than 100 years as opposed to 1000s of years with a fusion reactor. The amount of waste is also considerably less.

Re:Fusion? (4, Informative)

mysticgoat (582871) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894788)

So 1) what's the fuel,

Boron.

2) what's the waste,

Carbon and helium.

3) what's the risk of a meltdown,

No risk of meltdown, china syndrome, or other runaway problems. The worst case would be a conventional explosion.

and 4) is any plutonium (or other weapons-grade material) produced?

No.

He talks a good physics snow job; glibly spicing his words with equations that provide a certain kind of high energy ambience without actually conveying any information to his audience. In his own way, he is quite the showman.

However it did seem to me that he is saying that the theory behind his fusor engines has been proven, and that he is staking his reputation on that. I'm also pretty sure he is saying that the remaining problems are in the engineering, not the physics. So its like rocketships: we know it can be done but we don't yet know how to do it well enough to be really useful.

Re:Fusion? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894656)

They don't produce just that, they produce them at energies which can split U238 which "normal" or slowed down fission neutrons cannot split. In fact some of the tokamak outlines I have seen in articles 20 years ago (when they were saying that fusion is 20 years off) had an extra layer of U238 for a second stage fission reaction.

Re:Fusion? (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894700)

A system was developed that used lithium to catch those and feed them back into the reaction as tritium.

Buttons (5, Funny)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894434)

I wonder if it'll have an "I feel lucky" button...

Re:Buttons (1)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894450)

Yeah... the "off" button for the containment field.

Re:Buttons (2, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894540)

For a fusion reactor, that would be the off button. No containment = no reaction.

This is actually one of the biggest safety advantages of fusion of fission. With a fission reactor, loss of control or containment doesn't stop the fission reactions from occurring, since fission occurs naturally in Uranium, whereas with a fusion reactor, loss of containment or control stops the reaction, as fusion does not occur naturally in Deuterium or Tritium under terrestrial conditions.

Re:Buttons (2, Funny)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894468)

Click it and if you are we lose Detroit.

KFG

Re:Buttons (3, Funny)

Soko (17987) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894628)

Click it and if you are we lose Detroit.

Ummm... can you explain the downside?

Soko

Re:Buttons (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894636)

We won't lose Detroit and Newark?

KFG

Re:Buttons (1)

ExploHD (888637) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894470)

I wonder if it'll have an "I feel lucky" button...

or Homer Simpson in sector 7G...

Re:Buttons (1)

moranar (632206) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894516)

There's always a Homer Simpson in sector 7G.

Re:Buttons (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894764)

I wonder if it'll have an "I feel lucky" button...

more like "how did we lose two hundred million on this?" button.

Yes, this is the ramjet guy (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894454)

" The Bussard ramjet method of spacecraft propulsion was proposed in 1960 by the physicist Robert W. Bussard and popularized by Carl Sagan in the television series and subsequent book Cosmos as a variant of a fusion rocket capable of fast interstellar spaceflight. It would use a large scoop (on the order of kilometers in diameter) to compress hydrogen from the interstellar medium and fuse it. This mass would then form the exhaust of a rocket to accelerate the ramjet." - from

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard_ramjet [wikipedia.org]

We had a song at school (1)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894928)

Roger Ramjet is his name,
Hero of our Nation,
Every time he has a wank,
He calls it masturbation.

I can't for the life of me remember what the proper words should be.

Oil companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894474)

Does anybody think the oil companies are going to allow this to happen ? At least without a fight ?
They have invested billions of dollars in thier rigs and have got accustomed to huge profits and will do am awful lot to keep make sure they keep those profits coming.

Re:Oil companies (1, Insightful)

Shihar (153932) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894522)

Yes, the oil companies will use their corporate death squads to make this disappear. I would guess that someone has fucked up their energy balance and no evil corporate death squads will need to be deployed. If it is real, I imagine the 3v1L corporations will fight this off roughly as well as the horse buggy makers fought off the car.

Re:Oil companies (1, Insightful)

gijoel (628142) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894536)

If producing energy via nuclear fusion is cheaper than extracting oil, then the oil companies are going to be to do diddley squat to stop it. If on the other hand it cost more than oil, then fusion has got a problem.

I will also point out that nuclear fusion isn't going to be a hundred percent clean process. There will be some radioactive by products. Just not anywhere on the scale of nuclear fission.

Re:Oil companies (1)

Koushiro (612241) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894638)

If producing energy via nuclear fusion is cheaper than extracting oil, then the oil companies are going to be to do diddley squat to stop it. If on the other hand it cost more than oil, then fusion has got a problem.
I think perhaps you have that the wrong way around.

Re:Oil companies (2, Informative)

buback (144189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894892)

I'm no physicist, but in the video he outlines 3 reactions in particular that would be perferable for fusion. one reaction in particular would be clean,(it was a long video and i couldn't read the slides so some of this might be incorect) producing no neutrons. this is the pb (proton/boron) reaction, which only produces helium atoms

Re:Oil companies (4, Insightful)

bagsc (254194) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894544)

Yes. If $20 billion made a real fusion project, every oil company would be killing each other to get in on it. The ROI on that project is immense, and their shares and options would go through the roof. Not to mention the positive publicity...

Re:Oil companies (0, Offtopic)

Xenna (37238) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894726)

Oh man, why destroy a perfectly good conspiracy theory?
We have had so little of them lately...

X.

Re:Oil companies (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894598)

Won't effect their markets dramatically (you won't be putting one of these in your car; you won't be getting an electric car either if gas prices remain reasonable; you won't be using it as stock for plastics; etc.).

They'll suddenly appear on the scene as Big Boron anyway.

And it's a nice little side effect of 'pacifying' Turkey. Yes, that's right, more than half of the world's reserves are in the Middle East. If we could only find a way to run a turbine off of corporate hot air we could lead the world in power production.

KFG

Re:Oil companies (4, Insightful)

Cecil (37810) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894748)

Oh get off it. First of all, oil companies are already quite secure in their profits. Oil's used for a hell of a lot more than just electricity. Everything plastic, for example.

Also, oil companies are some of the ones leading the alternative energy charge, believe it or not. Oil companies know even better than you do that their oil wells are not going to last forever, and they want to be ready when they do start drying up by already being leaders in the next power resource. They are generally not stupid nor abnormally immoral. They do want to make a buck, but they are good at thinking long-term.

(Note: I am talking about most large oil companies other than Exxon/Mobil. Those guys in particular seem a little on the retarded side.)

Nothing to fear, Chevron's here! (2, Insightful)

KKlaus (1012919) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894980)

Good at thinking long term... And this explains the huge investments in nuclear, i.e. fission, power. Or wait, are they investing in stupid PR technologies like windmills? I know when chevron runs adds saying they care and have donated $200 million dollars to finding clean, renewable energy sources it sounds nice and all, but all these large companies have annual revuans in the hundreds of billions (and profits in the 10's) and so thats pretty much just advertising money.

Why would the company leadership care anyway? It's not like they're going to be there when oil becomes unprofitable (Which is long after it becomes scare, for obvious reasons I hope, it becomes more profitable before it becomes less). Don't believe the damn ads. No company, is planning 20 years into the future, particularly not an american company. When they start spending 3 and 5 billion dollars, that will be the indication that they actually care. Until then, its just money to get people like you to like them.

Re:Oil companies (-1, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894770)

oil has nothing to do with the electrical supply you fucking moron

Re:Oil companies (2, Interesting)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894938)

Try making plastic, nylon, lubricants, jet-engine fuel from deuterium.

Hmm, it seems like he didn't learn his lesson... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894490)

Mad scientist goes broke after blowing up a bunch of Totally Expensive Equipment, so he goes on to beg Google for millions...

IECs (5, Interesting)

MadUndergrad (950779) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894492)

My friend's father is one of the guys responsible for Bussard's (now-dwindling) Navy funding. The few million he got for his first reactors came from them. From what I've heard from him, Bussard is really onto something with his devices. Now, I've never met him myself, nor do I have enough physics under my belt yet to be able to critique the device, but it does sound pretty reasonable.

About the $200 mil, apparently the power output of these scales as something like the 7th or 9th power of the radius of the device (don't quote me on these numbers), so while the prototypes tested so far produce piddling amounts of power, not nearly break-even, they supposedly confirmed the principles, and the $200 mil model should be big enough to be power-positive. I really hope Google decides to sponsor this. I mean, if they can spend $1.6b on Youtube, what's $200m?

Re:IECs (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894602)

I really hope Google decides to sponsor this. I mean, if they can spend $1.6b on Youtube, what's $200m?


Because Google is in the information-retrieval business, and not the power-generating business.

Why doesn't GM make Starbucks Coffee? It's much more profitable than their cars.....

Re:IECs (1)

MadUndergrad (950779) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894890)

My first reaction is that if GM tried to make Starbucks coffee, they'd probably be sued by Starbucks.

Joking aside, given how giant software companies with lots of money like Microsoft (I'm sure there are other examples, but it's late) like to spread out into other industries, it would make sense for Google to do the same, especially if it benefitted their core business in some way. After all, server farms don't power themselves.

Re:IECs (5, Insightful)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894944)

But they are in the power-consumption business, and plenty of it.

They aren't in the ATX Power supply manufacturing busininess either, but that didn't stop them designing a new one.

Re:IECs (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894786)

I mean, if they can spend $1.6b on Youtube, what's $200m?

Well, for one that $1.6B was not actual cash, it was all restricted shares. I don't know the specifics off-hand, but typically such deals stipulate that few if any shares can be sold for about a year and even then they are only released bit by bit over the next few years.

That doesn't mean the youtube founders can't immediately cash in, there is a whole banking subindustry similar to the "tax refund loan" business where a bank will loan you money (at a healthy rate of interest) with your locked-up shares as collateral.

Dammit, Jim (1)

Soko (17987) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894494)

Dr. Robert W. Bussard

Is this the same dude of Bussard Collector [memory-alpha.org] fame? Sweet.

I can now officially have fantasies of being on a space faring hotel, with women wearing skin tight costumes...

Soko

Pseudoscience (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894500)

The Bussard Ramjet is one of the finest pieces of Pseudo scientific speculation ever dreamed of and integrated into Science Fiction works. It is simple and elegant in concept, a machine that in theory would make interstellar travel easier than ever, but in reality unworkable. The Bussard Ramjet is a dream that cannot be.

Mr. Bussard is a dreamer, and his ideas are beautiful; Star Trek has named a large component of its star ships after Bussard. His fertile imagination leads to great science fiction. Even the Great Carl Sagan was inspired by the beautiful mind of Bussard the dreamer.

I too like Mr. Bussard a great deal, and respect and admire his numerous contributions to our culture and to science fiction. However, it has become clear to me that Mr. Bussard no longer is the man he once was. He, most unfortunately, appears to have become senile, vindictive and single-minded to the point of blindness; read what he says, how he defends his project while attacking all other research constantly.

Mr. Bussard today has become a pseudo scientific hack, a charlatan if you will. He has become a quack who is attempting to prove the magical results of his form of fusion while all other scientists deny his conclusions, and he repeat "Give me 200M$!" as the sole refrain of his incessant groveling for cash.

It saddens me to see that Mr. Bussard has chosen to challenge James Randi and every scientific skeptic on earth. Mr. Bussard has never been able to reproduce any of his results in front of impartial peers, under controlled conditions. Read his letter on JREF, and see for yourself.

Mr. Bussard claims to have tested his device a few times and achieved success, but whenever he tried to test it under controlled conditions, it failed - and he blamed some obscure technical malfunction for this inability to achieve any measurable results. Then he says that only by having 200M$ can he show that his techniques work - he will not rebuild his original demonstration machine, nor allow anybody to do so.

According to Mr. Bussard, it is easy to test for the proper operation of his machine, hence confirming that scaling the machine up in a 200M$ version would produce lots and lots of energy. However, he refuses to construct such a workable prototype and have it tested by independent experts.

Read it for yourself and tell me this man is rational.

Re:Pseudoscience (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894670)

Well, that was quite a post, but why on earth should James Randi have anything to do with it?

Unless he has suddenly undertaken a career in physics instead of card tricks while I wasn't looking, Randi is just not qualified to even begin to crtitique any physicist's work.

Randi does a good job taking on mediums, psychics and water diviners. That's about the grasp of his abilities.

If Dr. Bussard (yes he is a doctor, so save the passive aggressive trolling by using Mr. constantly) has some research he wants the rest of the world to investigate, it should be by his peers - not some jumped up libertarian magician with a big name for taking on Uri Geller.

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

irc.goatse.cx troll (593289) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894950)

Randi does a good job taking on mediums, psychics and water diviners. That's about the grasp of his abilities.

Which is why Randi hires independent experts when needed. His only real involvement is the publicity and putting up the money.

If Dr. Bussard (yes he is a doctor, so save the passive aggressive trolling by using Mr. constantly) has some research he wants the rest of the world to investigate, it should be by his peers - not some jumped up libertarian magician with a big name for taking on Uri Geller.


Stephen Colbert has a doctorate too, whens the last time you heard Dr. Colbert? If you don't treat patients and you call yourself Doctor, you're a douchebag. For that matter, pointing out someones political preference is far worse than using Mr. instead of Dr.

Re:Pseudoscience (2, Insightful)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894692)

I don't know enough to be able to evaluate the ideas. But from what I know of Tokamak research, it deserves every helping of scorn that he heaps upon it. It has been a ridiculously expensive failure. About as useful for advancing the cause of fusion power as string theory has been for advancing our understanding of physics.

This post of yours is very elegantly written and completely trashes Mr. Bussard. In its way, it's exactly the same level of attack as he levels against other fusion research.

In my mind, taking 1/20th of the budget allocated to 'traditional' fusion research and allocating it to weird fusion research seems like a very prudent investment. Especially when traditional fusion research has been promising results in 20 years for upwards of 40 years. Mr. Bussard wants 1/75th of the budget. Let him have it and see if he can produce something repeatable.

Re:Pseudoscience (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894922)

I don't know enough to be able to evaluate the ideas. But from what I know of Tokamak research, it deserves every helping of scorn that he heaps upon it. It has been a ridiculously expensive failure. About as useful for advancing the cause of fusion power as string theory has been for advancing our understanding of physics.

I just love it when people say "I dont know crap about x" - and then proceed to have an opinion on x anyhow, and act as if it should be taken as a valid one.
 
 
This post of yours is very elegantly written and completely trashes Mr. Bussard. In its way, it's exactly the same level of attack as he levels against other fusion research.

No - it's exactly *different* than Mr Bussard's attack, in that it lays out his specific failures and behaviors that trip the 'kook' flag. Whereas Mr Bussard's attack is nothing but mudflinging and blaming unspecified others in the goverment for not funding his research - even though he cannot (or will not) actually demonstrate he has something worth funding. (This is, in and of itself, reason to apply the 'kook' label.)
 
 
Especially when traditional fusion research has been promising results in 20 years for upwards of 40 years.

I just knew this petulant and ignorant whine would show up [whiny voice] But the promised, they did! They did![/whiny voice] Grow the fuck up - R&D isn't amenable to precise scheduling and prediction, especially when working at the frontiers of science and technology.
 
 
Mr. Bussard wants 1/75th of the budget. Let him have it and see if he can produce something repeatable.

At best he deserves a couple of thousand for a few copies for a paper ready to be submitted for peer review. Demanding money, and refusing to supply the data required to determine what that funding is to be used for is ludicrous.

Re:Pseudoscience (3, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894964)

I just knew this petulant and ignorant whine would show up [whiny voice] But the promised, they did! They did![/whiny voice] Grow the fuck up - R&D isn't amenable to precise scheduling and prediction, especially when working at the frontiers of science and technology.
Actually, quite apart from what you said, the "fusion has been 30 years off for the past 50" argument is a red herring. There was never any such promise.

Nobody outside of science fiction writers and science reporters in the press said that fusion was going to be easy. It's been clear from the get-go that it's an incredibly hard field to develop. What was said by the people in the field was along the lines of "if we start seriously working on this now, it'll pay off in a matter of decades". Had we actually put the money in at the time, we'd be further along today.

But we didn't. Those "huge budgets" that people claim fusion sucks up? They're a pittance, and in almost all cases, the cost is spread among several nations. Expressed as a fraction of those countries' annual budget, fusion R&D is a minor expense. Moreover, political bickering (the bane of any multi-national project) has gotten in the way more than once, most recently with the question of where to build the ITER project.

Simply put, we're barely trying, and given how monumentally hard it is to build a working fusion reactor, that minimal effort has had predictable results. Saying "X years ago, they said we'd have fusion" assumes that R&D happens magically, without any human element.

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

n_are_q (659833) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894774)

You posted all this anonymously and didn't provide a single link and said nothing of where this detailed knowledge of yours comes from. Maybe you're right, but i'd like to see something more than just your words.

Here is a reply from Bussard on JREF (comment 27)
http://www.randi.org/forumlive/showthread.php?s=7e fdcf1d07a0afa89b47d310bd342e5a&p=1722023#post17220 23 [randi.org]

He does seem like nutcase, but reading this it sounds like there is a chance this is legit research. If this does work, that 200 mil will be nothing in comparison to the acheivement.

Is there someone here who understands what he's trying to do?

Re:Pseudoscience (1, Insightful)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894826)

He's a nutcase.

If anyone thought this was viable, he would be buried in funding. Google would have to take a number and wait in line.

Now, it's possible that he's right, and everyone else in the field is wrong, but the odds are against it, and he's still a nutcase.

Re:Pseudoscience (3, Insightful)

asuffield (111848) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894988)

If anyone thought this was viable, he would be buried in funding.


You are obviously not a researcher and have never attempted to get research funding.

If you have something that you can prove will work, to a layman, you'll still have to fight for funding. If you can't prove ahead of time that your experiment will be a success, buy a lottery ticket instead. Better odds.

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

KillzoneNET (958068) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894822)

Pseudo or not, the man may be on to something as he was getting results in the end, although they were small due to scale. Its really exciting stuff to hear that his team was able to actually produce an output similar to what they theorized could work. With proper funding, time, and staff (he had 10 people for 11 years) he may actually produce something that can set into stone that his ideas do indeed work, or not, but that should not stop people find a way so that it can.

I say give the him a budget and ignore the fact that he's old and/or senile. Pass or fail, its still information that can go towards fusion energy which many people view as being only attainable in science fiction stories like Star Trek.

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

buback (144189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894842)

If you are going to attack a respected and learned person, it carries much more weight if you aren't an anonymous coward

as you can see for yourself on the video, he says that while his team owns the patent, that wouldn't prevent anyone from building one for research purposes. build one yourself so that you can refute the pitiful ravings of this senile old man and he can die in disgrace.

also, i don't see many working tokamak reactors around my town either, so technically they are still science fiction too.

Re:Pseudoscience (2, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894918)

also, i don't see many working tokamak reactors around my town either, so technically they are still science fiction too.
How many rocket launch facilities are there "around your town"? Zero, right? Guess they're still sci-fi too...

If by "around my town" you instead meant "in the world", I direct your attention to the JET project:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JET [wikipedia.org]
And it's (not yet build) follow up, ITER:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER [wikipedia.org]

Both use the toroidal design. JET is even older than I am, and has already achieved fusion.

What we don't have yet is fusion power plants. But then again, that isn't what Bussard is proposing in TFA either; he (like all other fusion researchers) is still at the R&D stage. So, while I'm all in favor of giving this guy some funding to see what he can do, it isn't as if he's going to magically jump over the hurdles that fusion research has faced these past fifty years. Getting a fusion reaction to occur is damn hard; getting a self sufficient reaction to occur is still beyond our reach.

(Note: This says nothing of whether I think Bussard is a nut. I haven't seen enough compelling evidence for or against. Whether he is or not is irrelevant; what matters is if he can produce a repeatable fusion experiment that actually pans out.)

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

buback (144189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894966)

yes, "there are no tokamak power plants" was what i was implying. and by that implication i'm saying "$20 billion is an awful lot of money just to get to this point."

there are other gadgets out there that fuse atoms and create neutrons, and if this is all you care about then a tokamak is overkill. if your purpose is to actually generate electricity, then i would say that fusion power is science fiction, for now.

and in 'TFA' even though it's a video, he shows slides depicting how his reactor could be integrated into existing power plants, using their cooling towers and piping and such, and just disconnecting all the fossil fuel bits. So, actually, i think using them for power is exactly what he was proposing.

i will grant you that he does seem to think that engineering is some sort of trivial task. theoretically a tokamak can work, but the engineering has been the stumbling block

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

KitsuneSoftware (999119) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894994)

That claim depends on what you mean by "working" — JET never produced sustained over-unity fusion power. If you don't require breakeven to count it as working, then a great many people have built working IEC fusion devices over the years. You could even buy one of them on eBay [ebay.com] . Myself, I count these home built devices as "working" in the exact same way I count amateur rocketiers' [wikipedia.org] launch pads as "rocket launch facilities".

Re:Pseudoscience (4, Insightful)

dircha (893383) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894942)

That's great, but we're not talking about purely hypothetical space propulsion mechanisms from 40 years ago. What does the Bussard Ramjet, hypothetical musings from 40 years ago, have to do with this story today? Nothing. They share fusion, but that in name only. And what of it that science fiction has appropriated his name? And that's before you launch into your tirade of name calling. When you do reference reality, you distort it and cast it in the worst possible light. To characterize the history of his research as "whenever he tried to test it under controlled conditions, it failed - and he blamed some obscure technical malfunction for this inability to achieve any measurable results," is distortion.

Although the Slashdot moderators appear to have found your handwaving and strawman rather clever.

If you do not find at least plausible his explanation of a hold on publishing and loss of funding due to alternative energy research being cut from the Navy budget due to spending pressures on R&D coinciding with the Iraq war, without evidence to the contrary, you are simply unreasonable. Do you really believe, having provided no evidence to this effect, that this man is attempting to swindle potential investors out of $200 million? This borders on libel.

You imply Bussard is engaging in deception, yet you offer no evidence of this other than handwaving and your science fiction strawman. Do you assume everyone is attempting to deceive you until proven otherwise in a controlled experiment? Did you even watch the presentation of the story you are commenting on? I doubt it.

What are these "results" you claim he purports to have found but can't reproduce? The claims he makes of his tests are not remarkable. You appear to present the issue in a purposefully antagonistic manner. He does not, to my knowledge, claim to have demonstrated a fusion device that would be capable of producing greater useable energy than is required to power it. And in this sense, there is nothing remarkable about what he claims to have found in his results. Certainly nothing paranormal.

And what on earth should Randi have to do with this? Randi is an excellent foil for psychics and dowsers, but he is not a physicist.

And he is not asking for $200 million for himself or his company. If this is the form funding to see these tests realize took, he would accept this, but as he says, he is an old man and is tired. He only wants to see his vision realized, even if that means it is carried out by another company or by another country.

And infact in the proposal he presents, the first step involves only $2 million, and is intended to reproduce the results of earlier tests in an environment where engineering, and lab control and instrumentation are fully funded in order to improve the reliabilitty of the results. This is more than the paltry prize offered by Randi. Although I fail, again, to see why Randi would have any interest in verifying unremarkable claims of nuclear fusion.

This is not some nut playing with magnets and tesla coils in his garage.

Hi its me, the pot (4, Insightful)

KKlaus (1012919) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894946)

Soo... there's the old adage that big claims need big evidence, and Bussard currently has rather an excess of one and a lack of the other. but for someone who chooses to discredit him for not being a bit short on concrete, verifiable data, your post itself is completely science free. In a discussion that is entirely dependant on science (his last prototype's malfunction is unfortunate and perhaps suspicious, but is by no means proof of hackery), I don't understand why people find what amounts to an emotional evaluation of his work useful.

Your criticisms are mostly ad hominem, e.g. his "Incessant groveling for cash" - he does not grovel incessantly, in fact in the Google lecture he admits to giving up on the search for funding. Should he have just packed his bags when his funding was cut (it should be noted that it was all navy energy research funding, not him in particular)? He also defends the malfunction quite reasonably (it was one not a series as you suggest), and considering the supposedly successful prototype was only tested a few times at useful power levels, small amounts of data are also not unreasonable.

  If he's a quack, so be it. But let's actually add to the debate by citing facts, not armchair opinions that essentially a love of science fiction == hack (Remember how people used to dream about a better and wonderful future? That used to actually be a fairly american quality and he is of that generation).

I don't try and discredit ID proponents just by calling them assholes. I point to the fact that it is a scientifically sterile non-theory and that there is a wide body of evidence supporting evolution. He wasn't working alone in his basement, he had a pretty impressive team (Jim Benson immedialely hired them after funding dissapeared) that would have complained publicly if he was lying about his results. Treat his science as you would any other, and fight it with evidence, or restrain your tongue.

The presentation in a nutshell (4, Informative)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894974)

I watched the whole thing though I'm sad to say; what a waste of time. In a nutshell:
  • Fusion is simple and elegant, it powers the stars, just take a look at the sun to see it work!
  • The Tomakak is just a problem on top of a problem, it's going nowhere fast.
  • So we had this ingenious idea for making charged particles go into the center of a load of magnets oriented in a certain way which would solve all the Tomakak's problems.
  • The first one we tried the particles escaped onto the metal welds which bring the magnets together.
  • The second one didn't have metal welds, but the particles escaped onto the magnets themselves.
  • The third one had insulated magnets, but the particles escaped onto the metal stands.
  • For the nth one we insulated everything, and on *the day* before we lost all funding and had to close the lab down we achieved some fusion! We now know exactly what we're going to do!
  • It will solve world hunger, create a stable economy, enable space travel, make ethanol viable, stop the oil wars, cure cancer, etc.
  • It's all in this paper I wrote, it doesn't actually have any formulas or concrete evidence in it "but it does talk about it".
  • Now all we need is $200M funding to build the final thing *cough*and solve the crippling engineering problems*cough*. Questions?

If you want to prove that you're not full of it why not rebuild the last machine you built, which would be relatively cheap, to recreate the results you got the day before you had to close the labs down?
- Well the $200M will build ones which will be 50x better, one of them will be a dodecahedron.

Why is no-one funding you?
- No-one thinks outside the box. If you let me choose who goes on the panel who gets to decide whether it's worthwhile I'll pick some people who can think outside the box. There are lots of people in China and other countries who can think outside the box, and if I don't get funding here in America I'll give my patents to China for free and you wouldn't want that. (I'm not making this up, he literally threatened the audience with giving the tech to China for free)

How do you get the helium waste products out?
- We have a grid on the outside which lets the helium slowly come to a stop, we haven't tried this yet but it's an engineering problem. There are also serious problems with arcing due to the high voltages, but these are merely engineering problems not physics problems.

Re:Pseudoscience (1)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894986)

Its funny you should attack an idea of Bussard's, the interstellar ramjet, that he himself dismissed as unworkable prior to it being adopted by the scifi community.

Hostile Google AI Takeover?! (5, Funny)

OverDrive33 (468610) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894530)

Oh this is a bad idea - when skyn^H^H Google becomes fully self-aware - it's going to have it's own incredible power source?!

Re:Hostile Google AI Takeover?! (3, Funny)

Chaffar (670874) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894644)

Bah... in case anything bad happens, we'll just give 200M $ to Bussard to invent a time-travelling machine and send a killer robot with an Austrian accent to terminate Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

If it looks like a nut case, (0, Flamebait)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894556)

talks like a nut case and flies like a nut case - it probably is a nut case...

Re:If it looks like a nut case, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894614)

It's a good thing this guy is none of the above then.

His company has no website? (2, Interesting)

TorKlingberg (599697) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894570)

He is supposed to be the founder of a "Energy Matter Conversion Corporation", but I cannot find a website of the company. Are there still technology companies without a website out there? In this field? Physicists started the whole www.

Re:His company has no website? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894618)

Physicists started the whole www.

Well a physicist with nothing better to do, anyway.

Published Papers by Dr. Robert W. Bussard (5, Informative)

shanec (130923) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894676)

For all the inquisitive types out there, here are a couple other references to Dr. Robert W. Bussard's work from the DOE perspective;

In addition, there are 101 references for "Electrostatic Confinement Fusion." [science.gov]

Shane
(yes, I'm shamelessly publishing links to my servers for all the Slashdot community to hit. After all, they have to have some reason to keep me employed! ;)

I wonder if they call him (3, Funny)

dhartshorn (456906) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894736)

Mr. Fusion?

Nuc-e-lar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894758)

Just remember, it's nucelar, nuc-e-lar. --Homer Simpson.

an interesting question (3, Funny)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894790)

What's several orders of magnitude more than 0?

easy (2, Funny)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894958)

00000

About Bussard... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894902)

Robert W. Bussard is the same man that invented the Bussard Ramscoop http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard_ramscoop [wikipedia.org] , popularized by Carl Sagan and the Star Trek show.

stupid and gay (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16894904)

1) Google is in the news.
2) I have a struggling company that is not in the news.
3) I shall link my company with google and post something on videos.google.com.
4) The video shall be of me illustrating the basic physics of fusion and fission that most midddle school geeks in the USA know already.

PROPHET!!!

American Law (2, Interesting)

MK_CSGuy (953563) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894912)

What are the rules in the USofA regarding corporate nuclear reactors?

Actually it would be pretty interesting to hear about such laws in other countries as well.

Re:American Law (1)

Timberwolf0122 (872207) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894962)

Well if it does not produce radiation as Dr. Bussard claims then just the standard health and safty rules for a conventional power station, this is just a guess so don't come crying to me when the goverment comes a knocking.

Google should go nuclear... (1)

Nybble's Byte (321886) | more than 7 years ago | (#16894970)

only when President Bush can pronounce the word correctly.
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