H Fusion Or Bust

We are quickly running out of resources. This is what the economics of fracking means. Fracking is profitable, precisely because we are past peak conventional oil and gas (there is nothing conventional about high Arctic gas, tar sands, and extracting deep oil below kilometers of ocean as off Brazil).

The problem with peak oil is general. We are past peak zillions of crucial materials, including copper and fertilizers (most fertilizer reserves, worldwide are in Morocco, under the determined French nuclear imperial umbrella, with Washington back-up).

This collapse of all resources has a solution, a dramatic solution, and only one, the solution the Romans were incapable, unwilling to conceive. For the good and simple reason they did not even understand that one could understand why the “world was getting old” as they used to moan.

Fusing Ideas To Progress Always Saves Civilization As Resources Die

Fusing Ideas To Progress Always Saves Civilization As Resources Die

Our situation is the same, but it’s degenerating even faster, as we enjoy a planetary demographic boom without precedent, and a splurge of waste also never imaginable before. For their vacations, a few days, people jet around the world. Just because they can. Is that the call for self destruction? An appeal to the mysterious god of war and apocalypse?

Yet. Energy is the one and only solution. Ever more energy. (Ever more Absolute Worth Energy, more exactly.)

Solar is useful (yada yada), and will work very well in areas not controlled by Al Qaeda (like North Africa, once it has been thoroughly cleansed).

Wind works, sort of, but the giant investment may turn out silly in the long run (although winds are augmenting now that the melting of the poles is gathering speed, in the very long run, if the poles warm up enormously, winds will die down).

That leaves us with conservation. Yet, as the climate belts switch north, many regions that have now plenty of water will go dry, and require desalination and, or long distance transportation of water, thus augmenting energy spending. An example? The South-West of the USA.

Geothermal will not work on a massive scale. Just as fracking, it causes earthquakes. Oh, and fracking at this point in the USA releases enormous quantities of methane, accelerating the greenhouse.

Coal kills directly two millions a year already (without counting how much it kills indirectly through climate change). Chinese coal is filling California’s Napa Valley vineyards with mercury (I guess Californian excess goes around and comes around as a fine mist of Hg…).

However, coal is used more and more: look at nuclearly correct Germany. Or coal is used obdurately: look at Denmark. Denmark is a paragon of ecological correctness… yet is building a new giant coal plant.

To save the planet, one is left with nuclear. Either new fission technologies (say Thorium techs), or… thermonuclear fusion.

The old joke about fusion is that it’s the fuel of the future, and always will be. However, that’s making fun of the scientific process itself. Understanding is progressing ever more, and results are following.

After decades of unexpected discoveries that were blocking the way to controlled thermonuclear fusion, it is entirely possible that only details may have to be figured out pretty soon.

For example a purely theoretical mathematical breakthrough, a few years back, allowed the existing French thermonuclear device at Cadarache to achieve confinement of the thermonuclear plasma for more than 6 minutes.

Next to that machine is now build the giant International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). ITER is expected to produce ten times the energy put in.

The Joint European Torus (JET) in England has been rebuilt, in ITER style, and the preliminary results are allowing to build ITER directly in (what was supposed to be) stage 2.

In 1997 the Joint European Torus (JET) released 16 megawatts of power from fusion, from using 24 megawatts-worth of heat.

ITER is involved with building new materials, to resist thermonuclear fire. If those work, they may profit the Korean national program, which, although part of ITER is also planning a production style reactor very soon after ITER turns on.

Thus it’s entirely possible that magnetic confinement fusion could become energy profitable within 15 years or so.

Meanwhile the proudly called NIL (National Ignition Laboratory) has succeeded to get in November 2013, twice more thermonuclear fusion energy out of one pellet of Deuterium-Tritium fuel than was put in (by lasers).

The NIL lasers compressed the thermonuclear fuel at three times the pressure and five times what exists (we think) at the center of the sun (where thermonuclear fusion is raging). They improved the efficiency by spending more energy heating up the fuel before compressing.

In a thermonuclear bomb, the thermonuclear fuel is compressed similarly with X rays from a fission-fusion “pit”. Who said nukes were useless.

And yes we need to colonize Mars (be it only because we mess up Earth, and always need to go “meta”). But we will do this only with fusion (there is a scheme to make fusion propulsion by using a technique half way between magnetic clinching, and the ITER and NIL styles.

Who need this?… will whine those who want to feed the poor and build their roofs. Do they know how much energy is needed to feed, quench the thirst, bathe, and shelter eight billions? Lots. We still don’t know how to reproduce Roman cement, but that will save a huge amount of energy.

No way out, but science, ever more science.

That’s the old fashion way, the most human way.

Because, of course, as the old resources run out, just like the Romans did not do, we need, having used lots of brains, to replace the old with the new born. Born from our minds.

This is exactly what happened with Rome. The economy of the empire of the Franks, the Imperium Francorum, rested on new engineering: wind mills, water mills, heavy ploughs (capable of digging deep into the fat land of the wet north), new energy (draft collars), and hundreds of new bioengineered species (horses, oxen, hundreds of species of new vegetable, especially protein rich beans). It was an amazing tech revolution. By 1000 CE, the Franks had surpassed Rome, and had the highest energy usage, per capita.

The Frankish tech revolution was paralleled, nearly as spectacularly  in the Far East. New rice cultivars allowed the population to boom. (Originating in Vietnam, they quickly spread-out). China introduced new technologies, such as paper money (having not enough precious metals).

Our similar situation knows an urgency not found before, though. It’s not a question of imperial collapse, or not, but of planetary collapse, or not. So go fusion, go.

Otherwise, well, even older gods will come to dominate. Those presiding the arena of evolution. The survivors incarnate the epigenetics. But there again, fusion will come in handy.

Patrice Aymé

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22 Responses to “H Fusion Or Bust”

  1. The Way: ITER, CERN | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] I have argued in H Fusion Or Bust, we desperately need nuclear energy, as our main energy system, burning fossils, is both running […]

  2. Patrice Ayme Says:

    A crack fusion program would probably produce an energy producing plant within ten years. That’s actually the South Korean plan, piggy backing on ITER.

  3. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Published by Matt Strassler, Of Particular Significance, April 7, 2014.]

    Obama proposed, among other genius strokes, to reduce the fusion research budget by 17% (who needs fusion when one can poison everything with fracking?). That’s in light of significant progress at the NIF (although it’s not LHC style HEP, it’s still asking many fundamental questions, for example in applied mathematics).

    Maybe American intellectuals have not been making enough noise.

    • Romulo Binuya Says:

      Well, the designated American Intellectuals failed to explain to the laypersons in the congress why America should have the Superconducting Super Collider and thus it was scrapped. After spending a billion dollars in digging holes they spend another billion to cover those holes and the remaining budget was diverted to International Space Station. Not a bad decision after all :D

  4. Patrice Ayme Says:

    The SSC was to feed fundamental science. The International Space Station also feeds (some) fundamental science, but not that much High Energy Physics (although perhaps a bit… one impact).
    The science budget of NASA is only five billion, and many missions were cancelled including one with France and two more, to Mars, with Europe… Which then turned to Russia ( a country with a smaller nominal GDP than Italy)

    • Tom H Says:

      April 8, 2014 at 3:50 PM
      NASA is about space exploration? Who knew?

      According to NASA chief administrator Charles Bolden:
      ” … In a June 2010 interview … Bolden said that the top three goals he was tasked with by President Obama, … , ‘perhaps foremost’, ‘to reach out to the Muslim world… to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science… and math and engineering’ … ”
      ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bolden

      • Anon Says:

        April 8, 2014 at 4:41 PM |
        Yes yes, we’ve all heard that. Now can you source anything showing what NASA has actually done in that regard, specifically at the expense of space exploration, or at all

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Romulo Binuya | April 9, 2014 at 4:06 AM |

          That’s not even a good PR talk to reach out the Muslim world, and if in anyway they are enticing the Muslim world to chip in to the NASA space exploration projects.. that statement sucks, at least to me :D
          I rather hear that the International Space Station at 150 billion dollars price tag is the most expensive single structure created by mankind. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

  5. S. Dino Says:

    S. Dino | April 8, 2014 at 1:42 PM
    Wow, I didn’t know that! He should have INCREASED the Fusion budget by twice that percentage! The fool; fusion is the future. Yes, many have bought into fracking; it’s especially popular among some of the Wall St. crowd – I can tell you from personal experience. Before any more of you jump on that bandwagon I suggest you watch: Gasland I & II.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Patrice Ayme | April 8, 2014 at 2:36 PM | Reply

      Fracking is short term very profitable, for the USA or Wall Street, but, with the present technology, a massive long term disaster. Planes and towers have picked up massive methane leakage over the USA (that was in a recent Nature). Methane has 25 times the greenhouse power of CO2 over a century, and up to 100 times over a decade.

  6. Tom H Says:

    Tom H | April 8, 2014 at 3:57 PM
    That is alarmist propaganda with scant & dubious “evidence”.
    Planes, trains, and automobiles are not going to run off moonbeams and windmills.

    And no,
    – I don’t work for any oil company
    – I have no financial stake in oil or gas “profits”, either directly or indirectly.
    – I am a consumer who wants a reliable domestic supply of cheap plentiful energy.

    re Fusion: a worthy goal … but decades or centuries in the future, and maybe never. Environmentalist special interests & lobbyists are always in favor of “clean” or “renewable” or “alternative” energy, UNLESS it acutally works. Then, hell hath no fury, like a limosine-liberal “environmentalist”.

  7. CFT Says:

    CFT | April 8, 2014 at 4:27 PM
    For all your complaints, Fracking has done something that billions spent for fusion research has not. Fracking has actually produced large amounts of affordable and useable energy which the world can use. Besides allowing many scientists to say ‘hmmm…..maybe in 50 more years’, for over fifty years, fusion research would not appear to have produced anything except continued funding for scientists and the publication of many many papers claiming how wonderful it would be if they could actually get it to work in reality. Nuclear Fusion Theory is nice idea, but nice ‘ideas’ by themselves don’t heat your house or power your car, or run a factory that makes something useful allowing an economy to function which produces the profits from which the taxes are taken which pays for research budgets of things like….wait for it…”nuclear fusion research”. Please try really hard to remember which side of the financial food chain government funded scientific endeavor relies upon for funds before you overdose on smug anti-capitalist bromides against Wall Street.
    *
    Considering what is actually paying the bills and keeping the lights on and powering the computer systems which are allowing you to kvetch online, please conserve some energy and get some perspective instead. Wishful thinking is not an energy policy, nor a functional working model, and shutting down functional energy sources in favor of non existent technologies is worse than mindless.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Patrice Ayme | April 8, 2014 at 10:37 PM |

      CFT: Thermonuclear fusion research as already brought enormous fruits all over the place, even in pure mathematics. In 1997, JET (see preceding comment to Tom H) already achieved 67% efficiency. It will certainly produce more than it uses when loaded with Tritium next year (it’s used as baby ITER at this point, to pre-test materials for ITER).

      Selfish American behavior about fracking could turn into a worldwide disaster.
      Above 3% methane leakage, fracking is worse than burning coal in terms of the greenhouse effect.https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/h-fusion-or-bust/

  8. Patrice Ayme Says:

    About the energy conversation above: the drawback from CANDU is that it can still produce Plutonium, excellent for thermonuclear pits… India used CANDU to make Plutonium. Thorium reactors are much better. They produce U233, which is too unstable for making weapons, and the radionuclides produced have a period such as three centuries (in contrast with the 25,000 years of Plutonium). India has a massive Thorium program.

  9. S Dino Says:

    S. Dino | April 9, 2014 at 10:04 AM |

    Tom H & CFT,

    Well as comedian Lewis Black says: “I can sense some of you pulling away from me.” Listen, I am under no illusion that fusion will be in any position to take over as an energy source anytime soon. I know it will take decades. I figure around 2070. I don’t want to be reliant on foreign oil for the next ½ century, nor do I believe that solar, wind and tide pack the energy punch we need to get us to the fusion era (unless there is a significant breakthrough in solar efficiency). But I don’t think fracking is the answer either.

    You may choose to ignore it, but what Patrice wrote about methane in relation to fracking is true. So what is the answer?

  10. S Dino Says:

    S Dino
    I believe the answer is nuclear fission. Pound for pound fission blows away oil, gas, solar, wind and everything else (except fusion). HOWEVER, I do not favor the reactor design most prevalent in the US, Russia, France, etc. I believe the failure modes of these reactors are inherently unsafe and often beyond human management.

    Instead I favor what’s called the CANDU design. These reactors have been built and operated since the 1970’s in Canada, China and India. These reactors use ordinary uranium (not enriched) to generate energy. In these reactors if there is a loss of coolant there is not a meltdown –instead the reaction ceases, because the coolant is heavy water and that is what enables (thanks to its extra neutrons) the reaction in the first place.

    Ah, but there’s the rub, heavy water is expensive – so the initial cost of construction of these reactors is higher than reactors that utilize ordinary water and enriched uranium. Now the infrastructure that has to be put in place to enrich uranium is far more costly than heavy water – but if you are determined to construct nuclear weapons you must enrich uranium.

    So countries like the US and Russia that infrastructure is in place anyway so for them it is ‘cheaper’ to construct ordinary reactors. However, hasn’t that policy been penny wise but pound foolish? What shape would the nuclear power industry be in had there been no Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukishima?

    Don’t get me wrong, these CANDU reactors are not a panacea. Like all fission reactors they produce radioactive waste with all the transport, storage and security concerns that such entails…So pick your poison. It’s just from all that I have read and heard I would not pick fracking.

    Oh one more thing CFT. It’s not “smug anti-capitalist bromides against Wall Street”, it’s smug anti-BAILOUT bromides against Wall Street. Some capitalists!

    • Ian Miller Says:

      Ian Miller | April 9, 2014 at 5:11 PM |

      Re comment by S Dino, one problem is that many reactors are really designed to produce weapons grade plutonium, which in turn leads to the coproduction of some ugly isotopes with very long half-lives, and the need to reprocess well before what is necessary to just make electricity. In principle there are other reactor designs, and one that I like is based on thorium. You would need some U235 or an equivalent to start it, but you cannot make weapons material from any of the output, the long-lived isotope problem seems to be trivial, and the system can run far longer without processing waste.

  11. Romulo Binuya Says:

    Romulo Binuya | April 9, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    It seems that the priority of the government is job creation, any expenditures that couldn’t support that priority unfortunately will be reduced. This one from white house is for humor, nevertheless the priorities were mentioned… https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/isnt-petition-response-youre-looking

  12. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Patrice Ayme | April 9, 2014

    About the energy conversation above: the drawback from CANDU is that it can still produce Plutonium, excellent for thermonuclear pits… India used CANDU to make Plutonium. Thorium reactors are much better. They produce U233, which is too unstable for making weapons, and the radionuclides produced have a period such as three centuries (in contrast with the 25,000 years of Plutonium). India has a massive Thorium program.

  13. Romulo Binuya Says:

    Romulo Binuya | April 12, 2014 at 2:04 AM

    This appears to be a bad news concerning USA involvement in the ITER fusion research, but if the extra cost will create the jobs they need, I guess USA will continue its involvement in the project. http://news.sciencemag.org/funding/2014/04/cost-skyrockets-united-states-share-iter-fusion-project

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The USA will lose. Senator Feinstein has become an immensely rich woman by playing China, not Europe, so she is anxious to cut ITER. Always has been. As Obama proposed only 150 million next year, the way ITER works, others will step in…. And acquire the jobs, and skills. At the limit France will go it alone. For all the Reagan-Gorbachev talk, the most determined people to make fusion work, have been the French

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