Thermonuclear Fusion As A Moral Imperative To Avoid Ultimate Climate Catastrophe

90% of energy comes from burning fossil fuels. We have a climate crisis without precedent in 66 million years. True, Earth had bigger climate changes than what we have seen so far. So far, we have seen one degree Celsius, worldwide, but five degrees are around the corner.

True, at the warmest, something like 50 million years ago, overall planet temperature may have been 5 degrees Celsius higher. And true, when the climate oscillated furiously in the last 2.6 million years, sometimes it was 5 degrees Celsius colder than now, during the “Glacial Maxima”, or even one degree Celsius or so  higher, during the Eemian (115, 000 years ago, the last warm episode, caused by geometrical conjunction of Earth orbit details and the disposition of the continents towards the North Pole).

True some oscillations were fast and furious, like the famous “Dryas” episodes, the first one of which was 18K ago, or so (a mini glaciation suddenly affected Europe, caused by a brutal shut-down of the Gulf Stream beyond a place forward of Iceland, caused by a sudden lid of sweet, light, super cold water from the flow of an enormous cold lake).

However, most big changes were slow, species had time to evolve. Interestingly, the erratic climate of the last 50,000 years may have led to the extinction of the Neanderthals (in a theory mixing the exponential function with the concept of “quasi-extinctions”… from yours truly…) So climate violence is not without consequences.

But, as I said, the changes, especially the warming episodes, were rather slow. Not so now. Not only we are facing potentially the greatest warming since the Carboniferous, or maybe the greatest warming, ever, but we are facing it at a torrid pace: millions of years packed in a century or two.

Greta Thunberg The 15-Year Old Child spoke, and she spoke well!:

We are stuck because the worldwide production of energy is dominated by fossil fuels, and other burning of carbon made materials… the so-called “biofuels”, which sounds good until one realizes that it means burning forest and the like…

Not only the burning of enormous amounts of carbon generating humongous CO2 is disastrous, but it is getting ever worse. At some point, soon, the climate will break.

Yes, it  is not just a question of “climate changing”, and “global warming”. At some point soon, the climate will break. Actually ice shelves in Antarctica and glaciers in Greenland have been observed, disintegrating literally in minutes.

What to do? Miracles! Science made miracles. Science fabricated miracles already. Indeed one unexpected good surprise already happened: Photovoltaic cells (PV). PV is now the cheapest unsubsidized energy source, and even more so, when the dramatically adverse health consequences of fossil fuels are taken into account (probably much more than ten million dead each year, worldwide). However PV cannot work everywhere, and are not enough for 100% transportation, residential and industrial usage, except in relatively small zones in the middle of some deserts, like the Sahara. And that’s after digging for fossil water, and vast construction, CO2 intense, of buildings and exportation of industrial finished products.

Notice that the amount of waste varies enormously, per country and per capita. For example, look for France. France creates only one percent (1%) of the world CO2. That’s amazing, considering that France has the world’s fifth GDP. Yes, bigger than Great Britain, and only less than Germany, Japan, the PRC, and the US. In particular, Russia, with twice the population of France, and much smaller GDP, emits 5 times the CO2. US citizens, per capita, make three times more CO2 than the French….

The problem is: how do we make enormous quantities of energy in a way that doesn’t create enormous pollution? Not all countries have sun and wind, and water (although California does). A first approach is nuclear fission. That has bad reputation, because it was, for decades, mostly a military program. So safety shortcuts were taken. Also now California, which is full of sun, water, towering mountain ranges all over (thus hydro trivers), and oil, has decided to close its last nuclear reactor. California is where they fabricate most movies and thus most moods.

Much of the USA’s wealth rests on the fact that, for nearly 160 years, the USA was the world’s primary oil producer. Actually the world petroleum industry, was born in Pennsylvania in 1859, when “Colonel” Drake found how to extract “rock oil”.

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/thermonuclear-fusion-or-civilization-fission/

Recently the Trump administration reinstated in full the US funding for ITER, the International THERMONUCLEAR Experimental Reactor constructed in France.

Thermonuclear fusion is the only enormous energy source that can be envisioned at this point. It is not a question of its possible existence some day, but of its profitability (ITER targets producing ten times more energy than is poured in from the French energy grid). However, because of the bad mood of the powers that be, funding for ITER was slowed down to a trickle. that’s all the more abysmal as ITER is a world project so everybody, and not necessarily the most competent countries, pitch in with some equipment of their own making…

Thus some circles started to agitate for a US thermonuclear reactor (after good results of a brand new thermonuclear reactor in Germany). A US reactor will enable to get the best talent to concentrate best practices.

Why do the powers that be love fossil fuels so much? Because oil means lots of power in very few hands. That goes very well with the present day oligarchy: oiligarchy promotes oligarchy. Countries where oil production is concentrated, with the exception of Norway are all more or less corrupt (yes, Canada, we are looking at you, kid). Massive plutocratic corruption then trickle down: some major Obama administration officials, like Susan Rice, his “National Security Adviser”, son of her dad, a director of the US Federal Reserve, had million of dollars in the stock of oil pipeline….

As Greta said, we need to listen to science, knowledge. We need more knowledge to get out of this mess. The alternative is the old fashion way: reduce human population massively, by culling. A good nuclear winter and killing 95% of humanity would give the biosphere a respite.

Otherwise, the most recent research (2019) shows that the atmosphere could heat up so much that clouds won’t form as they do now, and a further jump of eight (8) degree Celsius would occur. That is astounding. But it’s not just a theory. Actually, it was the other way around: such jumps were found in the fossil record, and couldn’t be explained… until now. Now that we have found that a tripling of the CO2 would make clouds disappear.

That explains why crocodiles have, more than once in the past, enjoyed the Arctic ocean, and sunned them on  beaches in Greenland graced by palm trees.

After such a jump of eight degrees Celsius globally, from the disappearance of clouds, on top of a rise of five degrees, at least half of the presently inhabited lands would be too hot for biological life, aside from the sort of bacteria which live below volcanoes (thermophilic bacteria). Is that what we want?

If that’s not what we want, there is only one solution: more brainiacs, more science, enough of it to replace the 90% of present day energy production by thermonuclear fusion. At this point, it’s just a matter of building big reactors.

Patrice Ayme

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Note 1: Oh, by the way, once we become good at the simplest thermonuclear fusion, we could use the fusion of Helium 3 (there is quite a bit in space, including Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon). The charm of Helium 3 is that it fuses in such a way that it does not fling neutrons at the reactors’ walls (because it produces no neutrons). Hence there would be no radioactivity whatsoever (thus the reactor could last centuries…)

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Note 2: I thank my daughter Athena, 9 years old, to draw my attention to Greta and ask me more information on the subject at hand (my verbal answer is distilled in the essay above… poor child…)

 

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20 Responses to “Thermonuclear Fusion As A Moral Imperative To Avoid Ultimate Climate Catastrophe”

  1. Gmax Says:

    So it’s immoral not to go thermonuclear?

    Like

  2. Paul Handover Says:

    The question is how to put this at the head of everyone’s agenda?

    Like

  3. Paul Handover Says:

    (I had to break off to feed the horses and wild deer.)

    How can we get our leaders to make this the number one priority? We have very little time left before we pass critical boundaries, no going back boundaries, of which the heating of the deep oceans, and other immediate concerns, is one of the most urgent.

    And that is if we haven’t passed those boundaries already!

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Agreed, both with feeding deer and horses and the necessity of awareness that only nuclear will counteract the climate catastrophe (short of the greatest war ever).

      What we have to do is force “our leaders” to look: if 90% or so of primary energy production consists in burning things… It’s pretty obvious the catastrophe is on… until we have an energy form to fill in for these 90%. Only various forms of nuclear (fission and fusion) can fill in… Local national referendums could vote BURNXIT…. But of course those would have to be authorized by our dear leaders…

      Like

  4. pshakkottai Says:

    What are the prospects for molten thorium salt reactors? Is fusion dead?
    Partha

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Fusion is more alive than ever. Big progress was made both practically and theoretically, in the last 3 months. The main problem at this point is financing. ITER’s funding should be augmented. Trump decided to go back to the Moon in 2024 rather than 2029.
      Trump should do the same for ITER. ITER was slowed down from 2025 to 2035…. JUST on FINANCIAL grounds (not a technical problem). Trump has just re-established US ITER funding in full….

      Thorium is not dead. India’s experimental Thorium reactor got demolished by the tsunami. The problem with Thorium is that it’s full of details before having an entire “filiere”… Fusion is also at the stage of details to make it commercially viable. However, the fruits of thermonuclear fusion are potentially enormous… and He3 fusion will be 100% CLEAN…

      Like

  5. ianmillerblog Says:

    I am a big supporter of fusion, but so far we have not got it to work effectively so I would also cast a vote for the molten salt thorium reactor. The reason we still need work on the thorium reactor is in part it does not make material suitable for nuclear bombs. The bomb industry takes precedence, unfortunately.

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, Thorium reactors don’t fabricate Pluto-nium, so they have little Armageddonic value…. Thus. although they work and are much safer, precisely because much safer, they were not developed.

      I do believe that commercial thermonuclear reactors are feasible now: the bigger the reactor, the more efficient… Initially ITER was supposed to be much bigger… A big ITER would certainly produce lots of steam… More energy than put in….

      Like

  6. oatmealactivist Says:

    Brilliant post. (Of course, I would say that – I bring up the necessity of the fusion moonshot here and there.) I think the models somewhat overstate the urgency (they’re always corrected towards the mean) but the mission is clear: it’s time to move beyond fossil fuels.

    Geopolitics agrees. The West needs to control its own energy economy and not funnel billions to murderous death cult regimes in the Middle East.

    The way we do this is through pubic investment and public commitment. With companion investment in energy storage and transmission. A true energy revolution. There is no future without ITER. We either find a replacement for fossil fuels or we regress, irrevocably. After Rome, it took hundreds of years, but civilization regrouped. If the same happened today, could humanity ever recover? Easy stores of fossil fuels have been exhausted. This is a once-in-a-planet transition. There is no second chance.

    My one real quibble is the issue of climate change and fossil fuel replacement is a mix of humanists (believers in the human project) and anti-civilizationists. Greta Thunberg strikes me as the latter. These are believers not in goodness humanity, but in its inherent wickedness. To me, it seems more like a religious movement, that isn’t interested in finding a solution, only persecuting and punishing sinners and burning climate heretics and witches. But humankind is not evil. Civilization is not evil. Progress is not evil. Industry is not evil. The West is not evil.

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thank you Oatmealactivist, compliments are my thermonuclear fuel… ;-)… Greta spoke at Davos. How much more wicked can one be, ha ha ha?
      The urgency is caused by the possibility that the warming could accelerate dramatically (because of a number of nonlinear factors I have pointed at in the past… The cloud disappearance act is brand new, I wish I had thought of it first, it was pretty obvious… Of course they run models… But I am thoroughly familiar with California/Peru style seas of clouds, and how the sun impact them.
      Besides, it usually takes 50 years for a new energy source replaces the preceding one. A funny problem in California is the question of the grid. As AOC’s “New Green Deal” floats in the distance, the Wall Street Journal sadistically pointed out that the grid won’t take it… Indeed, as I tried to make a plan to electrify potentially around 1,000+ car parkings, PG&E pointed out they could not bring that much current in the area…

      Love and wickedness are two interfaces of the human coin. Love is more fundamental, though, as humanity won’t even get started without… But wickedness protects it.

      I touched again on the West Roman collapse in my latest essay, today… The Roman collapse was a sort of generalized Brexit, which turned real sour… And the Inquisition was core to the problem, quite a bit related to what you describe…

      Like

  7. Ian Miller Says:

    ianmillerblog
    on March 28, 2019 at 3:57 am said:
    Extrapolating from Jurassic times is a bit dangerous because the land configuration was wildly different nevertheless large animals thrived so life was possible. Land plants thrived otherwise the dinosaurs could not have survived, so there must have been rain. It was ten degrees hotter then.

    But I agree fusion is a great technology, except we can’t make it work yet. I agree we need more science devoted to this problem right now because I don’t think one single solution will work, at least no quickly enough. I commented on your post, which was a good one, but I think the thorium molten salt reactor would be a quicker intermediate solution. Unfortunately, the world is installing a new coal-fired power plant every week and they will have to continue running so we have to do something else as well. I think some form of geoengineering will have to be tried because we need an answer quickly.

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    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The jump of 8 degree Centigrades was seen in computer models with three times the CO2. It explained what happened during Jurassic of Miocene…. Life was next to poles. Much of the equatorial zone was probably bereft of advanced life… ???

      We can’t make fusion work… because we don’t spend enough on it. It works enough in Tomahawks to tell us energy production is possible (within large reactors and with some Tritium…)

      Thorium has problems in the details (Thorium reactors were made to work more than 50 years ago). If one tried to develop energy replacement Thorium, one could probably make it work before fusion… Yet a full blown energy producing fusion reactor is probably constructible NOW. It’s just a matter of spending 200 billion dollars within ten years…

      Geoengineering will not work. Be it only for political reasons.

      Like

  8. Patrice Ayme Says:

    From Max Planck institute on Stellarator (2018):

    … its latest round of experiments have achieved long-lasting plasmas of more than 100 seconds for the first time, a record for this kind of stellarator. What’s more, they are also reporting unprecedented energy yields, brought on by newly installed components that inject fast hydrogen atoms into the plasma stream.

    This resulted in high plasma densities of 2 x 10^20 particles per cubic meter, which according to the scientists, are values sufficient for a future power station. The energy content of the plasma exceeded 1 megajoule for the first time ever, without the vessel walls becoming too hot. The plasma temperature, meanwhile, hit 20 million °C (36 million °F), exceeding the Sun’s [CORE] temperature of 15 million °C ( 27 million °F).

    “Congratulations to the Wendelstein 7-X team on the new world record,” said Germany’s Federal Research Minister, Anja Karliczek. “The approach is the right one – in this way, important new findings have been made for the future use of fusion power stations. Alongside renewables, fusion energy could be the energy source of the future. The researchers in Greifswald have taken an important step in this direction with their work. I wish the team every success with their future work.”

    Though more than a million assembly hours went into the initial construction of the Wendelstein 7-X, the stellarator remains a constant work in progress. In September 2017, the interior walls of the container were fitted with graphite tiles, allowing for higher internal temperatures and longer plasma discharges. Though these proved pivotal in the team’s latest success, they are already due to be replaced with water-cooled elements made from carbon fiber.

    This will help the team work toward its aims of continuously containing super-hot plasma in the Wendelstein 7-X’s contorted magnetic fields for more than 30 minutes at a time. Though the device is not actually designed to produce energy, if it can be achieved, this highly elaborate proof-of-concept device would provide compelling evidence that stellarators, and nuclear fusion, can form part of an environmentally sustainable energy mix. Though, for now, that still remains a big if.

    Source: Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics

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  9. Ian Miller Says:

    ianmillerblog
    on March 31, 2019 at 1:44 am said:
    I agree fusion is the the answer if we can get it to work, and I am sure that sooner or later it will be made to work.

    However, because of what CO2 is there already, I still think we need some geoengineering. Replanting the tropical rain forests might be a start, and instead of arms using lime, they could achieve the same with crushed peridotite, or a similar rock, and absorb CO2 at the same time.

    I know the political scene is bad for it, and it will probably end up like Brexit, where the politicians are against everything.

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      For geoengineering some countries will object… One of the reasons being that global warming is not bad for everybody. Some regions are getting much more hospitable even habitable under it… And I am not just talking about agriculture in Antarctica (a more distant possibility).

      Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, for example are obviously secretly for warming.
      Also geoengineering will cause problems, and accusations will fly… Between nations. Replanting tropical rain forests will stay a pipe dreams as nations controlling them are hell bent to eradicate them. You would need to send the Marines. How much CO2 can be absorbed quickly with rocks? Crushed peridotite? What energy will crush it?

      And wait until fusion and, or Thorium starts to work, with enormous renewables in, say the USA (lots of sun, mountains, thus wind, hydro). Then fossil fuels will be outlawed, and fossil fuel plants bombed…. More US bait and switch foreseeable in the future… for everybody’s good, of course. Same old same old….

      Like

  10. Ian Miller Says:

    ianmillerblog on March 31, 2019 at 5:30 pm said:
    Patrice, what you say about objections probably will happen, and geoengineering is probably out unless the nations agree, but even the US might see sense when all its coastal cities start to get inundated, when there are a billion people that are climate refugees because their land is underwater, and when another billion threaten to starve to death. It makes bad TV viewing at dinner time, if you have any dinner. Of course, then it is getting a little late in the day.

    Like

  11. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to NYT, April 5, 2019…]

    Right now 90% of the world primary energy production is by burning fossil fuels.

    Renewable energy will not change this enormously except in a few special places such as California (a rare place with water, mountains, wind and sun). One must with renewables is storage. But this storage we do not have yet (but for a few dams where water can be lifted and turbined back down). Batteries are extremely far from being able to provide that mass storage, for months at a time…

    There is only one way to store renewable energy which is affordable, and expendable on a huge scale : hydrogen. That hydrogen economy has not been developed massively, yet. Although it’s feasible. It could be used in planes…

    So what are we left with? Nuclear energy. Fission now, which could be rendered rather innocuous, if Thorium reactors were developed. Fusion soon, which could bring reactors connected to the grid in ten years, if massive spending was engaged. Fusion brings neglectable pollution, and not at all if using Helium 3.

    The pseudo ecologists who refuse nuclear energy refuse the earth and the sky. In the core of the planet, a fission reactor generate plate tectonic and the magnetic shield which made life possible (by controlling CO2 and radiation). In the sky, that thermonuclear reactor known as the sun.

    Pseudo ecologists refusing nuclear energy condemn the biosphere to the Sixth Mass Extinction. They are the objective accomplices of fossil fuel fanatics. Just their propaganda angle is different.

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