Archive for the ‘Energy Source’ Category

Could We Colonize Mars?

October 7, 2015

Yes. There are no show stoppers. The main problem is how to get there fast, cheap and safe. That, in turn is an energy source problem. We need to go beyond chemical rockets (which were invented in China nearly a millennium ago).

Mars is a tempting prize. Mars colonization will double the extent of land humanity live on. Indeed the Red Planet is endowed with nearly as much surface area as all of Earth’s land surface combined (145 million square kilometers for Mars, 149 x 10^6 sqkm for Earth’s continents).

Mars’ rotation axis, over the eons, wobbles impressively. Right now, it’s half way (same inclination as Earth’s). But when the axis is fully inclined, my bet is that the poles melt. Then Mars has got to become much warmer, and wetter: the atmosphere would be full of H2O, water, a powerful greenhouse gas. Maybe life blossoms. Hence Mars is even more interesting than it presently looks (one could imagine life adapted to these super-summers).

Smaller, But Inhabitable Even Before Terraforming

Smaller, But Inhabitable Even Before Terraforming

 

Could we conquer the seas instead? Sure, we have to. However, it’s more difficult. How could it be more difficult to conquer the ocean? The average terrestrial ocean is 3,688 meters deep. This means that we have to handle, to live there, a pressure difference of 370 atmospheres. On Mars, as it is, the pressure is 1% of one atmosphere; that is just one atmosphere difference. A light spacesuit can handle Mars. But just going down 20 meters in Earth’s sea doubles the pressure problem we have on Mars.

Radiation on Mars, and getting there, is a problem: a year stay, with the trip, would augment the probability of getting cancer by 5%. NASA, and radiation workers’ limit is 3%. The average smoker doubles his cancer habit from his gaseous drug habit. Thus, by only sending smokers to Mars, and thus preventing them to smoke (the fuel debris smokers smoke clog air filters), one would vastly diminish their probability of them getting cancer.

The problem with Mars is how to get there. Getting in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is already (very) difficult, expensive, chancy, and will stay so, barring huge advances in material science. We need better engines, better airframes, and, or, a space elevator. Work is going on, in a number of ways, from perfecting launching rockets from planes, to airbreathing reaction engines, to the simple Ariane 6 solution of switching to solid rockets (French and American ballistic missiles are 100% dependable, as they sit in submarines stuffed with thermonuclear bombs).

Some hope that space tourism (one day in LEO for $50,000, say) will provide incentives for cheaper ways to leave Earth. Maybe, but university departments working on materials built atom by atom, better get lots of money (such materials, for example nanomaterials such as graphene, can be hundreds of times stronger than steel; we need to make them work on a large scale).

Given energy, rocket fuel can be made on Mars in a number of ways. Thus, plenty of energy, plenty of fuel. There is plenty of water on Mars (the Curiosity rover found between 2% and 3% in the soil). At least, at the poles (and perhaps all over). Some universities are already bioengineering mosses and other plants to survive on Mars.

With existing technology, and materials, we (or, rather, robots) could build a Space Elevator on Mars. So Mars could turn into a very convenient outpost, while terraforming proceeds.

To get to Mars fast, and to have the plenty of energy we need there to fuel robots, which, in turn, will be able to dig in the ground and make vast caverns and the like (etc.), we need a concentrated energy source.

The only one imaginable energy source would be from small thermonuclear reactors. A number of companies and universities are working on these.

There should be a crash program  on these (while pursuing steadily ITER).

Mars had life and an ocean, for probably at least a billion years. Not having a core nuclear reactor, hence a protecting magnetic field and plate tectonic, Mars lost liquid water, warmth and most of its atmosphere (Venus has the same problem, although Earth sized). Mars is waiting the human touch to smile with exuberant life again. Colonization can expand diversity as it most often does (will cynics add perfidiously). Besides, a Mars polis would be an insurance policy.

The only way to not being able to colonize Mars? If civilization collapses first, it won’t happen. Unlikely? This is exactly where abusing fossil fuels is leading us.

Patrice Ayme’

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American Energy Conspiracies

December 12, 2014

Science is about what we know, for sure. Philosophy is about what we can guess.

History has been fruitful to the USA, so it should be repeated. Again and again, and again. Historians are viewed with suspicion, as soon as they don’t stick to the official, fruitful version of history. Indeed, not repeating history is viewed as counterproductive, in highly successful empires.

Conspiracies is what the most impactful part of history is made of. The USA started as a conspiracy, mostly conducted in Paris. It was so conspiratorial that the King of France had the budget for the war of liberation of America written in secret ledgers.

Many A Conspiracy Explain This Weird Oil Price Graph

Many A Conspiracy Explain This Weird Oil Price Graph

No wonder that the concept of “conspiracy theorist”, is a well-known demeaning expression, in the USA, among those who, in the best universities, aspire to make a career from supporting the established order. The fox hides its trail, with its tail.

Conspiracy is in the genes of the American institutional psyche.

To understand human evolution, especially in the last ten million years, one has to understand energy. Our distant ancestors decided to venture in the Savannah to grab the food, that is, the energy, there. They were immigrants in search of a better world.

The rise of European civilization in the Middle Ages was caused by the outlawing of slavery in 655 CE by the Merovingian Frankish Empire: it forced society to develop mechanical and animal advantage. That turned out to produce a lot of energy. By the year 1000 CE, Europeans commanded more energy, per person, than anybody else, leaving behind China.

In 1939, the dictator-president, Kanzler Adolf Hitler, wanted Poland absolutely, one reason being that Poland had oil (whereas the oil Hitler was getting was from the Americans, or a synthetic oil process, also a, secret, courtesy of American plutocrats). Ironically, Hitler’s ally Stalin got to Polish oil first, thanks to his conspiracy with the Nazi dictator.

Before World War Two, the British and the French controlled the Middle East (which they had freed from the Turks). In particular, Britain controlled Iraq directly (wrestled from Germany in WWI), and Saudi Arabia, indirectly. Thus European democracies had their own oil supply.

After WWII, the USA took control of the Middle East. That was done with an irresistible cocktail of implicit military force (against France and Britain, which culminated when the USA allied itself with Soviet Russia during the Hungary-Suez Canal week of 1956), and debt (when Britain and France were under threat of invasion by the Nazis, the USA exchanged military equipment for debt, or cash).

In the Orient, the USA was not keen to see European influence re-establishing itself. So the USA allied itself with the Vietnamese Communists against the French (and even, for a while, de facto, with Mao). The USA provided the Vietminh with weapons to fight the French, and would not rest until the French got kicked out of North Africa.

Thus the worldwide empire of the USA grew. (No, the Ukrainian situation is not the same, contrarily to what Putin propaganda has been claiming.)

The end result? The Chinese and Arabian plutocracies are doing great. Thanks to the Big Brother plutocracy based in the USA.

The USA give the feudal oil regimes the military backbone they need to stay in place. The USA gave China the capital, technology and companies to establish itself as the number one factory in the world. This has been excellent for American plutocrats. If built in the USA, Apple’s iphone would cost three times more (that is $2,000! For the cheapest model.) Mostly due to higher labor cost. Fortunately Apple’s management has been able to cut out all these greedy American workers (who can now wait on the tables of Apple executives, or clean their luxury electric cars). Geeks and wealthy teenagers are forever in the debt of American plutocrats.

But let’s go back to energy.

Jesus has obviously been conspiring with the USA by providing it with vast quantities of oil, all over, from Pennsylvania to California, and Texas to North Dakota. Without oil, the USA may just have been a larger version of Argentina (Argentine has some oil, but not as much, and not as easy to get; in places in the USA, such as Los Angeles, oil literally makes lakes on the surface).

American plutocrats then conspired with their servant, Adolf Hitler, to provide those-who-wanted-to-kill a lot of people, the Nazis, with all the oil they needed to invade countries, starting with Spain (when their oil got cut-off, the Nazis found their war toys could not be used; but, by then, Nazis were not useful to American plutocrats).

The price of oil stagnated around twenty dollars a barrel for the longest time. The USA was the world’s main producer of oil, but then its production peaked at around ten million barrels a day, and went down. It was the end of cheap oil, at least in the USA.

The world’s main producers, real and potential, became the feudal regimes of the Middle East: Arabia, Iraq, Iran. Iran, in a plot helped by Iraq and France, rebelled from under the American lordship, and went its own way: it got punished. Iraq thought it could be independent from Washington: a series of plots, wars and embargoes, subdued it.

Iraq had the greatest, or second greatest, reserves of oil. The subjugation of Iraq took it out of the oil market. Hence the price of oil took off, helped by financial futures market conspirators.

But sometimes there is too much of a good thing: oil became so expensive that many Americans walked off their mortgages (housing is mostly borrowed from banks in the USA, not properly owned). That was something the whizz kids in American banking had not expected, and the whole, highly leveraged house of cards collapsed.

Thus so did demand for anything, the economy collapsed, and the price of oil went from $140 down to $40.

However, even with that hiccup, the price of oil, thanks from the Washington conspiracy to take out of the oil market both Iran and Iraq, stayed high.

Thus the USA was able to develop TIGHT OIL.

The USA was past CONVENTIONAL, CHEAP OIL, but a new technology was able to get at the oil tightly embedded in rock by fracturing said rock. Actually the technology was not new, but to deploy it massively, using wells which bent and went horizontal, was new.

This technique, called FRACKING, is expensive. Not just expensive on the environment, and deleterious for water supplies. It is intrinsically expensive: instead of just digging a hole and having oil gushing out, one needs to dig deep and massage the rock hundreds of times with water laden with corrosive chemicals and sand. Then one needs to go make another hole close by and start all over again, after having thrown away the humongously disgusting water, now laden with all sorts of poisons, toxic minerals, and, often, radioactivity, somewhere discrete.

Fracking needs an oil price around $60 a barrel to be profitable.

The oil price just broke below $60 on December 11, 2014.

Why?

The short of it is that Saudi Arabia is producing massively, and has announced it decided to target $60 a barrel for the price of oil. It is like an official conspiracy.

How come? Well, Vlad the Invader, having ravaged his country’s economic prospects, like Hitler, is reduced to oppress other nationalities, and minorities (Tatars), to imprint on his followers that he is worth following blindly, being a great chief.

The total fossil fuel (oil and gas) production of Russia is 22 million barrels a day, and was just equaled this year by the USA, making these two empires the largest fossil fuel producers in the world. Russia makes all its money that way.

To squeeze Russia, squeeze the oil price. To squeeze oil, just ask the Saudis, and make oil futures guys understand that it is in the national interest that the oil price go down.

Here we are.

Is that a problem for fracking? Not really. Not only has fracking a lot of inertia, but several of the aims of the fracking movement, such as the repatriation of the chemical industry, or the lowering of the price of energy in the USA, and energy independence thereof, have been achieved (never mind that the poles are melting).

One of the problems with Europe, is that it cannot generate plots at this scale: European national governments and administrations are all too independent. A strength of the USA is that it can conspire on a gigantic national, and worldwide basis. Top American leaders come from very few elite schools, the plutocratic universities. Where they are taught exactly what to know, what to not know, and how to listen.

Then they implement.

Patrice Ayme’

(Thermo)Nuclear Base Load Energy Soon?

October 16, 2014

As you unwittingly wait to board Ebola Air, let me distract you with a more palatable, albeit philosophically related, subject.

Sustainable energy means wind and PV (Photo Voltaic). Other possibilities don’t work enough to make a global dent. (At least not yet, by a long shot.)

Except maybe for tidal and current power, used in Europe since the Middle Ages (exploitation of sea currents is tested on a grand scale in Europe presently; a related possibility would be to use thermal differences in the ocean; but barnacles are a problem).

Solar thermal is controversial: it occupies so much space, zap birds, insects, etc.. Its one advantage is that the energy, heat, can be stored overnight. Geothermal works only in very few, small places (elsewhere it generates earthquakes for reasons similar to fracking).

Hydroelectric is sustainable only in conjunction with nuclear (to refill the reservoirs… Although don’t tell that to California’s empty dams).

The riddle of wind and PV, is that they work only occasionally: one needs base load power. When the sky is black grey with little wind, and it’s very cold, and it lasts for weeks, in a typical Euro weather in winter, a marais barometrique, one needs power. This is the so called “base power” (it’s supposed to be around 40% of peak demand).

Dishonest pseudo-ecologists have, in practice, pushed for fossil fuels base power (because they hate “nuclear energy”… not that they know what it is). All too many (pseudo) ecologists claim one can fight the CO2 built-up catastrophe, while having a fossil fuel base load.

That cannot work: any fossil fuel infrastructure added to the grid cost a fortune, billions of Euros and, or Dollars, for just one plant (typically with a cost around 3 billion). So one cannot add such a plant to not use it. Once built, it will be used (especially if a third of the grid capacity is made of them!)

And there is no, nor can there be, for theoretical reasons, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). CCS is another lie. Herds of noisy pseudo-ecologists have been lying about the coming of CCS. (CCS works only in half a dozen very special places: it’s typically re-injected right away where it came from, a gas field.)

Real ecologists such as yours truly, know that there is just one ecologically correct possibility for base load energy that can be imagined at this point: nuclear power, new nuclear power. That’s what has to be developed to replace fossil fuel base energy. As I said many times, second (or the identical third) generation nuclear power plants were, are, military in disguise (they produce Plutonium, crucial for bombs). So, just on non-military-nuclear-proliferation grounds, they should be shut down.

There are plenty of fission techs that could be made safe and fruitful (including some burning nuclear waste).

And then there is thermonuclear fusion.

In nuclear fusion, light atoms combine into stable forms (mostly Helium 4) and release excess energy. There no nasty waste (as this comes from heavy nuclei). However 80% of the power is as a neutron flux. In the 1920s, it was guessed that fusion generated the power of stars.

In the 1950s, tricks were found to use the X ray light of a plutonium bomb to compress thermonuclear fuel, and heat it up to get a short, but mighty fusion: the H bomb. The first one was much more powerful than expected.

The old joke is that controlled, sustainable thermonuclear fusion has always been, and always will be, the energy of the future. However, we generate roughly 10,000 times more fusion (per unit of fuel) as we did in the 1950s (this is roughly as good a progress as the famous “Moore Law” of the doubling of the power of computer chips, every two years, but at a tiny fraction of the cost: it cost trillions to develop computer chips).

Table top sustainable thermonuclear reactors are for sale. Nuclei are accelerated, using electric attraction, collide, and fuse. Those reactors generate neutrons (neutron beams can be used for all sorts of application, including medical). At this point the efficiency of these reactors is insufficient for gainful power generation (but it’s imaginable that tweaks  to this tech could generate much more energy than it uses).

Numerous fusion concepts are being developed (although not enough). The giant ITER uses the safest technology, where a thermonuclear fuel plasma is confined by exterior magnetism. But numerous alternatives are studied.

The University of Washington, and others, claim to have made a breakthrough: computers studies would show that one can tweak the geometry of the thermonuclear fuel plasma chamber in such a way that the plasma itself would generate the magnetic field bottling it away from the walls.

That does not mean that ITER is useless. Just the opposite: ITER is developing new materials to resist the mighty thermonuclear fire… which all thermonuclear reactors will have to use.

Even the famous Skunk Works of Lockheed Martin is working in the aptly named “Revolutionary Technology Programs unit” on what it calls the compact fusion reactor (CFR). At this point, it’s a containment vessel the size of a business-jet engine.

Lockheed believes it will be small and practical enough for interplanetary spaceships, transoceanic ships and city power stations… Or even fusion power aircraft (fission nuclear-powered aircraft were tested 50 years ago). It speaks of a very quick development program, with a new proto-reactor type every year.

The world economy is faltering, in great part because the global Return On Investment (ROI) of fossil fuels is quickly getting worse.

The subsidies for fossil fuels are enormous: up to a trillion dollars, worldwide, each year.

Ecologists should push to have a small fraction of this directed towards clean, safe nuclear energy. There is no doubt that a crash program on Thorium could give efficient plants within ten years (China will have a plant next year; the problem with Thorium is not whether it can work, but simply a question of regulation and ROI; understandably private industry is leery to launch itself without governmental support).

It increasingly looks that thermonuclear fusion is a plausible alternative for base load energy, sooner than one expected even six months ago.

And now please immediately board Ebola Air. Although it does not look like it, the same mindset that will help fix Ebola, is the exact same one which calls for thermonuclear fusion. The virus, indeed, has probably mutated, to become more easily transmissible. That is pure selection of the fittest (virus) at work.

In the matter of Ebola, as in all the big issues regarding civilization, there is only one optimal way out, the same as for the European Union construction: think, solve, progress, up, up and away!

Patrice Ayme’

The Way: ITER, CERN

March 12, 2014

There are only two fundamental, independent sources of energy: nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. All other energy “sources” are derivative of those two.

The distance between the world’s two most expensive science experiments, ITER and CERN, is less than 300 kilometers. Both powered by French nuclear energy. Discuss.

Fission nuclear energy powers the Earth (magnetic shield, plate tectonic, continental drift, subduction, volcanism).

Fusion nuclear energy powers the Sun (and thus the biosphere, past and future). (Thus those who hate “nuclear” should go see a shrink, and I’m here to help them before they hurt someone. )

Sol, A Yellow Dwarf Star: Hot, Not Cuddly

Sol, A Yellow Dwarf Star: Hot, Not Cuddly

The center of the Sun is submitted to enormous pressure (340 million times atmospheric pressure), and a temperature of ten million degrees Kelvins. That‘s too hot, that is, too violent for atoms: shocks tear electrons from nuclei, and make an electron gas mixed with a gas of nuclei, that’s called a plasma.

Nuclei, each equipped with a positively charged proton, repel each other electrically.

[Sol is actually brighter than 85% of stars in the Milky Way; it’s actually white; the atmosphere scatters the blue component of light, making it look yellow from Earth’s surface!]

600 million tons of the Sun’s hydrogen fuse, converting 5 million tons to energy, each second.

The enormous pressure and heat mean that hydrogen nuclei are packed up close together, and are extremely agitated, with gigantic kinetic energy. So, sometimes, two protons crash into each other head on, and the violence of the collision overwhelms the electric repulsion.

At very short range the nuclear force is attractive. It overwhelms all other forces, and the two protons stick together. This happens more readily if two electrically neutral neutrons join in, as they contribute their attractiveness, and none of the electric repulsion.

British physicists Aston and Eddington suggested in the 1920s that the sun got its power from fusing Hydrogen into Helium. Indeed adding the mass of two heavy hydrogen nuclei (each with one proton and one neutron) is more than that of the Helium nucleus they fuse into. The difference is released as energy, according to the famous Poincare’(-Einstein) E = mcc formula.

Synthesis of the Elements in Stars“, published in 1957 by the extremely famous astrophysicists Margaret Burbidge, Geoffrey Burbidge, William Fowler and Fred Hoyle, demonstrated convincingly that most elements in the universe had been synthesized by nuclear reactions inside stars. Heavy elements, such as iron, had been produced by the dramatic explosions of supernova.

As I have argued in H Fusion Or Bust, we desperately need nuclear energy, as our main energy system, burning fossils, is both running out and poisoning the entire biosphere, killing already an unbelievably unnoticed  several million people a year (soon to be dozens of millions a year, dead). Unfortunately, millions of retards are goose stepping behind well organized, and well paid fossil fuel propagandists, and doing nothing about it, while they howl about nuclear energy.

One angle of attack for reducing pollution is to build Thorium-U233 fission plants. Such reactors have lots of advantage, including the fact be made before and have unproblematic waste. (What’s less easy is to scale them up economically, because it was not done before; India and China have massive programs.)

Thermonuclear fusion has been mastered in bombs, using the dirty trick of using the fantastic temperature and pressure of an exploding Plutonium fission “pit”. That would allow to explode bombs as powerful as 100 Megaton of TNT, or more, enough to bust or deviate a large comet or asteroid.

Some adore the facile joke of saying thermonuclear fusion has been the energy of the future, and always will be. It’s idiotic: it took 7 centuries between the invention of gun powder in China and the first (hydrogen!) internal combustion engine, a succession of explosions (early 19C, Switzerland).

There are two main approaches for inducing fusion: shock, and heat (like in an H bomb), using lasers. This approach is pursued in the Bay Area and Bordeaux. It tends to be military financed, as it simulates H bombs, and lasers are irresistible to real men.

The other approach is the Tokamak (abbreviation of Russian for TOroidal Chamber MAKgnetic). France, as usual in the last three millennia, is at the forefront of the effort to create new technology.  The French already built no less than four tokamaks, and their Tore Supra has enlightened us all with phenomena never seen before. It found OVNIs (Objet Volants Non Identifies)

OVNI Inside Thermonuclear Plasma.

OVNI Inside Thermonuclear Plasma.

[Tore Supra, Cadarache.]

France has few natural resources, but the will to produce a lot of ideas. She is adamant to make nuclear fusion work. As the New Yorker puts it:

if all goes according to plan, the most complex machine ever built will be switched on in an Alpine forest in the South of France. The machine, called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, will stand a hundred feet tall, and it will weigh twenty-three thousand tons—more than twice the weight of the Eiffel Tower. At its core, densely packed high-precision equipment will encase a cavernous vacuum chamber, in which a super-hot cloud of heavy hydrogen will rotate faster than the speed of sound, twisting like a strand of DNA as it circulates. The cloud will be scorched by electric current (a surge so forceful that it will make lightning seem like a tiny arc of static electricity), and bombarded by concentrated waves of radiation. Beams of uncharged particles—the energy in them so great it could vaporize a car in seconds—will pour into the chamber, adding tremendous heat. In this way, the circulating hydrogen will become ionized, and achieve temperatures exceeding two hundred million degrees Celsius—more than ten times as hot as the sun at its blazing core.”

ITER will the hottest phenomenon in the Solar System, ever.

Like the sun, the cloud will go nuclear. The zooming hydrogen atoms, in a state of extreme kinetic excitement, will slam into one another, fusing to form a new element—helium—and with each atomic coupling explosive energy will be released: intense heat, gamma rays, X rays, a torrential flux of fast-moving neutrons propelled in every direction. There isn’t a physical substance that could contain such a thing. Metals, plastics, ceramics, concrete, even pure diamond—all would be obliterated on contact, and so the machine will hold the superheated cloud in a “magnetic bottle,” using the largest system of superconducting magnets in the world. Just feet from the reactor’s core, the magnets will be cooled to two hundred and sixty-nine degrees below zero, nearly the temperature of deep space. Caught in the grip of their titanic forces, the artificial earthbound sun will be suspended, under tremendous pressure, in the pristine nothingness of ITER’s vacuum interior.

No one knows ITER’s true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars—a sum that makes ITER the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth. But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world’s energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on ITER will be built, too—generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity’s will. ITER, in Latin, means “the way.”.

The main road to the ITER construction site from Aix-en-Provence, where I had booked a room, is the A51 highway. The drive is about half an hour, winding north past farmland and the sun-glittered Durance River. Just about every form of energy is in evidence nearby, from hydroelectric dams to floating solar panels. Seams of lignite, a soft brownish coal, run beneath the soil in Provence, but the deposits have become too expensive to mine. Several miles from Aix, a large coal plant, with a chimney that climbs hundreds of feet into the sky, is being converted to burn biomass—leaves, branches, and agricultural debris.

Actually the chimney is 300 meters tall, and not just a symbol of pollution, but a real health problem when there is no mistral and a temperature inversion. When there is mistral, the pollution can head towards Rome. ITER is up the Durance valley. At its source, my daughter was born. Up the nearby Rhone valley, nuclear power reactor parks have the added touch of giant windmills on site while atomic powered Very High Speed trains zoom by (in case, somehow, power goes down, the mistral is supposed to help, as it already did, 1,000 years ago).

In 1997 the JET (Joint European Torus) based in England, produced about as much power through fusion as what put in. So controlled thermonuclear fusion is not a dream. The reactor instantaneously overheated, within a second, and had to be shut down.

Meanwhile in Cadarache, the French tokamak Tore Supra succeeded to confine thermonuclear plasma for more than 6 minutes (by opposition to just one second in JET). Tore Supra could do this as the world’s only tokamak with supraconducting magnets to generate long term magnetic fields. Tore Supra’s walls were built of pure carbon, same as the nose of the space shuttle. It looked like a good guess: carbon has the highest solid temperature (it sublimates directly).

Plasmas are occasionally unstable: look at the picture of the Sun above, complete with explosions, and prominences hundreds of thousands of kilometers long. In a reactor, everything can be perfect for long minutes, and then suddenly all goes to hell without a hand-basket, and the plasma comes in contact with the walls, photo-abrading, tearing carbons away, and prying some of the strongest materials on Earth with forces of hundreds of tons, as if they were made of cardboard:

French Reactor Torn By Thermonuclear Plasma

French Reactor Torn By Thermonuclear Plasma

[Inside Tore Supra, Cadarache, next to ITER.]

The forces that can be unleashed in a thermonuclear reactor are of the order of the largest rockets ever launched (and even several times that in ITER).  The French nuclear safety authority forced the ITER organization to make the reactor’s floor twice stronger than it wanted it to be (the Princeton tokamak jumped in the air).

Not touching the walls is part of the Plasma Facing Material problem (PFM). The plasma, once loaded with tritium, then would have combined to create radioactive carbures. So the French scientists discovered that carbon, in appearance the best candidate for PFM had to be given up.

JET has been rebuilt as a forerunner of ITER, it is now relined with Beryllium . The results have been excellent, and ITER will go directly to such a lining. (Baby ITER, JET will be reloaded with radioactive, easy to fuse, Tritium within two years.)

French Physics Nobel, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes said of controlled nuclear fusion, “We say that we will put the sun into a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don’t know how to make the box.”

The problem is obvious: the highest temperature a solid can sustain is less than 5000 Kelvins at room temperature. The plasma is 40,000 times hotter.

The box has to be electromagnetic. And it has to be perfect, and require mathematics beyond what we can master (mathematics break through allowed the long term containment in Tore Supra). Can it be done? It better be. There is no other option.

Except war. But Putin, the world’s most powerful dictator, already thought of that one.

Putin, of course, is a self-satisfied, vicious idiot with a short alpha man inferiority complex. This shows that the present dominant political system, electing “leaders” every now and then, is, itself, idiotic. The invasion of Ukraine could lead, indeed, to a world war, under some scenarios. Scenarios under which the “West” would act perfectly, let it be said in passing (in 1939, France and Britain, by declaring war to Hitler, acted perfectly… later the war went badly, but that’s another subject).

Idiocy is not just deplorable, it’s a moral problem. In the USA, one meets people raging against France all the time. That makes them morally inferior, and such people were gung ho for invading Iraq.

Basically, anything the USA can do, France can do. No exception. France is the only state capable of this, in the world (even Great Britain buy part of its strategic nuclear deterrent in the USA; France makes its own, and its arguably as limber as the USA’s).

This goes a long way to explain anti-French racism in the USA: here is a Socialist country that does just as well, does not that prove being a slave to Wall Street is pointless? France socialist? Not only the Parti Socialiste holds most elected offices, state spending in France is 57% of GDP (the highest in Europe with Denmark, but Denmark can’t make war around the world).

What the millions of little American minds who rage against France are truly raging again is anything that could hurt their master, plutocracy.

Another example of raging idiocy is directed at CERN. OK, CERN is an abbreviation from the French, and the Large Hadron Collider is mostly below France and fed by French nuclear power, so it’s related to the preceding.

Critics of CERN claim it could swallow the Earth, thus demonstrating their lack of education. Ironically, they probably read that on the Internet. And CERN invented the World Wide Web.

CERN Inventing World Wide Web, 1989.

CERN Inventing World Wide Web, 1989.

Would CERN haters become less hateful if they read on the Internet that CERN invented the WWW? Not sure. Idiocy is fungible. If it’s not this, it will be the other thing.

There is no solution to the mayhem caused by burning fossil fuels, except nuclear energy. No solution, except war. But Putin, the dictator of the world’s largest petrostate is already a pawn for that system of thought.

Patrice Aymé

H Fusion Or Bust

February 13, 2014

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