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Science

New Advances Bring Fusion Closer to Reality 785

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the back-of-a-delorean dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports on new advances in nuclear fusion research. For years we've been waiting for the technical breakthroughs that would make cost-effective fusion energy a reality. Are we getting close, or are the problems insurmountable?"
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New Advances Bring Fusion Closer to Reality

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  • Years away (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nuskrad (740518)
    "Nuclear Fusion has always been 15 years away, and always will be"
    • by Eric_Cartman_South_P (594330) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:28AM (#11050543)
      "Nuclear Fusion has always been 15 years away, and always will be"

      I think you mis-spelled "Duke Nukem Forever".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:33AM (#11050574)
      Nuclear Fusion is about 8 minutes away, and will always be*

      * At least until the sun finishes its main phase
    • Re:Years away (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sillybilly (668960) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:39AM (#11050607)
      You know what bugs me? The world is squabbling over where to build the 6 billion dollar ITER (international thermonuclear reactor.) See http://fire.pppl.gov/ [pppl.gov] They've been negotiating over locations between France and Japan, neither party willing to yield, for over a year now. 6 billion dollars? Screw it, build two of them, one in Japan, one in France, but that's not the point. They don't want to build it, because if anyone can make cheap energy out of rainwater, then how do you control them? The powers that be actually like the setup where they can fight and take over any limited resources, then have people come beg them for a piece of the pie. It doesn't matter to them if billions of people die, as long as they are not one of them. But civil war and social chaos is not picky.
      • by ejort79 (654456)
        'First rule in government spending: Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?'
      • Re:Years away (Score:5, Insightful)

        by HMA2000 (728266) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:18AM (#11050874)
        Even with fusion power "too cheap to meter" there will still be limited resources. Trust me, there is no government of a developed nation on earth that doesn't want the incredible economic boost free power will have.

        I will never understand where this hyper cynicism comes from. On one hand our "evil rulers" will do anything to make a buck. On the other hand they will not do something that will save trillions of bucks because they don't want to lose influnence and power.

        It's a stupid way to go through life and precludes rational analysis of real political actions and motives.

        • Re:Years away (Score:3, Insightful)

          by homer_ca (144738)
          Even with fusion power "too cheap to meter" there will still be limited resources. Trust me, there is no government of a developed nation on earth that doesn't want the incredible economic boost free power will have.

          Exactly right. As another poster said, fusion scales up not down. To be cost-effective, a fusion plant using currently known science needs to be huge. That implies huge levels of investment, labor and organizational structure. Think Hoover Dam, not rooftop solar. Not something a small country
    • Re:Years away (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Decaff (42676) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:39AM (#11050608)
      "Nuclear Fusion has always been 15 years away, and always will be"

      This glib statement seriously underestimates the achievements in this area in the past few years. We have gone from doubts as to whether controlled fusion could ever be achieved to a point where we are working on stabilising the reaction to the level where it produces commercial results.

      And by the way, the classic quote was '50' years, not 15!
    • Re:Years away (Score:5, Insightful)

      by anorlunda (311253) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:05AM (#11050778) Homepage
      Not to reveal my age, but when I was an engineering student in the early 60s the big science news was that flat screen TV was only 2 years away, and that CRTs would be rendered obsolete. Flat screen TV was perpetually 2 years away in the future for most of my life, but it finally did arrive.

      Our goal should be to have commercially useful fusion energy in operation by the end of the 21st century. It's vital, but not easy, for the public to support such long-term goals. That's particularly true when we can't visualize the links in the chain that will connect now with then.

      The actual breakthroughs that make energy power cheap and safe are likely to come closer to the end of the century, and we can't imagine what they might be. Still, we must support constant inquiry and scientific research to create the fertile conditions for breakthrough discoveries.

      The only reservation I have about supporting big science is a serious one. Money should go for science, not to feed the egos of the pricipals. The bigger the project, the harder it is to assure that.

    • by MickLinux (579158) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:11AM (#11050811) Journal
      Yep, my father quoted that one on his PhD thesis.

      Granted, they do have fusion -- but not practical fusion.

      But to prove his statement, he pointed out how expensive it is to generate tritium for the DT reaction, and how little there is.

      If we're ever going to have practical fusion, it's going to be cold fusion. Use a molecule with an explosive bond that shoves two other molecules on a predefined pathway into a range where you get a 1% chance of reaction between two hydrogen nuclei, by tunnelling, and you could do it.

      But that would take a pretty complicated and well-designed molecule.

      There may be some ways of doing it once we have better molecular manufacturing, but as for right now, cold fusion is also dead.

      For that matter, unless we're using it in space, I hope they don't get cold fusion.

      To quote Don Lancaster (www.tinaja.com), if anyone finds a free energy source and manufactures it without also providing a free energy sink, they'll be the worst criminal in human history. Oh, and our planet will glow like a star too.

      I think the proper solution to our energy problems needs to be wind and wave. Those take care of the energy source/sink problem. Sorry, just my two cents.

      • by kravlor (597242) on Friday December 10, 2004 @02:41PM (#11053708) Homepage
        Actually, in ITER [iter.org], the reactor discussed in the article, tritium will be bred in the reactor vessel itself.

        The first wall will contain lithium, which can transmute to T when bombarded by the fast neutrons generated by the fusion reactions. For more info, see Boeing's [boeing.com] blurb on the shield/breeding blanket designs [boeing.com].

        Of course, with improving technology, higher beta (a measure of fusion plasma confinement capability), and hotter plasmas, D-T can be forsaken for other reactions. :)

      • "Use a molecule with an explosive bond that shoves two other molecules on a predefined pathway into a range where you get a 1% chance of reaction between two hydrogen nuclei, by tunnelling, and you could do it."

        Um, what is an "explosive bond"? I'm sorry but this can never happen. First energy is released when bonds are FORMED, not broken. Second, any chemical reaction concievable can never initiate fusion of nuclei, the difference in energy scales (per atom) between chemical bonds (electromagnetic force)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I built a cold fusion device that uses heavy water as its fuel, but my work is being supressed by the hot fusion cabal at Princeton.

    One day I'll be famous.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:13AM (#11050471)
    Are we getting close, or are the problems insurmountable?

    According to this documentary [imdb.com], we'll have fusion powering our homes and cars within 10 years.
  • "Splitting atoms" (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:15AM (#11050481) Journal
    While I believe that fusion will likely be the only sustainable energy source as our current supplies of oil and uranium eventually run out, nuclear fission is about the only 'safe' alternative in the meantime. Generating many orders of magnitude less radioactive waste than current fossil fuel plants, they are inherently better for the environment on a purely objective level.

    What I object to, though, is the insinuation that we are the ones splitting the nuclei of the radioactive elements. These things are radioactive precisely because of their tendency to decay and in fact split themselves. They don't even split into other elements. You can't turn uranium into gold, for example, even though it ought to be a straightforward process of splitting off the required number of protons from each atom (if the "we're splitting atoms" camp claims are correct).

    We use the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements to fuel our generators. We do nothing like smashing atoms into smaller bits.

    Just a pet peeve of mine whenever I see a nuclear power article.
    • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:20AM (#11050501)
      "nuclear fission is about the only 'safe' alternative in the meantime. Generating many orders of magnitude less radioactive waste than current fossil fuel plants,"

      I completely agree with you , but try telling that to the kneejerk reaction anti nuclear fanatics who can't see the wood for their own foolishly planted trees. Mind you, I've met some of these people and half of them couldn't even spell "radioactivity" never mind tell you what it was. They work purely on a fevered emotional level and no amount of rational discussion will convince them otherwise. They are the same sorts of people who dunked old women in ponds back in the 17th century because they talked to their cat and someone got ill in the village shortly afterwards.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        They are the same sorts of people who dunked old women in ponds back in the 17th century because they talked to their cat
        ...or committed the heinous crime of weighing less than a duck!
      • by Anonymous Coward
        My favourite peice of braindead kneejerk quasi-science claptrap has been the reaction to mobile phone cell masts here in the UK. I've seen masts which have been graffited with an "Ionising Radiation" warning sign, neatly confirming what I had suspected for some time; The people who scream the loudest are usually the most clueless.
      • Re:"Splitting atoms" (Score:3, Informative)

        by calibanDNS (32250)

        try telling that to the kneejerk reaction anti nuclear fanatics who can't see the wood for their own foolishly planted trees

        I was having a discussion with my wife and several friends a few nights ago, and the topic turned to energy concerns. I was amazed to find that I was the only person in the room who wasn't opposed to nuclear power plants, but then I remembered that I was the only person in the room with an engineering background and anything more than a high school physics class under my belt. I sh

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Why are you proud of her for abandoning that idea? That attitude is pretty damn good, actually.

          To have any sort of industrial area near your house lowers the property value significantly. Even if there were no pollution, you'd have to make the concession of having a big, honking nuclear power plant right next door with its hundreds of employees showing up every morning in their cars or on the bus and generally crowding the roadways in your area.

          No, keep the power plants somewhere else far away from the
        • by rotty (534177)
          Well, it might be that state-of-the art reactors are quite safe, but that still leaves the problem of handling the resulting nuclear waste. It is a fact, that however safe a reactor might be, it produces very long lasting nuclear waste; there are no satisfying solutions on how to deal with that waste IMO/AFAIK.
          • Re:"Splitting atoms" (Score:4, Interesting)

            by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:31AM (#11050973) Homepage Journal

            there are no satisfying solutions on how to deal with that waste IMO/AFAIK.

            Put it in torpedos that bury themselves in the edge of the deepest part of the Marianas Trench. The trench is the meeting point of the Pacific and Phillipine tectonic plates, and subduction would pull the waste under the Pacific plate and into the mantle.

            Actually, various forms of deep ocean disposal, whether at plate edges or, perhaps better, in the center of geologically inert areas, are an excellent option. Wastes buried a few meters deep in the soft, inert and lifeless sediments in the deeps would ensure that the waste will not migrate into the biosphere before it decays to a safe level and would make recovery by anyone nearly impossible, which means that the wastes would be safe from terrorists wanting to make dirty bombs.

            The only obstacle, really, is an international treaty, the London Convention, which is just an agreement and could be modified through an appropriate political process.

          • Re:"Splitting atoms" (Score:5, Informative)

            by sjames (1099) on Friday December 10, 2004 @11:58AM (#11051832) Homepage

            it produces very long lasting nuclear waste;

            The longevity of some waste is important to consider, but there are three important mitigating factors that are usually overlooked in discussion.

            First, longevity and intensity of nuclear waste are inversely related. The really nasty stuff has halflives of hours to days. The mid level stuff on the order of months. It's actually the low level waste that can last such a long time.

            Secondly, reprocessing of the low level waste would extract useful plutonium that can be used as fuel again and will further reduce the volume of waste to store. It may even be possible to reduce the volume yet again by irradiating the low level waste to force it to decay faster.

            Finally, coal burning releases a great deal of thorium and other radioactives. If coal plants were held to the same standards for release of radioactive waste products as nuclear plants are, each one would produce many tons of low level radioactive waste a year. That waste would also have to be stored for thousands of years.

            Perhaps we should measure low-level waste in the unit "hours of coal", that is, in terms of the released radioactive waste per hour from an average coal fired power plant.

            The real problem with nuclear power in the U.S. is lack of standardization in plant design and waste management. With standard design, we could build a body of practical operational and engineering knowledge that would apply to every plant. That in turn would allow increased safety.

      • I completely agree with you , but try telling that to the kneejerk reaction anti nuclear fanatics who can't see the wood for their own foolishly planted trees. Mind you, I've met some of these people and half of them couldn't even spell "radioactivity" never mind tell you what it was.

        I always end up taking the devil's advocate position here, even though I very much support fission energy use in principle. Look, if the military and civilian workers involved in fission energy production and nuclear material

      • Re:"Splitting atoms" (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        People who are gravely skeptical about nuclear power are not all kneejerk ignorant reactionaries. I understand how nuclear power works. I also understand that even ordinary rocks and concrete walls are radioactive, or that burning fossil fuels introduces some radioactive material into the atmosphere. Hell, even the potassium in our bones is a source of significant exposure, as is flying at high altitudes in a plane. And I understand that we are slowly being backed into a corner when it comes to conventi
        • by Viol8 (599362)
          "By contrast, at least fossil fuel products are largely recycled in the natural environment, and what radioactivity they introduce isn't much different from what is already there naturally (compare: radioactive cesium and iodine)."

          Yes , all that CO2 is being recycled and isn't really building up in the atmosphere. As from the radioactivity not being different, well outside of a partical accelerator ALL radioactivity is natural - uranium ore is extracted from the ground just like coal, oil gas. I'm not sur
      • Ok,

        these people DO exist. No question about it. Ussually their little old ladies, called Jane Public. But -WHY- does any Nuclear discussion have to have an +5 insightfull for a guy essentially claiming all "treehuggers" are emotional wrecks with no understanding and a fascist witchhunter tendancy?

        It is just blatently untrue. People like Greepeace have -always- said that "under current technology" -waist- is the nuclear problem, well that and worries about the effects opf a Jumbo flying in a powerplant, or
    • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:29AM (#11050550) Homepage Journal
      I object to the insinuation that we are the ones splitting the nuclei of the radioactive elements

      Well, fine. But you can say that by refining the uranium, and bringing sub-critical amounts of together in a pile, or supercritical amount together in a bomb, we are utilising the nucleus's innate tendency to split, and to thereby trigger a chain reaction in nearby uranium nuclei, in order to generate a self-sustaining level of radioactivity that would not have otherwise occured.

      You could also say when making tea that we are not the ones boiling water, we are merely allowing electricity to flow through a restisting metal rod, which generates heat which when transfered to the water causes a rise in temperatre to boiling point that would not have otherwise occured. But that would be very, very pedantic.
    • I know burning fossil fuels generates some radioactive waste, but more than nuclear power? To be honest, I'd like to see a source. While I understand that Chernobyl's exact mishap is unlikely to happen in the West because of fundemental design differences, the radiation it released was far more harmful to a lot more people than just simple resperatory illnesses.

      Radioactive elements don't split into other elements? They don't split neatly into any single different element, but once an atom is split, it o
      • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:09AM (#11050804) Homepage
        The amount of radiation *generated* by burning coal and oil may indeed be less than the amount *generated* by nuclear fission, for the same amount of energy produced. But, ALL of the fossil fuel radiation is *released* into the atmosphere, whereas the nuclear fission radiation is *contained* unless containment is breached in an accident. Therefore, as long as containment holds, nuclear fission is cleaner and safer than fossil fuels.
    • by starman97 (29863) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:34AM (#11050576)
      Decay?
      You mean all those extra neutrons flying about dont have anything to do with it? Those neutrons traveling at carefully determined energies intended to impact the nucleus of the U238 atoms and cause it to become unstable and break apart into two smaller ones that are usually highly radioactive?
      As opposed to the normal decay which merely sheds a single alpha, beta or gamma ray, leaving the original nucleus largely intact. This results in less radioactivity, not more.
    • What I object to, though, is the insinuation that we are the ones splitting the nuclei of the radioactive elements. These things are radioactive precisely because of their tendency to decay and in fact split themselves. They don't even split into other elements.

      Nonsense. Yes, radioactive elements decay by themselves. That gives off some heat, and you can power devices with that (it's used in some space craft). In radioactive decay, atoms do not split - they emit a neutron or some other particle.

      What nuc

    • "... They don't even split into other elements." Uhhh, wrong. My physics was a bit rusty, so I did a google on the fission process and found this on world-nuclear.org: "The number of neutrons and the specific fission products from any fission event are governed by statistical probability, in that the precise break up of a single nucleus cannot be predicted. However, conservation laws require the total number of nucleons and the total energy to be conserved. The fission reaction in U-235 produces fission
    • by Mt._Honkey (514673) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:54AM (#11051170)
      What I object to, though, is the insinuation that we are the ones splitting the nuclei of the radioactive elements. These things are radioactive precisely because of their tendency to decay and in fact split themselves. They don't even split into other elements. You can't turn uranium into gold, for example, even though it ought to be a straightforward process of splitting off the required number of protons from each atom (if the "we're splitting atoms" camp claims are correct).

      We use the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements to fuel our generators. We do nothing like smashing atoms into smaller bits.
      Just a pet peeve of mine whenever I see a nuclear power article.
      And a pet peeve of mine is people posting on slashdot in an authoritative fashion when they know nothing about what they're saying.

      It is true that Uranium does decay naturally and emit radiation. This decay, however, is the emission of one or very few particles, rather than splitting the nucleus into two large pieces:
      U-235 -> U*236 -> Th-231 + alpha
      U-238 -> U*236 -> Th-234 + alpha


      In nuclear reactors used for power production on Earth, we use the neutrons emitted in radioactive decay to split nuclei of Uranium-235. These two new nuclei are indeed new atoms. A couple common fission processes are:
      n + U-235 -> Xe-140 + Sr-94 + 2n
      n + U-235 -> La-139 + Mo-95 + 2n

      The masses of the two nuclei that come off tend to be between 72 and 160 AMU. Gold is not typically produced, as it's atomic mass is 197 AMU--too heavy to be made in the usual U-235 fission. I think that spontaneus fission might occur, but if it does it is at a much lower rate than is useful.

      Energy derived solely from radioactive decay without any fission is sometimes used, but to my knowledge only on deep-space probes such as Voyager and Cassini. IIRC they use the natural heat decay of Plutonium, which is produced from U-238 in reactors.
    • by syrynxx (753398) on Friday December 10, 2004 @11:22AM (#11051431)
      Nuclear fission does split nucleii into fragments. U-235 fission absorbs thermal neutrons (room-temperature kinetic energy) and splits in half, P-239 fission absorbs fast (high-energy) neutrons and splits in half. The resultant atoms form an assymetric distribution called the 'Mae West' curve because it forms two big peaks (mapped # vs Z) that look like mammaries to lonely nuclear engineers that don't see nekkid women that often.

      While Uranium/Plutonium do decay naturally (stability of a nucleus is determined by the Nuclear Shell empirical formula, which is a rough analog of the electron shell theory - everybody wants to be Iron Fe/26, the most stable nucleus), there's another form of decay that's an outcome of genuine nucleus splitting. That's is the decay of of these usually-radioactive fragments. This decay is important to the operation of a fission reactor, but only in determining the criticality of a nuclear pile. 'Critical' == exactly as many neutrons are released in any time period as are absorbed, meaning steady power output. Basically, over 99% of the neutrons necessary to keep a steady level of fission events come from 'prompt' neutrons - neutrons that are freed in the splitting of an atomic nucleus. You get one small chunk (which could very well be gold), one big chunk, and a couple free/fast neutrons.

      If these 'prompt' neutrons were enough to sustain criticality, then the number of fission events would increase geometrically. Since the time between generations is about a millionth of a section, this means that a reactor core that's 'prompt-critical' would quickly escalate in temperature until the structural integrity of the core failed, and you have a molten slag of Uranium - which is exactly what happened at Chernobyl.

      So the way to avoid this, you have to put in neutron-absorbing control rods to keep the number of 'prompt' neutrons below the number necessary to sustain the next generation of fission events. If 'prompt' neutrons were the only neutron source, your nuclear reactor would quickly cool down. But the decay of the fragments (which are ususally radioactive isotopes of stable elements) release additional neutrons. The 'art' of tuning a nuclear reactor is to insert the control rods just enough so that the reactor isn't prompt-critical, but the decay neutrons are just barely enough to make the pile critical.

      One of the biggest problems with fusion in general is fuel. The easiest fusion reaction is deuterium-tritium. Deuterium is plentiful - the ocean is full of 'heavy water' where one of the hydrogen atoms in a water molecule has a proton and a neutron. Tritium, however, is radioactive with a pretty short halflife. You have to make tritium by getting Lithium to absorb a neutron, then decay.

      Last time I was up-to-date on fusion research, there was only an estimated 300 years of Lithium to sustain the predicted energy needs of the world. However, with fission fast-breeder reactors like they use in France, there would be 5000 estimated years of power. Fission fast-breeder reactors can be built today - it's just that to make them passively safe, you need to use a liquid metal coolant like sodium, and any disaster like Chernobyl (from terrorists, for example) would be catastrophic. Liquid sodium will explode if it gets wet, so it's a huge engineering challenge. Argonne Nat'l Labs has reactor designs like this, but the US population is scared of nuclear power plants (plus, the cost overruns at plants made them economically unfeasible).

      [I am a published principal author and presentor of a fusion reactor design (presented at the 8th Topical Meeting on the Topic of Fusion Energy in Salt Lake City), so I have a tiny bit of credibility. I got out of the field specifically because of the 15-year carrot-on-a-stick paradox.]
  • HUrray! (Score:4, Funny)

    by jim_v2000 (818799) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:17AM (#11050491)
    Does this mean I'll finally be getting a Mr. Fusion to put on my Delorean?
    • Does this mean I'll finally be getting a Mr. Fusion to put on my Delorean?

      Not likely. Fission may be cleaner than fusion, but it's still very big iron, running at a temperature of 100 million degrees centigrade, spewing out heaps of high-energy sub-atomic particles. Without tons of shielding, it would be deadly.
      • Fission may be cleaner than fusion, but it's still very big iron, running at a temperature of 100 million degrees centigrade

        I'm confused. Are you claiming that today's current fission reactors operate at 100 million degrees? Or are you claiming that fusion only occurs at 100 million degrees?

        I guess it doesn't really matter, because both statements are wildly incorrect.

        First of all, as far as I know, fusion is actually cleaner than fission, because it works with much more stable and predictable element
  • Dumbed down (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The article was so dumbed down it was actually harder to work out what it was saying, but I think it goes like this:

    "We still intend to use a donut-shaped plasma contained in a magnetic field. But now we've got better scopes and the latest release of 'budget fluid-model XP' for our souped-up research PCs"

    Perhaps the real point of the article is to announce that Christian HQ has finally decided that nuclear fusion isn't blasphemous (and God has presumably decided not to enforce her patents on the sun).
  • What you yourself are insinuating is that we do not create any 'unnatural' elements in the proces.
    I object: Pu for example is not a natural element - and quite wasteful.
  • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:31AM (#11050556) Homepage
    Just because we can't do it right now doesn't mean we never will.

    100 years ago we would never have dreamed space exploration would be possible. Why's this so different?
  • Ask Slashdot? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anum (799950) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:32AM (#11050567)
    Is this an Ask Slashdot?

    If so then my answer is yes! I mean no! err..What was the question again?

    IANANE (I am not a nuclear engineer) but if I read that article correctly then it seems some of the many problems have theoretical solutions. In other words, it worked in the simulation. We need to get this thing built and do real tests before we can even think about being "close" to having fusion plants.

    They can't even decide where to build it! Why can't I vote to spend my (US) tax money on putting one of these over here. Even as a test bed it will give the contry it's in some home field advantage.
    You can use my back yard if you want! Don't listen to my whiney neighbors, they don't know what's good for them!
    • Well, the problem isn't that nobody wants to have it. The problem is that there are two countries who want to have it: France and Japan.
      • by nizo (81281)
        The problem is that there are two countries who want to have it: France and Japan.

        As a typical American, I would like to recommend that they simply build it on their shared border. Problem solved!

    • Re:Ask Slashdot? (Score:4, Informative)

      by d_strand (674412) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:07AM (#11050788)
      They can't even decide where to build it! Why can't I vote to spend my (US) tax money on putting one of these over here. Even as a test bed it will give the contry it's in some home field advantage.

      That isn't a problem any more. The EU decided a few weeks ago to build ITER in france by themselves and inviting the Japanese to join if they like (dont know what's happening with the US participation, but considering that they didn't join until a short while ago and wasn't paying much anyway it hardly matters)
  • by Mr_Blank (172031) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:43AM (#11050626) Journal
    Whenever fusion comes up I gotta refer to this Economist article [economist.com]:
    SOME say that a dollar spent on nuclear fusion is a dollar wasted. And many, many dollars have been spent on it, as physicists try to duplicate, in a controlled setting, the process by which the sun shines. Since 1951, America alone has devoted more than $17 billion (see chart) to working out how to fuse atomic nuclei so as to generate an inexhaustible supply of clean, safe power.


    The claim that this money is wholly wasted may not be entirely fair, though. Fusion science has made a big return on this investment in the form of a new universal constant. This constant is the number 30, a figure that has for the past half-century or so been cited almost religiously by researchers as the number of years that it will take before fusion power becomes a commercial reality. ...[continues]

    With observations like that in reputable news sources like the Economist it is no wonder that investment in fusion waxes and wanes. People want a return on investment before the next election, not 30 years from now.
    • by R.Caley (126968) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:12AM (#11050818)
      People want a return on investment before the next election, not 30 years from now.

      I think you are missing the point the writer was making. The 30 is a constant, ie we are always 30 years from fussion. This is not a return in 30 years, but a return an infinite amount of time in the future.

      Now, I think the fusion experiments are worth funding because they are fun. I think it's a shame that the political environment is such that the scientists need to pretend there is gold at the end of the rainbow, when the rainbow is so beautiful itself.

      We aren't talking big money here in government terms. Eg IIRC the proposed ITER budget is 10 billion Euro over 30 years. The EU pours approximately 100 billion into the common agrecultural policy every year and I presume the USA is operating on basicly the same level, just to prop up buisinesses who produce food no one wants to eat.

    • (Grumbling at the Economist, not Mr. Blank...)

      Since 1951, America alone has devoted more than $17 billion [on fusion]

      Ah the wonders of a contextless statistic. Wow, America has spent more than $17 Billion on nuclear fusion in the last fifty years without producing a commercially viable reactor?! Damn those profligate scientists and their free-spending ways! We must put a stop to this before they bankrupt us!

      Oh wait. $17 billion divided by 53 years is... $320 Million a year.

      In Federal budgeting t

  • by ScrewTivo (458228) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:43AM (#11050627) Homepage
    use the suns fusion to grow biodiesel. A lot cheaper and it will clean the atmosphere. My understanding is that all carbon in plant is extracted from the atmosphere. Extracting the oil leaves carbon waste, so even dirty engines cannot put more carbon back into air then was extracted.
    Although we may end up with oxygen pollution :)
    biodiesel home page [biodiesel.org]

  • by coyote_oww (749758) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:50AM (#11050676)
    I think we're getting closer to "cost-effective" fusion, if for no other reason than that the alternatives are getting more expensive. If the cost of fusion just stays constant, fusion will eventually win out. Other energy sources will simply become more expensive, leaving fusion the "bargain" energy source.
    • It is interesting that you mention this fact. I just heard on a morning television program a discussion regarding Saudi Arabia and how they set their price for Crude Oil. Apparently one of the major factors they use to set the price is the idea that if they set the price too high, they will be sitting on a huge pile of oil that nobody will want to buy. The quote was "they are deliberately setting the price to discourage alternative energy sources including R&D". In other words, this is a deliberate
  • Some useful links (Score:3, Informative)

    by JaF893 (745419) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:54AM (#11050697) Journal
    IANANP (I am not a nuclear physicist) but a lot of people don't seem to know much about fusion so here are some links which explain a bit more about it:

    http://www.jet.efda.org/pages/content/fusion2.html [efda.org]
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nucene/ fusion.html [gsu.edu]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_nuclear_f usion [wikipedia.org]
    http://www.fusion.org.uk/ [fusion.org.uk]
    http://www.iter.org/ [iter.org]

  • It'll Never Happen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by occamboy (583175) on Friday December 10, 2004 @09:56AM (#11050705)
    Sorry to be a nathering nabob of negativism, but...

    Practical nuclear fusion would be the best thing that ever happened to our planet: we'd lose our dependence on the Middle East for energy, and dramatically cut pollution. If it were up to me, I'd launch a nuclear fusion program on the scale of the Manhattan Project.

    However, the Bush family and that crowd will never allow nuclear fusion to become a reality - they make too darned much money on oil, and cash is all they understand.
  • "Scientists now say 100 million degrees C is not too hot to handle in this powerful energy-generating process." Correct me if I'm wrong here but we are trying to fuse hydrogen here not helium, nobody need be messing around with temperatures anywhere near 100 million celcius.
  • by jakedata (585566) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:01AM (#11050753)
    I have a sneaking suspicion that the article meant to refer to SILICON carbide.

    Silicon and Silicone are often confused.

    OTOH, perhaps this will be the next big thing. Talk about too hot to handle...

    -j
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday December 10, 2004 @10:49AM (#11051125) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone else find it dissonant that the Christian Science Monitor, generally a fine paper, is primarily a journal for a community of Americans who shun medicine in favor of faith healing, yet reports other miraculous science like fusion without complaint?
    • by bhima (46039) <Bhima.PandavaNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday December 10, 2004 @11:16AM (#11051376) Journal
      Cherckout: http://csmonitor.com/aboutus/about_the_monitor.htm l [csmonitor.com]

      "It's a real newspaper published by a church -- The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Mass., USA.... let's be clear: The Christian Science church doesn't publish news to propagate denominational doctrine; it provides news purely as a public service. Here's why: If the basic theology of that church says that what reaches and affects thought shapes experience, it follows that a newspaper would have significant impact on the lives of those who read it.

      A newspaper whose motive is "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind," as its founder charged, would have a "leavening" effect on society, as well as on individual lives -- to use a metaphor Eddy herself appreciated and used. The idea is that the unblemished truth is freeing (as a fundamental human right); with it, citizens can make informed decisions and take intelligent action, for themselves and for society."

      On a side note, I've just read throught the comments and I'm amazed at the number people that have made comments showing that they know no science... did IQs suddenly drop while I was away?

  • There have been no real incentives to make fusion work. Twelve years ago, these guys has a chance [geocities.com] and they blue it. The lawyers in congress refused to create sane incentives-and now are risking their own lives due to that failure. The world would be a very different-and imho better-place if viable fusion now existed. The middle east would not be a hotspot like it is now for example. The problem is that the kinds of people that run congress love centralization of power-more than they love life itself. In their eyes, the only suitable role for technical people is as obediant servants that like doing what they are told. What the last 20 years has shown, you just can't run a technological society that way.
    • Thanks for the link. I read that some time ago here on /. but forgot all about it, and it should have been brought up when people were moaning that "why don't other science diciplines besides aviation and rocketry have prizes?" i.e. the X-Prize and related groups.

      Nuclear Physics is no longer the glamour major it was in the 1950's and 1960's, and while there are a few new minds going into the profession, there are many other more cool things to do now and are taking up the energies of young minds. Nuclea
      • Anybody who can become an investment banker, professional athlete or star attorney would have to be either foolish or extraordinarily dedicated to go into nuclear physics instead. The "goodies" that American society offers are largely bestowed own individuals who are at best useless-and at worse downright sociopathic. The existing social order in the US seems intent on self destruction.

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