Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Overlooked Solution?

MIT's publicly announced energy initiatives glaringly undervalue the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen and helium, which use the virtually inexhaustible resources of deuterium, lithium, and (lunar) He3. Gram for gram, fusion of plentiful lighter elements releases ten billion times as much energy as combusting gasoline with oxygen, without producing any greenhouse gases. Thermonuclear fusion powers the Sun, and we have already made it work here on Earth, although few people outside the field know about this work. As fossil fuel supplies are obviously limited, we do have a profound need to bring fusion power plants on line ASAP.

Detractors argue that we don't know how to make fusion work on Earth. These folks evidently don't remember that Edward Teller demonstrated deuterium/tritium (D/T) inertial confinement fusion (ICF) via the reaction D + T → He4 + 14.2 MeV neutron here, on Earth, at more than full scale way back in 1952. Many called this ICF demonstration the "hydrogen bomb" because Edward needed a fission device to heat a capsule of D/T to the 200-million-degree ignition temperature. However, laser-initiated ICF research achieved >50x liquid D/T density at temperatures of 200 million degrees more than a decade ago. Although the U.S. is withdrawing (again) from the European Union's magnetic confinement ITER project in France, the single shot/day Nd:glass ICF National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is nearing completion. Design studies funded by the Department of Energy (DoE) for Prometheus ICF with krypton-fluoride (KrF) laser or heavy ion (HI) ignited ICF power plants were completed in 1992 and released in 1994 for international publication.

What Matters: August 2008