Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Superconducting Cathedrals or Garage Fusion?

Last week a talk on fusion by Robert W. Bussard was posted on Google video. He is a physicist and proponent of fusion through inertial electrostatic confinement. An approach that does away with large scale engineering of machines that cost billions of dollars and have yet to break even and actually output energy harnessed from fusion. Though electrostatic confinement has its detractors Mr. Bussard claims the majority are defending their own very expensive rice bowls. In his talk he provides data and an overview of the technology involved in achieveing reliable fusion while saving vast amounts of money, which he points, are currently being absorbed by the ITER project. It is an interesting geopolitical issue as well, it’s a fact that classic tokamaks are expensive technology mastered only by a handful of most affluent nations whereas electrostatic confinement is demonstrable at a garage level (another one). Bussard’s experimental setup is not much larger and if feasible could mean an inexpensive, radiation hazard and nuclear proliferation free way to produce significant quantities of energy not associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Fusion holds the bold promise of averting oil wars and reverting the global warming trend. Apart from giving much information on fusion, confinement and physics details, the talk is full of witty comments on the working of large government agencies and their bureaucracies. Unfortunately in the slide where the diagram of a tokamak and an ec fusor are compared the human figure given for scale is not clearly visible, but it is at this place where he calls the tokamak design - superconducting cathedrals. The 90 min. talk is available here. Nuclear fusion - I’ve heard of it as the project always 50 years into the future, well, we may know sooner if it’s feasible this time around - if Mr. Bussard manages to secure funding the EMC2 needs to continue his work. Meanwhile ITER is receives 12 bil. USD in funding, results are expected in 2016, commercial exploitation perhaps sometimes after that, the funds eating saga continues.

Hirsch Meek Fusor

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