Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fusion Power

This is an Op-Ed in the NY Times by Stewart C. Prager, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, on why investment in fusion power research is critical.

But an abundant, safe and clean energy source once thought to be the stuff of science fiction is closer than many realize: nuclear fusion. Making it a reality, however, will take significant investment from the government at a time when spending on scientific research is under threat.

Harnessing nuclear fusion, the energy that powers the sun and the stars, has been a goal of physicists worldwide since the 1950s. It is essentially inexhaustible and it can be created using hydrogen isotopes — chemical cousins of hydrogen, like deuterium — that can readily be extracted from seawater.
 Of course, in the current political climate in the US, funding and commitment to fusion technology in the US is lagging behind several nations.

However, even though the United States is a contributor to this experiment, known as ITER, it has yet to commit to the full program needed to develop a domestic fusion reactor to produce electricity for the American power grid. Meanwhile other nations are moving forward to implement fusion as a key ingredient of their energy security.

Indeed, fusion research facilities more modern than anything in the United States are either under construction or operating in China, Germany, Japan and South Korea. The will and enthusiasm of governments in Asia to fill their energy needs with fusion, as soon as possible, is nearly palpable.
Again, not surprising, and it's the same old story. The US is slowly but surely falling behind in an increasing number of scientific areas. I wouldn't be surprised at all that, 50 to 100 years from now, this period for the last 10-20 years will mark the beginning of the decline of the American civilization, just like the decline of other great civilizations of the past.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is a gloomy (but partly) true view of the US Fusion Program. However, the US labs still have interesting machines like DIII-D and Alcator C-Mod which are world references (especillay for the diagnostics and methods of investigation they use). But, we can admit that there is a certain lack of interest for developing and improving tokamaks (they keep some distance from ITER). But there may be two reasons other than budget problems. First, fusion is related to plasma physics and the US have always favoured general plasma research and basic small-scale sxperiments to applied research. Second, I have the feeling that the US fusion community is not sure yet that tokamaks are the right path to follow. And instead of betting all their budget on ITER, they also try other solutions like the spheromak or the stellarator (as proven by the recent annoucement of ORNL commitment to the Wendelstein 7-X experiment).