Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mistaken priorities

For 50 years, we have thrown money down the black hole that is fusion research. In another hundred years something might come of it, but then something might not. In the meantime we ignore promising technologies like thorium breeding which could supply us almost infinite energy from an almost inexhaustible source. We ignore the potential of Molten Salt Reactor Technology to produce nuclear power at a fraction of the cost of conventional nuclear power plants. We ignore the potential of the IFR to produce power from nuclear waste. Something is seriously wrong with our priorities.


Anonymous said...

The development of technology is a wondrous and mysterious process. You never know what direction it will take and when it will take it.

Sub-atomic particle research spawned the internet. The space race provided the infrastructure for the earth satellite business. I remember when the laser was invented. The pundits asked “that’s nice, but what is it good for”? Measurements of the precise and constant speed of light eventually lead to the theory of General Relativity.

For example, there are currently about two dozen approaches to fusion; and even cold fusion is back in the running.

My thesis is that you can’t have priorities between technologies. The future is too uncertain. The progress of civilization is subject to quantum fluctuations of the human spirit; and to know what the future holds requires summation over all possible contingencies.

The best thing that government and industry can do is train as many gifted and dedicated people as they can from every country of this world both rich and poor; support them with a living wage, give them encouragement and something useful to think about, sit back, and see what the future may bring.

In these recent times, this was loath to happen.

When you mine for wealth, you never know what mountain or stream holds that nugget or gem. But what is certain, without the searching, nothing will be found.


Anonymous said...

Oh no. Nothing is wrong. The current priorities fulfill perfectly their goal : that nothing changes, that nothing may trouble the established order.

- Friakel Wippans

Charles Barton said...

Axil another term for fusion research is welfare for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Anonymous said...

A poem of LIFE

I cannot bring myself to hate “LIFE”. A second cousin once removed of the one I hold most dear, they look so muck alike. Yes LIFE is an Lftr in fusion garb. I see LIFE built with diamond coated tungsten, filled with fliBe where born countless tons of liquid fluoride thorium salts are gently embraced by well moderated neutrons sprung loose from the hot passions of its rapidly beating fusion heart.

Its circulator pumps bring its molten life’s blood to the salt reprocessing units where the once Thorium, now reborn as the purest of U233, is extracted by the mountain load. It feeds the upturned, ever hungry, and questing mouths of her countless Lftr children throughout this wide and needy energy starved world.

How can I hate this dream of eternal and abundant energy? How can I deprive the children of my soul the food that they need to live and thieve on an earth destitute, deprived, bereft, and most wanting of their abundant bounty?

Free the winds to once more bear the wings of the flying things. Free the light of the sun to once more warm the heart of the earth. Free the rivers to bear once more the swimming thinks in their joyful flow fast to the sea. Forever clean the breath of the wind of the stench of the apocalypse.

Please don’t ask to kill this dream. Let this dream live on. Let it spread to every heart and enlighten every mind. Let its gleaming light show once more the beauty and wonder of this world.


Charles Barton said...

I would like to see a return on my investment sometime.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Interesting, did you remove the Cobb article?

As for priorities, yes, they are backwards.

I would like to see an article comparing LFTR and NIF / LIFE or whatever fusion acronym fits best. My intention would be to show/see that LFTR is a far less expensive, easier to manage, less complicated, etc.

When it comes to tech advancements and research, it's been pointed out that the better or more viable technology doesn't always win. Sometimes its whoever has the best PowerPoint show.

Charles Barton said...

I accidentally deleted it, and had neglected to make an off line copy. Those things happened. I suppose I could claim that I burned the manuscript in order to keep warm. The truth was more like an unthinking computer error.

Warren Heath said...

These are sad times.

First we have Sci-Fi writers embracing wacky Ecotopian Fantasies. Why not really go back to nature and return to our beginnings – for 99% of our past – as Hunter/Gatherers and hunt & kill other animals, including other humans for food?

Now we have fusion people bickering with fission people, when they both should be rational, sensible enthusiasts for realistic, clean, cheap energy. It is certainly true that fission is going to take the lead on that capability, but fusion or some other exotic form of concentrated energy will inevitably follow. To believe otherwise is to show little faith in human ingenuity. It is much to fission supporters advantage to be pro-fusion, since one of the main arguments leveled against fission is that we will eventually run out of fissionables, in 50-1000 yrs depending on the technology. By then, it is virtually certain that fusion will have taken over from fission. For instance 100 MW Bussard IEC Fusion reactors would be natural replacements for LIFTR’s, on the same site. It would be stupid to gamble everything on fusion, no matter how promising, when we desperately need to get started on fossil fuel replacement, NOW. That means build the newer LWR’s like the AP1000’s as fast as we can crank them out, develop PBR’s and LIFTR’s with a crash program, and have hundred’s if not thousands of factories building them by the ten’s of thousands. Meanwhile expanding world fusion power research by one hundred times would be a trivial investment. Maybe $1 billion a year is spent by the entire World on Commercial Fusion Energy research, most of that on ITER. The standard rule of investing is maximize the product of potential gain times probability of success. The probability of success per year of investment with fusion is low, but the potential gain is enormous. Renewables offer no real gain, since they so far have not demonstrated any capability to be a sustainable replacement for fossil fuels. And their fundamentally low energy density (except for the severely limited Geothermal and Hydro resource), makes it highly unlikely that they ever can.

It is erroneous to count military projects such as the NIF as commercial Fusion Energy projects. The purpose of these are almost entirely for the development of pure fusion weapons – which for better or worse – will be done. The Russians and Chinese (and possibly India, France and even South Korea) are undoubtedly also developing the technology.

The real issue of stupid, idiot waste of valuable energy funding is $5 billion a year in the USA alone on wacky, energy negative Corn Ethanol. Which is dangerously depleting precious water reserves, polluting the water table, forcing up agricultural prices (according to the U.N. by 75%) – causing starvation, depleting topsoil at an alarming rate, and polluting ocean river delta areas. A just terrible idea. Even the nutty Greens in Germany are throwing billions into environmentally destructive, unsustainable, energy negative Agrofuels. I bet over a $100 billion a year is thrown away on Agrofuel’s subsidies worldwide every year, 10’s of billions have been thrown away on the nutty Hydrogen Economy scam, 10’s of billions on the Clean Coal scam and Trillions are going to go down the drain on the Wind and Solar Mega-Scams. Meanwhile the most promising Fusion energy prospects such as Focus Fusion, Bussard IEC fusion and Tri-Alpha energy’s Aneutronic Fusion are struggling with funding in the few millions per year range. ITER is good science, but an unlikely best candidate for commercial fusion. My belief is that most public fusion funds have gone to ITER as a way of delaying fusion energy rather than quickly developing it. The ITER project is modeled after the failed International Space Station boondoggle (kinda like the politician’s wet dream – the Yucca mountain special). For the cost of the useless ISS we could have a colony on the Moon by now. They spent 5 years arguing about where to build ITER. Rumor is that a large portion of their budget goes to expensive seminars in exotic locations.

In that Fission and Fusion energy are in the same boat. Money is being pumped into wacky renewable energy & clean coal money sinks, because the Fossil Fuel people, and the politicians which they own, know damn well they are no threat to their continued energy hegemony. Nuclear Fusion & Fission is being stifled, because the fossil fuel people know they are the real threat to their energy dominance. And note that most Oil is pumped out of the ground for around $4 per barrel, and sold for an expected plus $100 per barrel. An unbelievable profit margin – you will likely never find in any other energy source.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Warren, I am not against fusion energy per se, but I am against the political leverage it offers to the Greens as yet another reason for why not to develop nuclear energy. They might say they are for fusion only because they know its a red herring to use against fission. If the technology was deployable tomorrow, I'm sure they would find a reason to be against it because it would be "centralized" energy or something else. Meanwhile they will be perfectly happy to disingenuously embrace it because like so many, they are betting against its failure, or rather its 30-years-away reputation.

I agree with everything you say, but the problem with giving fusion a thumbs up is giving the anti-nukes yet another diversion. Yucca mountain worked perfectly for this type of ploy.

There is really no good reason why we still have an electrical system that makes pollution. It could have been replaced years ago for far less than it would now. It shouldn't cost much more than $400 billion to double the reactor fleet we now have, but it probably won't be that cheap. Doing that with AP1000's as you mention would eliminate half the coal problem. There would still be a huge margin to cover with more advanced LFTR technology, but we should be starting now.

Anonymous said...

The choice of "LIFE" was no mistake; it garners support by the nature of what it conveys. We need to do the same for LFTR.

Warren Heath said...

Jason, I haven't seen any indication of any of the Environmental Wahhabi’s embracing Fusion or even the pseudo-environmentalists, like Joe Romm or Armory Lovins. Indeed the Green Fanatics seem to utterly despise Fusion energy, even more so than Fission, simply because they have less excuse to condemn it, i.e. no nuclear waste issues. Since their ultimate aim is to bring down technological civilization, Fusion Energy is Public Enemy #1. The Joe Romm types, on the other hand, also hate fusion, but I could see if their fossil fuel backers felt they had to cut their losses, when people start to see through the Wind, Solar and Biofuel scams – just as their Hydrogen Economy Scam got blown, then you might find them embracing the most expensive and difficult and long term fusion prospects like the NIF or ITER, as a way to do their usual bait-and-switch routine to avoid Fission seriously degrading their Energy Hegemony.

One difficulty with that argument though, is if Fusion was to supplant their Wind & Solar Fantasy Scam – then what would you do with the thousands of Miles and Millions of Acres of Wind Turbines and Solar Collectors, and Transmission lines, Substations etc, from one end of the country to the other. A massive load of scrap metal, toxic waste – an unbelievable blight on the landscape – that will have to be torn down and safely disposed of. Better build about one thousand Yucca mountains for toxic Wind Turbine and Mega-Solar Power Station waste. They don’t like to tell you that their Solar – Wind scheme is an example of EXTREME CENTRALIZED ENERGY PRODUCTION. Whereas Fusion would seamlessly supplant Fission – when it becomes economical – in a SANE DISTRIBUTED ENERGY STRUCTURE of small to medium size Nuclear Fission or Fusion reactors located close to power consumers.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet
Get Your Free Web Ring
Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High