Thursday, December 11, 2008

One small step toward fusion

Creating electricity by fusion reactors, while devilishly difficult, is viewed by some experts as the only long-term answer to providing sustainable "green" power to the Earth in sufficient quantity to run cities and industries. No one has yet built a fusion reactor producing more energy than it consumes. Within the most common design being pursued, a superheated plasma must be kept away from all contact with the sides of donut-shaped chamber - without creating energy-sapping turbulence within the plasma, and without using an enormous amount of power. Now two MIT scientists have demonstrated a potential solution using radio waves. The problem? It works, but they don't know how. Without understanding the theory involved, they can't prove that the method will scale up for use in commercial reactors.
COMMENT: Commercial fusion remains probably a couple of decades off, but every advance like this brings it a little closer. If President-elect Obama is serious about long-term energy independence, fusion research needs a boost. The initial costs are high and the rewards are years away, but the logical case for investing here is very strong.

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