Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Fusion - one strike so far
A subject I touch on every now and then is my belief that fusion reactors are not the primary way to power Earth's future, but the only way to produce massive quantities of power for industry while eliminating fossil fuels (solar and wind are increasing their contributions, but on nothing close to the scale needed to power a global industrial society (or post-industrial, if you prefer) affordably). So it pains me to report this: the National Ignition Facility has spent $3.6B, both for maintaining the reliability of nuclear weapons without actually blowing up any continents and for pursuing laser-enabled fusion for the production of energy. So far, this excellent roundup of information indicates it's doing its job for the nuclear stockpile, but has not, and may never, achieve its goal of practical fusion (meaning more energy comes out than goes in). There are other approaches to fusion power which may prove more fruitful, and the NIF itself may yet find the right formula, but so far we're not getting there. That said, we still need to invest in those other approaches. One thing that is still in good supply is human ingenuity. We need to solve this problem, and we can. The math works: we've just not translated it into the right hardware yet.