Nuclear fusion is nuclear fission upside down. Instead of splitting the atom into pieces, fusion fuses smaller pieces into a whole. The process liberates a lot of energy.
After fifty years of work on nuclear fusion, not a single Christmas tree gets lit that way. Members of Congress don’t see the point in spending money on things they can’t brag about on the stump. They’re even a little wiggly about paying the bill for funerals of soldiers.
MISTER ScienceAintSoBad understands the frustration. Years pass with (seemingly) little to show for all the effort. Have we invested too much to back off? Should we? When do we know we’ve got a loser on our hands?
The Director of Fusion Energy at the National Ignition Facility says people have the wrong idea. Things are going good – at least at his facility which uses “intertial” techniques (lasers instead of magnetics). It did take a long time but what did you expect? This is b-i-g science and, like the President always says, if it were easy, it would have already been done.
In Journal of Physics and Plasma, John Edwards, an Associate Director, says they are this close to break even.
Break even would mean the process actually produces some energy. That’s been the goal all along. Here’s how things stand. The researchers have the x-ray intensity right; they’re hitting the target right, the target compression is right. Just one problem now – the way the capsule (that holds hydrogen, deuterium and tritium) disintegrates is still off. They have to work on the timing. This isn’t the easiest thing in the world do (or else – right – it would have been done). Some intense engineering is needed on the capsule and the lasers.
The “why bother” part is because fusion sounds so great. A fusion power plant should have no carbon emissions (no global warming) , no need for fossil fuels, be ultra safe, and not be a worry for nuclear proliferation. It might be cheap energy too though it’s too early to say.
It’s easy to make fun when all you have to do for a living is make fun. The scientists working on this stuff didn’t feel so great when they missed their own deadline for “break even” last year. But what-the-hell! The ground did keep getting cut out from under them. Congress didn’t come close to “keeping faith”. Money was chopped out over and over. Let’s be a little fair. Fusion power isn’t for sure. It’s just one horse. And the race is a long one. But we’re further along than some think. Don’t shoot the project now.
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My drawing above. My fingers in the photo.