A breakthrough in fusion power

Few things can make a soul happier than a PET scan showing that the little invaders ravaging your body have been either eliminated or greatly diminished by the latest rounds of chemo.  My oncologist and the many oncology nurses and physician assistants will be forever among the most giving, competent, and gracious people I have met during my stay on the planet.

But I just read something of even greater significance — not necessarily to me, but to humanity in general.  For the first time, a nuclear fusion experiment has resulted in success in creating more energy than was expended.  Previous experiments were providing the equivalent of an investment paying back seven dollars for every ten dollars invested.  Though many of my financial transactions followed that script, it clearly is not the road to wealth or even solvency.

For as long as I can remember, I have believed that fusion would eventually be the solution to replacing fossil fuels as the planet's main source of energy.  The thought that the fusion of two hydrogen nuclei to create energy, using water as the fuel and creating nothing but water vapor as waste, is beyond exciting.  We have an inexhaustible water supply on the planet, and acquiring it for our fuel needs should prove far easier than depending on wind or solar power.  Access to water will still be there even if the wind doesn't blow and clouds obscure the sun.  It is the perfect fuel.

Granted, this success does not mean that the problems of harvesting the energy of nuclear fusion have been solved.  First of all, and the most scary prospect, is that the success of the scientists at the Livermore National Laboratory in California may not be replicable.  One-and-done does not work in the world of science.  The results of an experiment must be repeatable for it to be valid.  There is always the chance that some error in a calculation or reading might have created a false-positive result.

Provided the experiment proves repeatable, there are several less than trifling problems to be worked out.  As things now stand, it requires heat in excess of one hundred million degrees Celsius to initiate the fusion reaction.  This sounds like a non-starter to me, as that type of heat would exceed the power of my car's air-conditioning to cool me comfortably, much less prevent my instant vaporization.  Getting from point A to point B is less important than not being incinerated.

But scientists have always felt that if the inverse energy curve could be reversed, as it now seems to have been, the remaining problems could be solved.  It will undoubtedly require a Manhattan Project–type commitment, but it is doable if politicians can recognize it for the world-changer that it would be and adequately fund it.  I realize that that is a big ask of many of the dolts now occupying high office in our country.  I only wish they had the work ethic and determination of my doctors and nurses.

An added plus to the prospect of unlimited energy is that unlike the fear of the atom bomb secrets being obtained by our enemies, giving them the capability to blow us up as we could blow them up, the conversion of water to unlimited energy secrets would be safe for even our greatest enemies to acquire.

The work involved in arriving at the fusion solution is massive, and we are undoubtedly looking at several decades of work.  We can only hope that work will go on and succeed before the end-products of both nuclear fission and fusion as weapons wipe the planet of us mere humans.  But I have hope today, not that I will be alive to see it happen — the little invaders in my body, plus time, will certainly do me in before any meaningful results can be attained in this energy project.  My hope is for a better world for my children and grandchildren.  But who knows?  As long as those PET scans keep providing good news, I just might surprise everyone and someday ride in a fusion-powered vehicle without being vaporized.

Bill Hansmann is a dentist and dental educator with over fifty years in the profession.  He continues to teach and write political blogs and semi-mediocre novels while living with his wife and cats in Florida.

Image: PxHere.

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