Controlled Nuclear Fusion: Forget about it

You’ve probably heard that Lockheed Martin has generated a lot of excitement with a recent announcement about a “breakthrough” in nuclear fusion technology. Here’s a pessimistic post from last year. I wonder if it will be proved wrong?

Protons for Breakfast Blog

Man or woman doing a technical thing with a thingy told with laser induced nuclear fusion. Man or woman adjusting the ‘target positioner’ (I think) within the target chamber of the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The future is very difficult to predict. But I am prepared to put on record my belief that controlled nuclear fusion as a source of power on Earth will never be achieved.

This is not something I want to believe. And the intermittent drip of news stories about ‘progress‘ and ‘breakthroughs‘ might make one think that the technique would eventually yield to humanity’s collective ingenuity.

But  in fact that just isn’t going to happen. Let me explain just some of the problems and you can judge for yourself whether you think it will ever work.

One option for controlled fusion is called Inertial Fusion Energy, and the centre of research is the US National Ignition Facility. Here the most powerful laser…

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3 Responses to “Controlled Nuclear Fusion: Forget about it”

  1. David Cunnah Says:

    I cannot find reliable numbers, but I would be really interested to see inflation adjusted spending figures on fusion for the last 50 years. I suspect that it would decline pretty rapidly. The current spend is under £1.20 per capita in the UK (http://scienceogram.org/in-depth/energy/) and less than $1 per head globally. Comparing the US defense vs energy spend is a pretty depressing activity, but the figures do not look good (http://focusfusion.org/index.php/site/reframe/wasteful/).

    I suspect that much of the talk that fusion is always x number of years off may simply relate to the fact that funding has been diminishing at more or less that rate. I do not think that saying it will never happen is particularly helpful or scientific. There is no physical limit which dictates that it cannot be done, it simply requires a lot of work. I imagine that in the late 1700s people would have scoffed at the idea that within 50 years it would be possible to control thousands of tiny explosions to generate mechanical motion, but it happened.

    Anyway, I think we should all have our collective fingers crossed that it can be done in the next 100 years, because the consequences of not having it could be terrible. I’m not convinced that Lockheed’s generator will be the answer, but it at least has people talking about it again.

    • “I imagine that in the late 1700s people would have scoffed at the idea that within 50 years it would be possible to control thousands of tiny explosions to generate mechanical motion, but it happened.”

      Indeed. Or, to take a more recent example, a modern mobile phone is more powerful than the Crays of yore.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    These arguments are not new; I recall a furore at least a decade ago when a plasma physicist said much the same in a letter to Physics Today and asserted that the project was really about funding for plasma physics. Yet scientists have overcome some apparently insuperable technological problems in other areas. It is hard to know, as the article says.

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