12 July 2011


FUSION ENERGY. The NYTimes article How Seawater Can Power the World reveals a viable, clean, and nearly limitless source of energy which could entirely replace the world's dependence on the combustion of petroleum products ~ nuclear fusion . Until recently most governments associated fusion (the opposite of nuclear fission) with apocalyptic weaponry, but its most promising application lies in fusion power production .... enough power to supply the needs of the entire planet, indefinitely.

Here is how Steward C. Prager describes the situation ~ "Debate about America's energy supply is heating up: gas prices are rising, ethanol is under attack, and nuclear power continues to struggle in the shadow of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. But an abundant, safe, and clean energy source once thought to be the stuff of science fiction is closer than many realize: nuclear fusion. Making it a reality, however, will take significant investment from the government at a time when spending on scientific research is under threat.

"Harnessing nuclear fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars, has been a goal of physicists worldwide since the 1950s. It is essentially inexaustible and it can be created using hydrogen isotopes -- chemical cousins of hydrogen, like deuterium -- that can readily be extracted from seawater.

"Fusion energy is created by fusing two atomic nuclei, in the process converting mass to energy, which appears as heat. The heat, as in conventional nuclear fission reactors, turns water into steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity, or is used to produce fuels for transportation or other uses.

"Fusion energy generates zero greenhouse gases. It offers no chance of a catastrophic accident. It is available to all nations, relying only on the Earth's oceans. When commercialized, it will transform the world's energy supply.

" .... Seven partners -- the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States -- have teamed up on an experiment to produce 500 million watts of fusion power for 500 seconds and longer by 2020, demonstrating key scientific and engineering aspects of fusion at the scale of a reactor. However, even though the United States is a contributor to this experiment, known as ITER, it has yet to commit to the full program needed to develop a domestic fusion reactor to produce electricity for the American power grid. Meanwhile other nations are moving forward to implement fusion as a key ingredient to their energy security.

" .... What has been lacking in the United States is the political and economic will. We need serious public investment to develop materials that can withstand the harsh nuclear environment, sustain hot plasma indefinitely, and integrate all these features in an experimental facility to produce continuous fusion power."

So. Given the dangers of existing nuclear fission plants, the non-renewable aspect of oil reserves, and the unacceptable tradeoffs of biofuels, what's the holdup? When in doubt, there is no doubt. The answer is money ~ who stands to benefit from maintaining the status quo for as long as possible, preventing widespread development and deployment of alternative power sources like solar, wind, tidal, or fusion energy? Clearly big oil, steel, Wall Street, and the politicians who serve these financial behemoths have been, and continue to be, the roadblock barring our entry into the future. If they didn't suffer from terminal myopia, not to mention an absence of dedication to the public good, these entities would be actively leading the way in alternative energy development, most notably in fusion power.

SOLAR ERUPTION. Speaking of things solar, check out this amazing set of videos from NASA ~ Dark Fireworks on the Sun. The blast of a medium-sized solar eruption (a common occurance) "was triggered by an unstable magnetic filament near the sun's surface. That filament was loaded down with 'cool' plasma, which exploded in a spray of dark blobs and streamers. The plasma blogs were as big as planets, many larger than Earth. They rose and fell ballistically, moving under the influence of the sun's gravity like balls tossed into the air, exploding like bombs when they hit the solar surface." The videos are large and may take a few moments to download, but they and the accompanying commentary are well worth the time.

CARLIN. George Carlin, arguably America's preeminent and most intelligent standup comedian, social critic, actor, and author, is sadly no long with us ~ he died in 2008. But his legacy of acerbic realism lives on in his books, audio and video recordings. Case in point: a 3-minute exerpt from his stage monologue The American Dream. The clip contains strong language, and even stronger observations which challenge the assumptions many of us hold regarding who is in control of our country. I happen to agree with every word, every syllable of Carlin's exhortation, as readers of past posts to this blog will attest. I dare you to listen, and not be moved by the elemental truths with which Carlin confronts us.

No comments:

Post a Comment