Time to sharply expand Fusion Research

I realized yesterday that my comments on the Brussard initiative lacked a good description of what he and others are tying to do. Without a picture it is a bit tricky, but a picture has the additional flaw of shaping the reader's conceptionalization from the get go.

The core idea is to create a spherical potential well that is used to create the necessary conditions for fusion. The tokamak creates a potential well along the toroidal axis leaving, if you like, a degree of freedom along the axis. Can we imagine another geometry besides these two?

Since our understanding of the physics has hugely expanded over the past fifty years, it certainly was time to take a good run at the spherical potential well. So far the results have been encouraging and not terribly expensive, though if you are paying the bills, you would not think so.

The analog article does describe the details to date and certainly shows that this is fully justified research. At this point it would actually make sense to have several major countries to competitively fund the ongoing effort which may still need to proceed for a number of years. It is always a great mistake to take an optimistic interpretation of current results as a target with funders whose enthusiasm will always wane in the later stages turning the enterprise into an exercise in 'budget control'.

I personally think for example, that cold fusion will not prosper until we can model fields properly at the molecular level. In the meantime we have gotten hints at best.

On the other hand, the entry costs of advancing this knowledge base is not as prohibitive as we all once believed. The recent bursts of optimism even suggests that we are closer than we think.

Fusion energy, if produced cheaply enough, completely eliminates our dependence on any fuel cycle and its natural constraints. It would be delightful if at the end of the day it could even be produced in small devices eliminating the need for batteries and the like. In a way, that has always been the promise of fusion power.

Our disappointment comes from the reality that we really do not appear to be any closer after fifty years of directed effort. We have learned to simply not expect a thing.

In the meantime, the death of Robert Brussard has surely impacted on his initiative. The project needs fresh innovative research and very stable funding. A new funding source should come on board and set up a system whereby a capable physicist cum engineer is engaged on five year contracts to pursue this work. Also a high level of disclosure needs to be implemented so the community is able to follow and contribute.

Everyone knows what the goal is and everyone accepts that it will not be easy. Secrecy ceases to become very applicable and can be managed to protect any particular advance. In fact, secrecy will be the death of this project.

It is time for everyone with knowledge to take this problem of the back shelf and investigate their options. Innovation is clearly overdue and needs to be competitive.

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