Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mr. Fusion?

There are people who lament the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot run for President. I would offer up the point that, possibly, he's doing a sufficiently good job as Governor of California that he shouldn't leave that job any time real soon. Case in point: According to this piece at Next Energy News, Governor Schwarzenegger is set to pony up some cash to Robert Bussard's fusion energy outfit. (Hat Tip: Instapundit)

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be huge. Beyond huge. In fact, this may well be the most important thing to happen yet this year.

One of our most significant problems today is the fact that our energy economy depends upon materials that are relatively rare: oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. Even uranium is not especially plentiful. What we really want to do is break away from that, and find an energy source that is more plentiful.

The obvious choice is fusion, but this carries some problems with it. The most easily sustained fusion reactions involve deuterium and tritium, and D-T reactions spit out stray neutrons. Neutrons are not wanted, not even a little bit. For one, being neutral particles, it's damn hard to extract energy from a hot neutron. For another, stray neutrons tend to make things around them radioactive. But fortunately for us, that's not the only fusion reaction available.

The one that Bussard has been working with lately involves the fusion reaction bewteen a proton and Boron-11. Boron-11 is the most abundant isotope of Boron, and can be found in abundance in the mineral borax. It's sufficiently common that it's often used in detergents. And best of all, the proton/Boron-11 fusion reaction releases no stray neutrons. The proton fuses with the Boron-11 nucleus to form Carbon-12, which decays to Beryllium-8 and Helium-4. The Beryllium-8 nucleus, in fairly short order, decays to two Helium-4 nuclei. So you start the reaction with one proton and one Boron-11, and end up with three Helium-4 nuclei, and energy.

This could be revolutionary. This could change everything.

Applications abound beyond stationary plants to power cities and industry. Units can be built small enough to power ships, both of the ocean-going variety and the kind for going into orbit. A rocket based on this technology will be both vastly powerful and very efficient, something current rocket technology cannot achieve.

More information on Bussard's work can be found at Wikipedia. I've been following this topic for quite some time, and this article seems pretty accurate.

Now, there's many a slip 'tween the crouch and leap, and results will be some years in the making. But keep your fingers crossed that this actually takes off and starts running. The sooner we get started on this, the sooner we can tell those primitive cretins in the Middle East to go drink their damn oil.

A worthy goal, don't you think?

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