Friday, January 30, 2009

Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion

I thought it was about time to post this here. Originally posted at: Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion. Let me note that Low Radiation is more apt than no radiation. The main reaction between Hydrogen and Boron 11 produces only alpha particles which can be stopped with a layer or two of aluminum foil. However there are side reactions which will produce about one millionth the neutron flux of an operating fission reactor. If construction materials are chosen carefully there should be no long lived radioisotopes.

Why hasn't Polywell Fusion been funded by the Obama administration?


Justin at Classical Values has put up a posts about fusion energy machines way different from the magnetic confinement and heating machines the government is building.

You can read the post here. Eric of Classical values has another post on the subject.

For more details on the physics visit EMC2 Fusion. You can also make a donation there to help the work go forward.

An interesting question is: when was the first steady state (operation times of at least 10s of seconds) electrically operated nuclear fusion machine which produces at least 10s of millions of fusions a second built? The astounding answer? 1959. So far 18 experimenters have produced similar machines including this young experimenter.

The next question is: why have advances been so slow in since then? The answer (and a lot more) is given in this video by Robert Bussard. (note: dial up is going to be incredibally slow as the video is around 1 hour and forty minutes - aproximately 170 mega-bytes) The video tends to the technical and I will have to study it a few times to get all the details. However a fair understanding of high school physics should suffice. Even if you don't understand the physics the general concepts are easy to understand and Dr. Bussard's enthusiasm is infectious.

In any case the idea is to build a fusion device that produces no long lived nuclear radiation and that works with the forces of nature instead of against them. The voltage required to make these devices work is on the order of 10 to 20 thousand volts or less. About the same voltage as you would find in a tube type monitor or TV set. Nothing very exotic. For a full scale power producer it is predicted that you would need about 2 million volts. Well within the range of current technology for small scale devices. Currently the highest voltage used in electrical transmission is 1.15 million volts. Scaling that up to two million volts for production devices should not be too difficult.

Near the end of the lecture (about 1 hour in)Dr.Bussard gets to the heart of the matter by listing the advantages of this type of power plant.

Stop Greenhouse Effect

Eliminate Acid Rain Sources

Decrease Thermal Pollution Sources

Stop Nuclear Waste Production

Destroy Nuclear Waste Inventory

End Water Shortages Forever

Cheap Fuel Free Electric Power

Clean Low Cost System

Fresh Water From The Sea

Practical Space Flight

Global Economic Stability

Cheap, Clean Thermal/Electric Power Readily Available

Fixed Energy Prices Stabilize Economy

Low Value Cane In Third World Countries Becomes High Value Export Product

Third World Nations Can Become Economically Viable

Profitable Industrialization Possible

Destroys World Market For Gasoline

Eliminates Effect Of Oil Cartels

Oil States Suffer Drastic Income Losses
(audience: laughter - ed.)

Desalinization Plants Allow Irrigation Of Arid Lands

Cheap Water Allows Effective Agriculture

Low Cost Power Stabilizes Industrial Nations

Oil Wars Vanish

Mid-East Stabilized by Economics

Third World Becomes Fiscially Responsible
(comment: not likely, more energy does not fix bad government - ed.)

End Use Market Price Ca. $5,000 B In Year 2000 $
(all products the machine can replace - ed.)

Sell/Lease Systems To Supply Energy Plants/Production

Royalty/Lease Fees at 2% of Market Price Equivalent To Ca. 2m/kWhr Surcharge Yields Net Income (Profit) at Ca. $100 B/Year
(which means an estimated electrical cost of 100 mills/kWhr - ed.)

Dr. Bussard says he needs $200 million dollars and five years to build two full scale demo plants. The first year of his five year plan will replicate with improvements his last experiments to get data on the process that can be verified by a review comittee. The First year will cost $2 million dollars.

He says that a computer to do proper simulations on the system would cost $8 million dollars.

Wiki on Dr. Bussard:
In the early 1970s Dr. Bussard became Assistant Director under Director Robert Hirsch at the Controlled Thermonuclear Reaction Division of what was then known as the Atomic Energy Commission. They founded the mainline fusion program for the United States: the Tokamak.
George Miley at the University of Illinois is doing some work in the field. As is Gerald L. Kulcinski at the University of Wisconsin. Here is the U. Wisconsin IEC Fusion page.

A review of the lecture.

Dr. Bussard Talks

An executive summary of Dr. Bussard's Google talk.

The Bussard Reactor for space propulsion.

A number of links to Dr. Bussard's work. Scroll down.

More good links including links to the Farnsworth patents.

Update: 15 Dec'06 0431z

Mark Duncan in the comments left a link that refers to the Bussard paper given in Valencia, Spain [pdf].

A transcription of the Google presentation [pdf] with illustrations.

Mark has more at Fusion.

Here is a follow up article on the engineering: Reactor Scaling

Hendrik J. Monkhorst did some interesting work on a linear (as opposed to the Bussard spherical design) reactor. Here are a couple of articles one from Science 278 and another one from The University of Florida. Another Monkhorst paper: Science 281. Here is the patent for the Monkhorst/Rostoker design.

Wiki has a nice discussion of the reactions and some techinical details of the various Nuclear Fusion schemes including Dr. Bussard's Boron 11 - Hydrogen reaction.

Update: 11 May 007 0202z

Dr Bussards contract with the Navy has been extended for a year without funding.

Please write your Government and ask them to fund the contract:

House of Representatives
The Senate
The President

and sign this on line petition and send it to your friends to get Dr. Bussard's work funded.

Update: 30 Aug 007 0032z

The US Navy has funded the next phase of Polywell research. This is no reason to let up. The Navy plans a five year program to construct a 100 MW test reactor. With more money they could speed up development. With enough cash a three year time line ought not be difficult. Two years is an outside possibility if we really pour it on.

Update: 20 Sept 007 1012z

If you want to get more into the design details of the Polywell Reactor you might want to try:

IEC Fusion Newsgroup

Details on the design of an open source fusion test reactor.

IEC Fusion Technology blog

Update: 29 Dec 2007 2112z

I should have posted this here months ago. It is a link rich overview of Dr. B's life. He died in early October 2007. The work goes on with Dr. Nebel and Dr. Park of Los Alamos National Laboratories leading the effort:

Dr. Bussard has died.

Some books on fusion:

Principles of Fusion Energy: An Introduction to Fusion Energy for Students of Science and Engineering

New Developments in Nuclear Fusion Research

Plasma Physics and Fusion Energy

Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion


Here is a report on what is going on at the lab.

Bussard Fusion Update

Update: 19 June 008 0739z

Here are some recent additions you might find useful.

Starting A Fusion Program In Your Home Town

The World's Simplest Fusion Reactor Revisited

Fusion Report 13 June 008

Rick Nebel Updates The Latest News (Dec 2008)


The Peak said...

This sounds wonderful, a promising step toward energy independence and all that. But, if this is really that great and cost effective... WHY DOES IT NEED GOVERNMENT FUNDING? Let it stand on its own in the market.

M. Simon said...

The problem is that there is no VC money for research projects that take 10 to 20 years to get a payoff.

The VC time horizon is 5 years.

On top of that philanthropists who might be inclined to support such research spend their money on medicine. We have plenty of money chasing a cure for cancer. Not much in the plasma physics realm. I can think of maybe two or three fusion projects that are getting angel investment. So far as I am aware the total funding is under $10 million a year.

Space gets more than that.

Hoots said...

Seems to me this program, unfortunately, is ahead of its time. Someday a political critical mass may be reached but until then progress will be slow.

One of my personal hobby horses has been health care reform. Medicare has taken care of the most expensive and needful portion of the population but thanks to the insurance and drug industries at breathtaking expense. Now the political will is to the point that "universal care" is as inevitable as the birth of a baby.

Common sense and elementary arithmetic indicate that a single payer system is the logical next step, but decades of control by the drug and insurance industries have frozen that option out of consideration. Congress will produce something or other which will win a few points, but single payer will have to wait... and maybe never arrive.

To compare this messy development with your eminently sensible energy approach, look at what constitutes political leadership. Occasionally a real leader may come along prepared to break ranks with the status quo and go bravely into a new direction. But the more typical form is to "find a parade and get in front of it." Quicker. Easier. And big rewards coasting toward the finish line.

I hate to say it, but "find a parade" leadership is what we have had in Washington since... I can't recall any other kind in our lifetime, except maybe Harry Truman.

M. Simon said...


It is bad enough when insurance companies decide who lives and who dies. What do you think it will be like when government starts making that decision? It will leave he realm of economics and join the realm of politics.

And why do the drug companies etc. get what they do? It is called regulatory capture.

If we do get single payer the folks who can afford the most campaign donations (bribes) will get the best deal.

Single payer will be worse than what we have now. Depend on it.

Unknown said...

M. Simon, you have just destroyed your credibility with the Obama administration. If you ignore the overwhelming evidence about the cost efficiencies of socialized medicine to promote your private healthcare agenda, you're clearly also not capable of being objective and impartial about fusion physics.

Regardless of whether polywell is feasible, you're a moonbat.

M. Simon said...

Thanks Chris,

I always appreciate fan mail.