A favorite excuse to push the AGW agenda is that “energy is limited, so we have to preserve it for future generations.” But nothing could be further from the truth. As that clever fellow Albert Einstein figured out ( E = Mc² ) – energy is available right here on earth in vast supplies beyond our comprehension. In fact, a primary concern of mankind over the last 65 years has been to figure out how to keep mankind from releasing some of this energy too quickly, in a catastrophic fashion.
Einstein’s equation tells us that one kilogram of matter can be converted into 90,000,000,000,000,000 (ninety million billion) joules of energy. That is roughly equivalent to saying that one liter of water contains as much potential energy as 10 million gallons of gasoline. Those who saw the movie “Angels and Demons” are familiar with the concept of combining matter and anti-matter to achieve a highly efficient matter to energy conversion. Mankind probably won’t have access to that sort of technology for some time into the future, but we already have hundreds of fission reactors generating a significant percentage of the world’s energy.
Scientists and engineers are also actively pursuing control of thermonuclear fusion, which powers the sun, stars and hydrogen bombs – and offers nearly unlimited energy potential using readily available fuel. All of our current energy sources (coal, oil, wind, gas, nuclear, solar, etc.) are ultimately by-products of fusion. Controlled fusion uses as fuel primarily the hydrogen isotope deuterium, which is abundant in seawater.
In the south of France, there is a large international fusion effort underway named ITER
(Latin for “the way.”) The project was originally agreed to by Francois Mitterrand, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in 1985, and was officially launched in October 2007.
It is now being built in the south of France as part of an international collaboration between France, the US, Russia, the UK, the EU, India, China, Korea and Japan. In 2010, the first concrete will be poured.
The deuterium will be heated to 150 million degrees centigrade, forming plasma (decomposed hydrogen atoms) which will be contained by electrical and magnetic fields inside the Tokomak pictured above. (Note the size on the person at the bottom right in the picture above.) The plasma particles combine in a fusion reaction to form helium, and release vast amounts of energy in the process – which is captured as heat and used to generate electricity.
: (D = Deuterium T = Tritium n = neutron)
The easiest (according to the Lawson criterion) and most immediately promising nuclear reaction to be used for fusion power is:
D + T → 4He + n
Deuterium is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen and as such is universally available. The large mass ratio of the hydrogen isotopes makes the separation rather easy compared to the difficult uranium enrichment process. Tritium is also an isotope of hydrogen, but it occurs naturally in only negligible amounts due to its radioactive half-life of 12.32 years. Consequently, the deuterium-tritium fuel cycle requires the breeding of tritium from lithium using one of the following reactions:
n + 6Li → T + 4He
n + 7Li → T + 4He + n
Below is the timeline for ITER over the next decade.
It is anticipated that some fusion energy will be in the power grid in as little as 30 years, and be the primary source of electrical energy in perhaps 80 years.
By the last quarter of this century, if ITER and DEMO are successful, our world will enter the Age of Fusion – an age when mankind covers a significant part of its energy needs with an inexhaustible, environmentally benign, and universally available resource.
Some AGW types want us to think small, when in fact the key to meeting future needs is to think large. You can’t feed 10 billion people by fantasizing about the “good old days” – which never actually existed.