The lost nuclear fusion reactor design?

Robert Bussard, one of the giants of the field, claimed to his dying day he had cracked the problem

Homemade_fusion_reactor[1]Above: a homemade “fusor” similar to the Polywell nuclear fusion reactor

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Not many people have heard of Robert Bussard, but he was one of the giants of nuclear fusion research. But if an engineering solution for viable small, household size nuclear fusion reactors is ever discovered, they will almost certainly be largely based on Bussard’s work.

Bussard’s focus was on a field of Nuclear fusion research known as electrostatic confinement. Unlike the better known magnetic bottle reactors, such as the $20 billion ITER project, electrostatic confinement can be applied to fusion plasmas which are the size of a small glass fish tank.

Electrostatic confinement has been well known since the 1930s. Small electrostatic nuclear fusion devices are sold commercially – as neutron sources. A small nuclear fusion reactor is an incredibly convenient way to produce a dense stream of neutron radiation, because as soon as you switch off the power, the plasma cools, and the radiation stops.

The problem is nobody has figured out how to extract more energy out of an electrostatic fusor, than you put into it. There is a long list of problems to be solved. One of the big problems with viable nuclear fusion is keeping the plasma hot enough – when you heat something to millions of degrees, it really wants to shed some of its heat. In electrostatic confinement systems, the violent acceleration / deceleration, as charged plasma particles bounce off the high intensity electric fields, causes a significant cooling of the core. There are also problems with the electrodes – keeping an electrode from melting, when it is in close contact with a superheated gas, is a significant engineering challenge.

Bussard at the end of his life, claimed to have solved these problems. He built a small prototype using a grant from the US Navy. Right up to his dying day, he was trying to raise funds, to build a full scale prototype, of his Polywell nuclear fusion reactor design.

The late physicist Robert Bussard worked for decades to try to show Polywell fusion could work, using a variety of Wiffle-Ball configurations. Just before his death in 2007, he claimed that he was getting close to solving the challenge with his WB-6 device.

After Bussard passed away, other researchers picked up the baton at EMC2 Fusion in New Mexico and continued building test devices. Most recently, Park and his colleagues used a redesigned Wiffle-Ball test device in a San Diego lab to show the Navy that their configuration could enhance plasma confinement even under incredibly high pressure — pressure levels that could not be achieved by, say, the ITER reactor.

Bussard’s prototype might not have worked. However Bussard was an extremely credible fusion researcher – unlike some rather dodgy characters in the “bubble” fusion field, Bussard really might have made that crucial breakthrough. When you consider the eye watering sums which are wasted on renewables, such as the huge loss sustained by the Federal Government when Solyndra collapsed, it really seems a shame that Bussard never got a chance to take the final step, to realise his dream of seeing his ideas tested in a full scale prototype.



273 thoughts on “The lost nuclear fusion reactor design?

  1. he was trying to save humanity instead of trying to save Gia … of course he was ignored …

    • Well I think today is Wednesday, April the first.

      Evidently to his dying day, Robert Bussard had never ever heard of Earnshaw’s Theorem; a theorem, fundamental to electromagnetism.

      All existing thermonuclear reactors operate by use of the gravitation force, and gravitation sucks.

      Electro-statics operates via the Coulomb force, which does not suck; but blows apart.

      in the atomic nucleus, the strong force operates to overcome the electro-static force, and stop the nucleus from blowing apart.

      So forget about controlled nuclear fusion based on the Coulomb force. Only gravity works.


  2. Hmmm… plasma discharges producing light, heat, and fusion by accelerating charged particles using electric and magnetic fields… where have we seen that before?

    • I saw that one and was amazed. For 250 million we could take it to the next level and see if it could go but to try and find 1/2 a Solyndra in funding? Good luck. I keep seeing stuff like the LFTR and this and go “We’ll buy it from China someday”. Sad.

    • The initial photo in this WUWT article resembles a miniaturized Tesla coil with a somewhat strangely cage-like top electrode, that surrounds a light source that appears slightly like a fairly ordinary kind of incandescent light bulb. And all of this appears to be under a bell jar. And that part gets me thinking that the atmosphere under the bell jar may be at below-atmospheric pressure and/or consisting of a gas richer in argon than air is. Argon is cheap (#3 gas in Earth’s atmosphere) and it has been widely used in the lighting and neon sign industries for a goodly 65 years.

      • The photo is of a Farnsworth Fusor, basically a spherical linear accelerator that accelerates all the charged particles toward the center, where they collide, and if they are something fusable like ionised Duterium nucleii, they fuse.
        And it really works. You can go and buy one, for use as a laboratory source of neutrons. Unfortunately it requires more power in than it gives out, mostly due to particles striking the spherical accelerator electrode.
        Bussard had the idea of shielding the spherical accelerator electrode using magnetic fields.

  3. Hi Bob – sorry, but your comment is lost on me – can you answer your own question please?

    Are you referring to ITER / LHC / lightning or something else?


      • Hmmm… plasma discharges producing light, heat, and fusion by accelerating charged particles using electric and magnetic fields… where have we seen that before?

        Bob, you seem to be describing not the standard model, but rather the ‘Electric Universe’ model of the sun. Am I reading you correctly?

      • @Max, I believe the standard model uses the same description? However, is fusion the cause or the reaction? I believe that is the difference between the two theories.

  4. Nuclear fusion has always been the energy source of the future. Unfortunately it probably always will be just that. Princeton Freshmen in 1956 were proudly told of the great work Lyman Spitzer was doing nearby on the Stellarator (an early fusion device).

    • Thanks Timo, that concept was a big part of SciFi (I just couldn’t get it of the tip of my tongue you beat me to it)

    • Bussard Ramjets would be nice, unfortunately the problem is that the drag from the scoop is greater than the thrust generated from shooting the protons out the exhaust nozzle. One may as well trying to go dead to wind in a sailing vessel. Project Orion-type nuclear rockets seem more feasible. And even at that.

      There’s always Hawking radiation ….

    • Spot on. A true absurdity, given that fusion is one of the only serious contenders for the solution to the problem that climate change enthusiasts assert exists. If we invested in it the other way around, how long would it remain unsolved?

      • I think it’s well established that the Greens don’t want unlimited carbon free energy, how would they manage to get us all to live in tepees?

      • and it is the Executive Branch (that White House) that sets the research and technology priorities and agenda. Time for change.

    • If a viable, commercial nuclear fusion plant was built today Greens would oppose it to their core. They will create imaginary dangers and attempt to deceive.

      Oh look what I see! They started even before one is built! It’s worse than I thought!

      28 June, 2005
      Nuclear fusion reactor project in France: an expensive and senseless nuclear stupidity

      Greenpeace deplores the agreement by the Representatives of the Parties to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) (1) to construct one of the world’s largest nuclear fusion experiments in Cadarache, Southern France. The project, estimated to cost 10bn euros, will not generate any electricity, instead it will need massive amounts of energy to heat up….

      A critique of Greenpeace’s position.

      The Register – 22 Oct 2008
      Greenpeace on fusion: Whatever it is, we’re against it
      Luddites 2.0
      ……..Spokesperson Bridget Woodman said: “Nuclear fusion has all the problems of nuclear power, including producing nuclear waste and the risks of a nuclear accident.”

      (Which must break the record for the number of false and contradictory assertions you can cram into a 17-word sentence. But that’s par for the course these days. When you hear a phrase like “sustainable energy” the opposite is usually intended – the speaker is referring to an energy source that won’t sustain anything for very long or very reliably.)…….

      • We should allow them to live out their lives without energy from nuclear fusion… put them on the next Voyager probe and send them into interstellar space as far away from those evil stars as they can get. They can be 3°K GreenCicles.

      • Well in this case, I’m with GP. Just what is it, that the electrostatic Coulomb force is going to push against, in order to compress the DT fuel inside down to a high enough density , at a high enough Temperature for a long enough time to get it to fuse, and when that happens, how do you take out the garbage that makes, and put in some new fuel, to keep it running ??

    • Mark Bofill,

      I read here we spend about 250 million a year on domestic fusion research. As opposed to over 8 billion on climate change research?

      I believe $5.5 bn of that is energy research. I’d like to see fusion work but it’s hard. I think better fission designs would cost less to research and pay off much sooner. Why we’re not drilling geothermal wells RIGHT NOW like gangbusters is quite beyond me.

      And of course, it’s obligatory I trot this out:

      In the United States, credible estimates of annual fossil fuel subsidies range from $10 billion to $52 billion annually yet these don’t even include costs borne by taxpayers related to the climate, local environmental, and health impacts of the fossil fuel industry.

      According to Bjorn Lomborg in a WSJ piece:

      The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated in 2010 that fossil-fuel subsidies amounted to $4 billion a year.

      I’m guessing, without doing too much digging, that the wide disparity in the figures has to do with how what constitutes a “subsidy” is counted. For the record, I’m not staunchly opposed to fossil fuel subsidies when they’re for things like market stabilization. I do think it’s interesting to put all these very large numbers into perspective.

      • I love the green screeds that assert fossil fuels cost more than they return. It necessarily follows that the entire Industrial Age is an illusion. And, people (like Brandon) fall for it.

      • Bart,

        I have never, once, read an argument which said that fossil fuels have a negative return. Nor would I “fall for it” if I had since, as you point out, it’s obviously false. Were you born this obtuse, or did you work at it?

  5. The only hint we have from Bussard is this note he scribbled in a book:

    “I have discovered a truly marvelous electrostatic nuclear fusion device whose description this margin is too narrow to contain.”

    • I wish I had used that technique in final exams when I was a kid.

      ““I have discovered a truly marvelous answer to this complex analysis problem whose description this margin is too narrow to contain.”

      Or how about when dealing with total idiots?

      “I have discovered a truly marvelous response to your utterly stupid comment whose description your marginal brain is too narrow to contain.”

      Or …

  6. From what I recall, the previous article by Eric Worrall claimed it was Rossi’s E-Cat “fusion device” that was going to solve all our energy needs.

    How’s that coming along? Can I purchase one at Walmart yet?

    • No, I think Rossi’s e-cat is nonsense – and I’ve never said differently. Rossi’s explanation for the lack of radiation from his e-cats, that he has discovered a “new” kind of fusion, is not credible IMO.

      • Was wondering how long it would take someone to mention Rossi’s e-cat… always good for a morning chuckle.

      • I haven’t said much about the E-Cat lately, I might post an update below or in the next Open Thread. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all in the middle of their stories.

        Nope, not available at WalMart yet. While Rossi is focused on industrial applications, he hasn’t forgotten the home market.

        Ric is my nickname, Eric my given name. Typhoon could be even more confused.

      • Parkhomov from Russia has “just” replicated Ross’s effect more then once (in fact just last week).

        And Airbus has been filing LENR patents.

        And the “lack” of neutrons has been explained. Just last month a team in Ukraine not only replicated the Rossi effect, but ALSO stated they ARE detecting neutrons. And to how/why most tests fail to see neutrons is that “most” sensors and software are setup to detect a continuous stream of neutrons – not a pop and a crackle. (so such sensors report an average).

        So LENR does not seem to output a continues amount of neutrons.

        And from Mats Lewan book “An Impossible Invention” (about the Rossi device) they state:

        when they pushed the E-Cat very hard, that neutrons were detected using a neutron dosimeter (bubble detector)

        The simple matter there are now 1000’s of papers and growing replications of these low level nuclear heat effects.

        They are not chemical.

        MOST interesting is the third party test of the Rossi device released earlier (to the public) this year. The SIGNIFICANT part is the isotope changes that occurred in the nickel powder. How such isotope changes can occur and this not being some kind of nuclear effect really seals the deal.

        That testing was done by Royal Swedish Academy of Science with a members from Bologna University, and Uppsals Sweden.

        Link here (PDF)

        Note the above. isotope changes that occurred in the nickel fuel. This is clearly a reaction at the nuclear level.

        So AirBus is being granted patents, several new replications have occurred this year. Rossi claims he has a working plant on customer site (it is his first commercial install – a development platform). These picture are recently released:

        The evidence for LENR is piled up so high now, that anyone with Google and a few minutes of their time will fast realize that LENR is real.

        Tomorrow a open source project will attempt another replication of the Rossi effect based on Parkhomov. If that reactor tomorrow works – then LENR is a done deal, and LARGE number of replications will occur this year.

        Albert D. Kallal
        Edmonton, Alberta Canada

    • Apparently it’s in successful use in a factory … also Airbus has gotten a patent for their own separate work … Rossi’s results have been replicated by Parkmanov (sp?) and these results replicated in turn in several other labs.

      • Rossi’s results have not been replicated by anybody because he still does not tell anybody how it actually works (hint: not at all). And unless you happen to be the only person who knows what that supposed reactor in that said factory is ACTUALLY doing, nobody knows, either, because again, it is a secret. It is certainly not cold fusion…

      • Reply to Matt … there was enough information in the Lugano report for successful replication … and labels are not particularly important … note that it’s called LENR not cold fusion … but the name is only important for those attacking the name and not the results …

  7. Interesting, but this is a hard problem. I was drawing pictures of six-magnetic-pole plasma confinement devices back when I was around 12 years old (I’m not kidding, I’m quite serious) and am 60 as of last Sunday. That’s a long, long time for the idea to be kicked around without a fundamental resolution. We have far better computers now, and can do things like model the microtrajectories in phase space of electrons and the plasma itself, but there are still serious instabilities in the behavior of plasmas at magnetic field junctions because the problem is nonlinear (and possibly chaotic). There is little problem getting fusion to happen. There is a big problem getting fusion to happen in a regime with net energy production, especially BIG net energy production (given that conversion to usable energy will be fortunate to occur as efficiently as 50%). Basically we need a gain of 10 to 20 to be able to make this “the” power supply of civilization, and we haven’t gotten a “gain” at all yet, and I don’t know how seriously to take reports that Skunk Works or whoever have gotten close to break even. Lockheed-Martin, at least, seems pretty confident that they can push their current design — whatever it is — to a serious positive gain.

    If, of course, anyone ever does succeed in solving this very difficult problem, the world’s energy problem is over for all time, as are the “global warming” problem, the Middle East problem, the clean water and sanitation problem, and the global poverty problem. Given enough, cheap enough, energy all of the world’s scarcity issues are resolvable, and there is enough Deuterium in the oceans to power global civilization at a power consumption per capita greater than that of the most developed countries on Earth for millions of years before it is even noticeably depleted (and then there are the gas giant and gas giant moons, with what amounts to a infinite supply). Certain fusion designs would also double as interplanetary scale space drives, and open up the solar system to real colonization and resource mining. So I certainly hope that it happens, and rather expect that it will. Whether or not it happens with this design, with my own imagined design, or with a design yet unimagined, who can say?

    But yes, one of the really silly things about fusion is that we should have been investing in it at maybe 10 times past funding levels across the board, including “maverick” non-mainstream ideas and designs, forever. Even if you view it as an extreme long shot, the payoff is a Type I civilization on the Kardashev scale:

    This is worth a substantial and continuing risk, given the absolutely enormous payoff. Indeed, any (fuel-based) solution but thermonuclear fusion and perhaps global scale non-fuel-based photovoltaic solar are just pissing into the wind — transient and limited by the ultimate scarcity of fuels to at most a (few) thousand years or so before humanity falls back into the dark ages suffered before the advent of cheap and nearly universally available electricity. Either we sooner or later develop fusion, or we are doomed to a truly apocalyptic catastrophe when fuel scarcity becomes even more dominant a political-economic constraint than it is today/already in a world of ever-increasing population and resource demand.

    This is why I also strongly advocate the continued investment in PV solar. It is in many ways less than ideal, but at least the direct harvesting of solar energy ties the lifetime of human civilization to the lifetime of the Sun, effectively long enough for us to solve many other problems including — maybe — the one of getting around between stars and colonizing space. Fusion in particular is essential to that endeavor, as there is no other fuel source capable of both pushing a starship (based on known physics) and keeping it electrically alive and functioning for the 100s of years likely necessary for any given interstellar voyage. None of this has anything to do with AGW, of course — it’s just the way it is.

    I do like one side effect of a successful fusion design. It would “instantly” eliminate the burning of most fossil fuels for energy, and since IMO oil and coal both are going to be far more valuable in the long run as minable stores of raw and partly “cooked” organic materials (that is, as raw material for plastics and pharmaceuticals and lubricants) that we are currently WASTING by burning them, this is a good thing. Politically, as well, it would instantly remove the source of income from places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Iraq — it would cause an immediate and vast shift in the global geopolitick that in the long run one can only imagine would be for the better.


    • Ahhh… see? but we are humans, and so very poor forward thinkers – as a general rule. The ‘best’ never wins… It’s always the immediate short term gain that is sought after.

      From my limited understanding, the best course of action in harnessing energy in useful ways to humans would be to utilize thorium reactors for the general public – and a few highly protected breeder reactors to generate high quality reactor material…. and concurrently dump billions in USD /year into fusion research, until either the plasma problems are solved or proved unsolvable for small masses.

    • Indeed, such a fusion capability would step on too many toes to be ‘allowed’ any time soon.

    • If, of course, anyone ever does succeed in solving this very difficult problem, the world’s energy problem is over for all time, as are the “global warming” problem, the Middle East problem, the clean water and sanitation problem, and the global poverty problem. Given enough, cheap enough, energy all of the world’s scarcity issues are resolvable

      Pie in the sky trumps coal in the furnace every time.

      There is no energy shortage, but rather only a shortage of common sense. Before we try to solve tomorrow’s problems, we need to address contemporary issues with the tools and resources at hand.

      I fail to see how burning fossil fuels now could ever be considered a waste when there is no viable alternative to keeping (even poor) people warm, clean, healthy and happy.

      CAGW is a scam with many purposes and beneficiaries, one of which is to justify Western presence in the Middle East.

      Happy Birthday!


    • I’ve wanted this forever too and finally realized why it’s not happening. Government will not push fusion research for the same reason they continue to kick the dead horse of AGW. They need an excuse to control energy because that amounts to controlling the people. The private sector is not going to push fusion research because it costs too much and the result wipes out all of the existing energy companies and those who depend on them. They will oppose it until it actually looks like a doable thing at reasonable cost. Fusion is the best energy solution imaginable and it’s going to remain that way until the government stops concentrating on control and begins to concentrate on the long term well being of the country/world or some private sector company comes up with a really cheap way to do it.

    • Dr Brown,

      …to solve many other problems including — maybe — the one of getting around between stars and colonizing space. Fusion in particular is essential to that endeavor, as there is no other fuel source capable of both pushing a starship (based on known physics) and keeping it electrically alive and functioning for the 100s of years likely necessary for any given interstellar voyage. None of this has anything to do with AGW, of course — it’s just the way it is.

      I’m pleased that you mention this. It has ceased to amaze me, but it never ceases to depress me to think that for all of the progressive concern for the future of our species that we fail to focus our energies on solutions that would decisively and unambiguously solve the problems for all time.

      Precautionary principle? It’s what debaters call a non-unique argument. When we make policy in the face of chaotic systems, almost all paths are dubious and the risk relationships uncertain. Very few pathways provide humanity with a ‘win’ no matter what, for all reasonable intents and purposes. Fusion is one. Colonization of space is another. Want to solve for global warming, meteor strikes, pandemics, and who knows how many other unknown unknown problems? Let’s get off this rock. Let’s devote the necessary time and resources to remove the problem of limited energy from the equation. There’s no theoretical barrier I’m aware of, it’s just appears to be a very very very difficult engineering problem. No reason I know of that sufficient research, study and experimentation shouldn’t tame that problem.

      Can we harness solar, wind, other renewables, to solve our current energy needs? Possibly. What happens when our population doubles, as the Malthusians worry. I believe in human ingenuity and technology, and I don’t fear that day. But when population doubles again, and again, and again? Eventually, sooner or later it seems likely to me that our quality of life and freedom will be bounded by finite resources, finite space, limited energy, no matter what sort of conservation policies we adopt today. Even discounting this, look at our history. Expansion and colonization redirects our aggressive biological nature. Instead of fighting amongst ourselves we should be striving together to conquer/colonize the solar system, and then neighboring solar systems, and then the galaxy. Solve fusion and get a solid foothold in space, and a new age of mankind will begin that will outlast our star, as you pointed out.

      But no. We’d rather putz around with political rallies, wind farms, and slogans. It’s sad.

      Best regards as always sir.

    • Regarding the need for reduced carbon as a raw material for chemical synthesis: For this, it should be possible to use plant oil instead once we run out of coal and mineral oil.

    • In grade school, 5th grade maybe, we had to write a letter requesting something from a business or Gov Agency, I wrote the the Atomic Energy Comm, they sent me a have dozen pamphlets showed reactors, nuclear subs, fusion, but it’s been a long time since I drew any pictures, actually it was a theory behind cold fusion, actually it’s sort of the same as Bussard’s, only smaller.

      I figure some fission, maybe a thorium burners till we sort the issues with fusion out.
      But I’ve been waiting for the Jetson’s all my life, and I’m annoyed about that.
      Nanotech and advanced fusion energy and we will at least become a spacefaring race, then we need to bend space.

    • We’ve already spent a ton of money on thermonuclear fusion in addition to a sizable chunk of coin on inertial confinement and a few peanuts in electrostatic–i assume you don’t want to count muon catalyzed reactions because, well, you did say you wanted alpha greater than one.

      PV is just a terrible idea unless someone can come up with a dirt cheap amorphous device that actually has some durability and efficiency, or a way to cost effectively put SPSS’s in orbit.

      And if we have fusion, then who cares if we burn hydrocarbons? We can always make more if that’s the most cost efficient way of using them. It’s not like the fraction we burn is the same fraction we use for plastics anyway.

      Anyway, here’s the paper that all the Polywell folks have hung their hats on:

      In the meantime the Navy has cancelled funding, so that’s looking promising…

    • “Even if you view it as an extreme long shot, the payoff is a Type I civilization on the Kardashev scale:”
      As long as it doesn’t reach levels II or III as I don’t think humans are mentally stable enough to survive those levels. At much higher generation levels it always becomes easier (eventually) to weaponize the source and it then only takes a few educated nut cases (or the military) to cause city size havoc.
      Probably why exterior civilizations, if observing, wouldn’t bother with real contact, just too unstable a species.

      [In the meantime, the mods are not convinced today’s culture will survive any additional Type TV Kardashian events either. .mod]

      • Suppose you focused on making neutrons with Deuterium – Deuterium fuel. No Tritium required. If you irradiate U238 you can make Plutonium without a nuke reactor. And you can do short runs which optimizes Plutonium production. Now Plutonium is harder to explode than U235. But you don’t need centrifuges. You can do the extraction with chemistry. You do need some Tritium – but you have an electrically controlled neutron source. Lots of things can be done with that. Good and bad.

        Are we ready for a hundred nuclear armed nations? Well we are about to find out given our current Mid-East Policy.

      • And that Kardashian scale, is just another example of juvenilia anyway, along with geo-forming and the rest. People who worship at the Michio Kaku shrine have too much time on their hands.

        Humans will eventually stabilize the world population, by one means or another, and hopefully, not at zero. But I wish them eternally good luck on that Nuclear fusion energy.

        And they are nowhere near getting even the DT reaction to operate, and ignore the fact that there are no Tritium mines on earth. So they will have to use one fo the more impressive reactions. Impressive in the sense of a truly gargantuan ignition condition.

        Then there’s Earnshaw’s theorem.

    • I am surprised to hear this coming from you. Solar warrants little investment. At only 200W or less per square meter on a dull day, the received energy density is just far too low to be useful. Right now solar can generate reliably only about 5W per meter squared. 1 GW of generation would consume 15 square km at the equator (far more at the poles) and even if it were 100% efficient generation can’t get smaller than 3 square km per GW. Solar is almost but not quite viable at the household scale where you need 10KW array and lots of batteries, but nowhere near being viable on an industrial scale. When Alcoa can run it’s smelters on solar i’ll convert. Solar is viable only if the human race regresses to a very basic level of sophistication, machines….gone, pharma….gone, and a couple for the greenies… 50″ plasma TVs … gone, welfare cheques… gone!

      • That’s why you want your plants in earth orbit, beaming power via microwave to ground receivers. As long as you don’t mind a potential death-ray over your head, you’re getting the full benefit of 1,300 or so watts/sq meter. No dust storms, no rare desert tortoise to halt your construction. Easy-peasy.

    • Good points. I have many of the same thoughts.
      Fusion may be impossible to develop into a practical energy source. I do not think there is any way to say that if we try hard enough we can be sure of getting there.
      And speaking of space travel, I am reminded of an issue which is rarely brought up but, as far as I know, has no known solution: That of how to protect space travelers from the deadly hailstorm of radiation and cosmic rays which will assault anyone who leaves the earth’s protective magnetic field and atmosphere behind.
      What are you gonna do if you are halfway to wherever and a large CME heads your way?

      Fusion: How are they gonna make it so it is quickly rechargeable, simple enough to mass produce, and long lived enough to make up for the construction costs?
      Someone, please tell me.
      My youthful optimism and high hopes on these two issues have taken a beating.

      • Space travel: There are two forms of radiation to deal with. The outer layer ought to be a hydrogen heavy material, such as ice, to absorb the barrage of high energy charged particles. The inner layer ought to be a layer of lead or similar heavy metal to block incoming x-rays and gamma rays. Make sure that your ice layer is thick enough, as charged particles that hit metal produce deadly Bremsstrahlung x-rays. If you are more interested in more, look up “atomic rockets”.

        Fusion: Well, we just don’t know enough yet to say yes or no. Since we are too busy eviscerating our scientific and industrial infrastructure in every conceivable way, don’t hold your breath for definitive news on the matter.

    • Sadly solar power is not a solution that will work in isolation
      Or is infinitely scalable.
      Nuclear power is both.

      Solar energy is like warming your hands on someone else’s bonfire instead of having central heating.

    • “…as are the “global warming” problem, the Middle East problem…”

      Yeah, because instead of a bunch of PO’ed people with time on their hands due to steady income from low input work, we’ll have a bunch of even more PO’ed people with even more time on their hands due to lack of work. And, ready access to unlimited power to make big booms.

      The Middle East problem will not be solved in any of our lifetimes. That is the result of the projections of all my models ;-)

      “This is why I also strongly advocate the continued investment in PV solar.”

      Without huge gains in efficiency, it will never return anything near what is needed to satisfy a significant portion of what we are accustomed to using. And, I think we are near the limits of efficiency for current tech.

      We don’t have to solve these things today. We have lots of time before fossil fuels run out. As Capt. Nemo would say, “When the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass, in God’s good time.”

    • So if we have the capability to release vast amounts of free (cost wise) energy from thermo-nuclear reactors in everybody’s kitchen, just what is it that will limit the earth Temperature rise.

      If you get the thing to work, how will you remove the reaction products (the garbage) which is at mega temperatures, and then insert new fuel (which is at room temperatures) without upsetting the equilibrium of the thing.

      And finally, just what is it that the EM fields are pushing gainst (outside) that enables them to confine the fuel ??

      Why does Earnshaw’s theorem NOT apply ??

  8. I think money spent on this more than on “climate change research” would be money well spent. Unfortunately it won’t happen, because “big” governments don’t like us having cheap plentiful energy as we are the less easily controlled.

    • Agreed. A similar expenditure on Thorium fission might prove even more profitable. Safe nuclear will get us through the next century IMO.

  9. Thanks for reminding me of this fine scientist, not that I had forgotten him. I just wish there was some genuine strategic interest in using the nuclear process to solve most of our power problems. Regrettably most westerners are far too negative these days to tackle the engineering challenges involved in polywell fusion or even the thorium reactor. This attitude is one consequence of the increasing influence of feminism on public policy. The fantasy of this ideology is laughable, just as if they can create a better world. What one without reliable electricity. Sure!

  10. Some of you might really enjoy a presentation at NASA Goddard, by retired electrical engineering professor Dr. Donald Scott, about the history of plasma physics, some potential applications to modern cosmology, and some of the misunderstandings and mis-steps by contemporary nuclear fusion researchers.

    It’s a very interesting and enjoyable talk, and he’s a good speaker.

    Plasma Physics’ Answers to the New Cosmological Questions by Dr. Donald E. Scott

  11. First, please understand that “small scale” fusion devices, such as could be used to power a home, will never be funded since they will be in competition with commercial power. This is probably the real reason this kind of funding never showed up in his lifetime. Human salvation will never be able to compete with profit. After all, for those in power, most of us are “useless eaters” to start with.

    • > .. will never be funded since they will be in competition with commercial power.
      > Human salvation will never be able to compete with profit.

      1. Any company that managed to develop a “small scale” fusion device would make billions in profit.
      2. A commercial power company that accidentally discovered ‘small scale’ fusion when trying to develop large scale would not hide it because of 1.
      3. Most discoveries start off large and end up getting smaller and more efficient through continuous development. I expect the first commercial fusion reactors will be huge things that barely make a profit but as time passes they will get better (provided they ever actually become viable).

      Lets just get a fusion reactor, of any size, working before worrying about those nasty profit making companies suppressing power for the people.

      • The present regulatory environment precludes anything like household fusion reactors. The same interests that push the CAGW agenda would bitterly oppose the idea.

    • I have a hard time understanding this kind of comment. It seems to me that it is like arguing that the automobile will never be funded because it will be in competition with the buggy whip business.

      If it is viable economically in a way that will lead to profits then it will attract capital. The people supplying that capital will be happy to harvest profits that would have otherwise gone to the commercial power utilities.

      [Of course! Today’s DOE fusion reactors take all forms of plastic …. VISA, AMEX, MasterCard are all accepted. Then they generate EBT cards as their primary output. .mod]

    • Tom,
      I would be more worried about the containment of the positron radiation inherent in the proton-proton reaction. On the way to making a He-4 nucleus, 2 protons have to overcome a huge coulomb barrier to have the nuclear force bind them while another set is doing the same thing. In each pair, one proton has to emit a positron to make an H-2 nucleus which kicks out of the nucleus with a few MeV of kinetic energy. Then these two H-2 nuclei have to overcome another large coulomb barrier to make the He-4 and emit a several MeV gamma ray. So now in your closet, you have this device that is spitting out positrons and gamma rays at ionizing energy levels.

      I think I want a good bit of shielding (meters of the stuff) between me and a fusion reactor.

  12. This article is not correct. Bussard founded Energy/Matter Conversion Corporation, Inc. (EMC2) in 1985 to build the polywell. It has gone through several rounds of funding from the Navy, successfully building larger prototypes, and is seeking additional funding.

    See their website:

    See the Talk Polywell website:

    NBC discusses their search for funding:

    Here is a presentation by EMC’s CEO about their current status:

    • The above got sent before the last paragraph:

      The facts in the article are correct, but it gives an incorrect impression about work on the Polywell. It was never going to be validated — let alone tested in a “full scale” prototype in Bussard’s lifetime (he died in 1987). Even with the impressive advances in technology and the accumulated knowledge of the following 2 decades, years more work will be needed to hit those kind of milestones.

      But much has been achieved by the EMC team — and others working elsewhere on this an similar tech. It’s not a dead idea.

      • Editor OTFMW,
        Note that Dr. Bussard lived until 2007, not 1987.
        If it weren’t for his plasma cell myeloma, he possibly could have lived and guided the development of polywell fusion to this day, as he was active in his work up to the very last few months of his life.

  13. What a wonderful information source the internet is. I recall Jerry Pournelle referencing a Bussard Ramjet in more than one of his books. Now I know where the name came from.


    • larry niven did too, so them working together a lot must have influenced each other.
      not sure who mentioned it first though, way too many years ago.

      • & Peter Hamilton in his ” Commonwealth” Sci-Fi saga had the “Dyson pair” and “Hawking D-Sink” power sources and “Hawking M-sinks” mini-black hole devices….

  14. Hmmm… Bussard claimed that he was ‘getting close’ to solving the problem. The problem is that we now have a very long list of people ‘getting close’, and no actual solution…


    …If, of course, anyone ever does succeed in solving this very difficult problem, the world’s energy problem is over for all time, as are the “global warming” problem, the Middle East problem, the clean water and sanitation problem, and the global poverty problem. …

    I wonder if this IS the reason a lot of people have got close but never solved it? I think we now realise that these problems employ a huge number of influential people, and anything that will do away with them won’t be welcomed. It would be easy to suppress fusion power – you just point out that it’s ‘nuclear’ to a set of activists…

    • This is popular meme, that there is a powerful force behind the curtain who kills any game changing energy solution. There is no curtain,n it’s just a really hard thing to do.

      • Hey, “they” played “whack-a-mole” with the 200 mpg carburetors, so I was told! But now that carburetors have gone the way of buggy whips, it’s time to play “whack-a-tokomak “.

    • anything that will do away with them won’t be welcomed.

      I disagree. Think of the new opportunities that would arise from cheap, limitless energy. What rational corporate entity would walk away from enormous (and enormously lucrative) new market opportunities?

      • Technology and the market will solve the energy problem. Only a short time ago we were going to run out of oil. then the price went up. Moderately expensive fracking and tar sands came into play because they were profitable. Now we have another x,xxx years to go before we need the new source. That does not mean that we should not clean up our act and do some forward thinking. When the time comes that we need the breakthrough, it will likely be within reach. The alternative is unthinkable.
        Right now the brain power is invested in computers and medicine because that is where the money is. if energy gets really expensive it will attract the best minds; and if it can be solved, it will be solved.
        Fossil fuels are the low hanging fruit. Show me any animal on earth that doesnt pick that first.

      • Newspapers and movie studios, for a couple examples. They keep fighting to keep their old models relevant rather than embracing new technologies and ideas. Larger corporations are usually less willing to change how they do things.

  15. Of course if it had a Military Application, like powering Lasers it might well attract more money and attention.
    In fact it may already have done so, not that we will know unless it was used in anger.

    • But it does have military applications, which is why Navy funding was secured: the Navy is very into the idea of railguns as the next decisive class of weapons, and those babies take LOADS of power to operate.
      It’s one thing to have something the size of a carrier powered with a fission reactor – but if you want railguns on Frigates and Destroyers, you need something smaller, which this approach would afford (IIRC, the size and weight of a 100 Megawatt IEC reactor is small enough for a Frigate).

      • Most nuke boats are considerably smaller than a carrier. I think the Ohio class missile boats are about 1/2 the length of Nimitz class carrier. A good many modern frigates are already big enough in hull size to be powered by reactors. Presumably there are other constraints.

      • Actually the US Navy has a plan to field railguns on destroyers in the early part of the next decade and they will be powered by conventional gas turbine generators. The average power requirement for a railgun is not necessarily that high. A railgun firing continuously at 30MJ per shot, 10 shots per minute is only sending ~5MW average out the barrel. Depending on losses power consumption could easily be 2x that, but still relatively small compared to surface combatant propulsion loads.

        Nuclear power is currently cost prohibitive for surface combatant applications due to manpower and maintenance costs more than offsetting fuel savings. That is not likely to change any time soon.


  16. I believe that gravity is the force behind fusion in stars. Now, if we could only figure out how that really works, many questions would be answered. We seem to forget that it is actually a disturbance of space/time in the presence of mass, according to Einstein. Now how to create that situation without all of the mass? Anyone working on that question?

    • Huh?
      That IS the whole question.
      It takes a certain density and temperature to overcome to strong nuclear force and cause protons to get close enough to fuse.
      That same temperature drives them apart.
      And vaporizes any material object that would try to contain them.

      • Protons do not fuse. Nuclei fuse. And you missed the point regarding the question of how relativistic gravity actually works. And, no, I do not have the answer and neither does anyone else, the point of the question.

      • We can create the heat, but how to “fool” space/time into thinking the mass is there, when it is not, and thereby create the pressures required without the mass and create the extreme curvature of space/time required, to put the question another way.

      • Sir,
        If I take your meaning correctly, you are suggesting a better approach than confinement would be to discover a way to directly manipulate spacetime?

    • Sorry, I misspoke. Should not post using a phone and/or late at night.
      It is the electrostatic repulsion of the protons, whether they are from hydrogen and thus bare protons, or contained in larger nuclei, that must be overcome.
      Protons do not fuse, nuclei do?
      What is a hydrogen nucleus? Not sure what you are trying to say. My apologies if it seemed I was being condescending or whatever, but I am having a hard time seeing how converting the question of achieving a certain temperature and density, into one of altering the properties of spacetime in order to ” fool it” into behaving differently, really gets us closer to the goal.
      Unless someone had some idea for how to manipulate or alter the properties of reality, or the nature of space time.

  17. They’re used as neutron sources? And that’s not a problem for a home reactor — why?

    Gammas, in sufficient amounts, will kill you, of course. So will a big enough neutron dose. But gammas will not, cannot make anything else radioactive. Neutrons can and will. Conventional nuclear reactors generate radioactive . . . let’s say “waste” because we don’t have further use for most of it. Much of this is a byproduct of neutron absorption by reactor components, including shielding.

    A neutron-source home reactor is going to need shielding — shielding that, once neutron-irradiated, isn’t a “cure worse than the disease”.

    For this reason, I’ve never understood why fusion is touted as “clean” energy.

    • Oh, that question is simple. Most people don’t know anything about it and therefore have zero knowledge of any dangers. So therefore there aren’t any dangers and it will be clean.

    • The high neutron flux rates are due to the fuels used. Deuterium and Tritium. If the Proton Boron reaction could be made to work neutron production would be about 1,000 to 1,000,000 times less. You will still need shielding. It is not a home reactor. A neighborhood reactor is possible. Especially wit direct conversion of the energy released to electricity.

  18. Here is some of the latest on WB-8.1:

    High Energy Electron Confinement in a Magnetic Cusp Configuration

    Jaeyoung Park, Nicholas A. Krall, Paul E. Sieck, Dustin T. Offermann, Michael Skillicorn, Andrew Sanchez, Kevin Davis, Eric Alderson, Giovanni Lapenta

    (Submitted on 1 Jun 2014)

    We report experimental results validating the concept that plasma confinement is enhanced in a magnetic cusp configuration when beta (plasma pressure/magnetic field pressure) is order of unity. This enhancement is required for a fusion power reactor based on cusp confinement to be feasible. The magnetic cusp configuration possesses a critical advantage: the plasma is stable to large scale perturbations. However, early work indicated that plasma loss rates in a reactor based on a cusp configuration were too large for net power production. Grad and others theorized that at high beta a sharp boundary would form between the plasma and the magnetic field, leading to substantially smaller loss rates. The current experiment validates this theoretical conjecture for the first time and represents critical progress toward the Polywell fusion concept which combines a high beta cusp configuration with an electrostatic fusion for a compact, economical, power-producing nuclear fusion reactor.

    Comments: 12 pages, figures included. 5 movies in Ancillary files
    Subjects: Plasma Physics (physics.plasm-ph)
    Cite as: arXiv:1406.0133 [physics.plasm-ph]
    (or arXiv:1406.0133v1 [physics.plasm-ph] for this version)

    • Good post. Thanks for the link.

      As always, the devil is in the details and in the case of fusion confinement there is no shortage of details that remain to be addressed.

  19. My 8;54 comment to Dr. Brown’s post – which was in moderation for some time – has been summarily deleted, without even a snip to mark its doomed passage here.

    Happy Birthday to Dr. Brown anyway.

  20. Isn’t the picture above a homemade Farnsworth fusor rather than a Bussard polywell? The polywell doesn’t have the central electrode which is one of the main problems with Farnsworths (along with losses to Bremsstrahlung radiation).

    To me Farnsworth is the true father of the fusor / polywell and so many other things like television, a true visionary.

    • Yes. More specifically it looks like a form of the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor, designed in 1964-67. Physicist Robert Hirsch ran the US fusion program during the 1970s, and walked away when he decided that it would not succeed with our current level of tech. His peers though him crazy, but time has showed the accuracy of his assessment.

      He reinvented himself as an energy expert, and has played a major role giving advice — which we’ve largely ignored.

      For more about the F-H Fusor:

    • Robin,
      you are correct, that is indeed a Farnsworth Fusor. Most require He3 and Deuterium to run. Deuterium is plentiful, but useful quantities of He3 would need to be harvested from Antarctic ice, deep sea volcanic vents or lunar regolith to make this type of fusion viable.

      The device shown cannot harvest energy, but it could if the anode and cathode cages were made of hollow fluid cooled tubes.

  21. As I remember it, 50+ years ago, we were pretty good at making ridiculously large amounts of fusion happen. Trouble was, the energy wasn’t being captured, and it didn’t go on for very long. All we seemed to do was leave very large dents in some coral atolls.

  22. Just because fusion is self-sustained in stellar masses does not imply that it can be sustained in less than stellar masses.

    Can someone educate me as to why folks think small scale fusion is plausible?

    • It’s plausible because it’s being done right now. Getting it past break-even is the challenge.

      • That is the point.

        It takes more energy to compress the matter than is created by the fusion reaction. Gravity supplies the compressive force in massive stellar objects.

    • Just because fusion is self-sustained in stellar masses does not imply that it can be sustained in less than stellar masses.

      Yes. The fact that fusion is self sustained in stellar masses does not imply that it can be sustained in less than stellar masses. The notion that it can be sustained in less than stellar masses does not derive from the fact that it is self sustained in stellar masses, but rather from an understanding of the physics involved.

      Can someone educate me as to why folks think small scale fusion is plausible?

      First off, it’s not only plausible, it’s not that difficult. For instance, a teenager has constructed a fusion device, along with many other ‘hobbyists’. The real question is, what is required to get more energy out of a fusion reaction than is required to sustain it. The Lawson criterion pertains to this. But essentially, while it’s a very difficult and very expensive engineering R&D problem right now, there is no theoretical reason that prevents small scale nuclear fusion from producing more energy than is required to sustain the reaction. On the contrary, our theoretical understanding of the physics involved indicates it can be done.
      Hope this helps.

    • As a necessary (but not sufficient) reply, let me note that the weak-mediated p-p reaction that the Sun uses
      is universally conceded to not be possible in less-than-stellar masses. However, all commercial research that I know of is looking at the strong-mediated D-T reaction. Entirely different mechanisms and reaction rates.

    • Let me try another approach. We have fusion bombs that release vastly more energy than is required to initiate the reaction, obviously. No stellar masses involved.
      There is a significant engineering challenge involved in harnessing that energy in what we generally accept as a safe and acceptable way to produce electricity. There is no theoretical barrier to doing so, however, it’s just darned expensive and difficult, not all of the practical difficulties are well understood yet (such as turbulence in the plasma messing up magnetic containment) and the requisite time and effort has not yet been expended to resolve the problems.

      • How about an giant subterranean cavern, with big pipes imbedded in the surrounding rock to transport the heat to a turbine. Just set of a bomb every once in a while. Have to be deep enough and big enough to completely contain the blast.
        Oh, hell, we can just put the pipes down where the earth is really hot and forget the cavern and the nukes. Or, just use the fusion reactor we already got.
        It’s a biggun!

  23. As another old engineer who has been doodling on engines, motors, and power sources of all kinds for at least 50 years, I am always a bit amused by the idea that fantastic concepts are routinely killed by vested interests.

    The GEs of the world do not have profit and power because they rested on the past, but because they seized new ideas by buying, begging , or stealing them and finding a profitable way to bring them to the largest possible market.

    A classic example was “cold”, i.e. ice, which could only be produced in large factories and distributed daily into homes. When a better technology came along, large corporations saw that this was a space with a high threshold of entry, high profit, and a huge potential market, and jumped in with both feet. Home refrigeration became common in the U.S. within a decade.

    I see no reason why LENR or some other means of providing safe limitless heat or electricity from an appliance would not create a similar product cycle if the technology became available. Yes, there would be losers, the modern equivalent of the ice houses and delivery carts of the 1930s, but the potential winners would still clamber to jump aboard such a huge value-priced market and grab a dominant market share, losers be dam*ed.

    • Thinking the same thing, thanks and as far as another point in your comment ( regarding profits and losses) is concerned, is that nowhere on all these post has anyone mentioned if fusion reactors produce plastic.

  24. This seems to be rather old “news”. Nebel et alia received funding from the Navy years ago, but I haven’t heard of any new developments for some time.

  25. Hot fusion is going to take a long time to reach break even but lattice assisted nuclear reactions are already here. But since the sheep are told its fake they believe it….

    MIT has a wonderful 3 day cold fusion course. Its real science once you understand what is going on..

  26. The Navy dropped fusor research after Rider, and Thorsten came up with three separate reasons the Inertial electrostatic confinement idea general could not acheive unity (as much energynoutnas in). They are neutron generating sources, nothing more.
    Whether the Lockheed Skunkworks high beta magnetic confinement approach is scalable to commercial energy production is unclear. I woild have thought the Navy and DoE woild have been all over it if so. The program has gone radiosilent, so perhaps dark.
    Seems to be enough to LENR (Widom Larsen theory, a weak force phenomenon) to merit more investment than the little flier NASA announced, especially since their laser/micromachined surface phonon approach to generating’heavy’ electrons obviously isn’t scaleable. Wrote a section on LENR in Arts of Truth.
    BTW, the US has invested over $7 billion in inertial confinement fusion ( the NIF) with zero prospect of acheiving useful energy production ever. Essay Going Nuclear,

    • The Navy did not drop the research after Rider. Rider’s fundamental error with respect to Polywell was to assume a uniform distribution of energies. Polywell in fact is based on a bimodal distribution. Look up the [work] J. Park and R. Nebel did for the Navy. It did not end until 2014.

    • I had the following communication from Rider, in 2007, via email:

      Thanks for tracking me down. Here is the info I have been sending out in response to similar recent inquiries. Please let me know if you still have any questions after reading it. You are quite welcome to post this complete response and the attached files anyplace on the web where they might be helpful to other folks with the same questions. I am nearly computer illiterate when it comes to the internet… :-)

      Once upon a time, I was wowed by the idea of IEC fusion. When I was an undergrad working in other fields, I picked up T.A. Heppenheimer’s The Manmade Sun, a history of the fusion program. It contained 2-3 pages on the Farnsworth-Hirsch poissors/fusors and their eye-popping 10 billion neutrons per second; a separate section covered Bussard’s Riggatron tokamak project and its seemingly premature death. I was fascinated by the idea of scientific underdogs with great ideas, and I devoured all of their papers and patents. That made me decide to pursue fusion (among other things) in grad school. The two strands of fusion ideas merged when Bussard picked up the old Farnsworth approach about the time I was starting my thesis research at MIT. I hoped to take their cumulative work and find ways to push it a few steps closer to realization. To bring myself up to speed, I first went back through all of Bussard’s and everyone else’s basic calculations about the approach. And I found massive errors everywhere–incorrect assumptions and/or incorrect calculations of a variety of effects. The rest is history… I assume you know about my M.S. ’94 and Ph.D. ’95 theses from MIT, as well as my various journal articles and conference presentations based on them. The M.S. thesis points out all the errors and fatal flaws in IEC, and the Ph.D. thesis generalizes the results to limitations on all IEC and all non-IEC fusion approaches.

      In a nutshell, there are a large number of fatal flaws with IEC and related approaches, each flaw independent of the others and each far more than sufficient to keep IEC from ever producing net power. This isn’t simply a “he said, they said” disagreement. These are all very well documented and established plasma physics effects, found in textbooks all the way back to the 1950s and able to be accurately predicted for lab experiments. Moreover, the physical basis of each problem can be explained even without the accompanying mathematical analyses. These problems include, but are not limited to:

      (1) Bremsstrahlung radiation. Ions must be given very high energies (equivalent to very high temperatures) to stand a decent chance of fusing when they run into each other. Unfortunately, the ions are very generous and promptly give much of this energy to the electrons. Electrons have a very low mass and are easily pushed around whenever they run into an ion or even another electron. Every time an electron runs into something, it slams on its brakes and emits a loud squeal–a bremsstrahlung X-ray. Thus a great deal of the input energy gets turned into useless X-rays, not fusion reactions. This is true for all fusion approaches, not just IEC. Bremsstrahlung is a relatively insignificant problem for deuterium + tritium fuel, which fuses at comparatively low energies. It is a large but theoretically tolerable problem for deuterium + deuterium and deuterium + helium-3 reactions, which require higher energies. Even with the most optimistic assumptions, the bremsstrahlung power loss is much larger than the fusion output power for all other fuels, including helium-3 + helium-3, proton + boron-11, and proton + lithium-6. My theses and papers used the most accurate standard methods of calculating the ion-electron energy transfer and bremsstrahlung losses, including relativistic and other effects. Nonetheless, I was able to show that the ion-electron energy transfer or bremsstrahlung would have to be miraculously lowered by a huge factor, at least 10 to 100 times, in order for the X-ray losses to be tolerable. In all of the papers I have seen from IEC and related researchers, bremsstrahlung is ignored entirely, the ion-electron energy transfer is ignored, or one or the other is merely assumed to be artificially low without providing any physical justification.

      (2) Ion-ion collisions. Ions are all positively charged and thus strongly repel each other at close range. Only every once in a while do they quantum-mechanically “tunnel” through that repulsive barrier and fuse together. Even at high energies, two colliding ions are 100-1000 times more likely to randomly scatter off each other than to fuse. IEC, colliding-beam fusion, and related concepts assume that the ions all keep the right velocity pointed in the right direction. Yet collisions will turn these organized beams into a bell curve distribution of velocities going in all directions 100-1000 times faster than the time that would be required for a significant number of the ions to fuse. IEC and related approaches generally provide no mechanism to “herd” the ions back to the desired velocities, but even if they did, my Ph.D thesis and papers showed that even the most efficient such mechanism would consume too much power. You are fighting entropy, and entropy will win. Just like death and taxes.

      (3) Electron-electron collisions. A very similar process occurs for the electrons, converting any preferred electron distribution into a random bell curve distribution. Again, any attempt to fight this entropy generation would consume far too much energy, as shown in the theses and papers.

      (4) Counter-streaming electrostatic instabilities. Particles in orderly colliding beams are determined to reach a three-dimensional bell curve distribution. In addition to individual collision events as described above, the whole population of particles can act collectively via electrostatic or electromagnetic fields to rebel. Such mass rebellions are called instabilities. Colliding beams and particles outside the central core of an IEC are subject to the well-documented counter-streaming instabilities, in which particles bunch and unbunch like a Slinky, rapidly destroying any initial order in the system.

      (5) Weibel electromagnetic instabilities. These approaches are also subject to Weibel instabilities, in which ions and electrons wiggle side-to-side, again destroying any initial order in the system.

      (6) Ion upscattering losses from IEC well. The basic idea of IEC is that all the ions have too little energy to escape from the electrostatic potential well in the center of the plasma. However, once collisions and/or instabilities have randomized the ion distribution, ions in the upper tail of the bell curve will have enough energy to escape. Once they do, other ions are randomly scattered to reform the tail of the bell curve, and then they escape too. These escaping ions represent a power loss greater than any fusion output power.

      (7) Losses of ions hitting grids in gridded IEC (Farnsworth-Hirsch) devices. Most IEC devices have high-voltage grids inside the plasma to create the potential well. Even with very optimistic assumptions, the power lost by ions hitting these grids is far larger than the fusion output power.

      (8) Losses of electrons hitting grids in gridded IEC (Farnsworth-Hirsch) devices. Likewise, even with very optimistic assumptions, the power lost by electrons hitting the grids is far larger than the fusion output power.

      (9) Losses of electrons escaping from magnetic cusps in Polywell IEC devices. Instead of grids, Bussard’s Polywell IEC approach uses a polyhedral cusp magnetic field to confine the electrons. Even with very optimistic assumptions, the power lost by electrons escaping at all the cusp points is much larger than the fusion power. As I showed in my theses, any foreseeable method of extracting part of the energy of the escaping electrons would either be vastly inadequate or would actually increase the ion losses instead.

      (10) Arcing in direct electric converter and other high voltage grids. Most IEC devices have high-voltage grids, and additional high-voltage grids are frequently proposed to extract energy from escaping particles or fusion products in IEC, colliding-beam reactors, and related approaches. Marshall Rosenbluth, the widely acknowledged “dean” of plasma physics, has shown that at plasma densities typical of proposed full-fledged fusion reactors, arcing between these grids due to all the charged ions and electrons would be intolerable (Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, vol. 36, pp. 1255-1268, 1994).

      These effects may appear relatively small in the sort of low-density, short-pulse IEC or colliding beam experiments that have typically been used to date. Yet the standard formulas of plasma physics, strongly supported by over 60 years of theoretical and experimental results in this field, indicate that every one of these effects will be intolerably large in a full-fledged reactor-scale device. In order for IEC or related approaches to produce net fusion power, they must defy not just one of these standard predictions but *all* of them. And they must be not just a little better than predicted, but for several of these effects they must be a factor of ~100 better than predicted by the basic physical laws. To date, I have not seen any papers from Bussard, Rostoker, Kulcinski, or others that seriously address any of these problems, let alone propose feasible ways to avoid the problems.

      In my opinion, there are several conclusions to be drawn from all of this:

      (A) Due to problem (1) above, the *only* fusion reactions which can theoretically produce net power in *any* foreseeable fusion reactor, whether conventional or unconventional, are deuterium + tritium (easiest but quite radioactive), deuterium + deuterium (also radioactive), and deuterium + helium-3 (cleaner but still radioactive).

      (B) Due to problems (2) through (10) above, the chances of IEC and related approaches producing net power even with those reactions are minute. (Deuterium + tritium may at best be marginal in some non-IEC beam-like systems, but its radioactivity makes it less appealing than the other reactions, and in any event more conventional fusion approaches like tokamaks stand a much better chance of burning it.) No matter how large or how small an investment the IEC researchers may be requesting, potential sponsors should be aware that their gamble is virtually guaranteed not to pay off, due to all of these fundamental physics problems that can be easily seen in advance.

      (C) Despite these problems, IEC or similar approaches could be useful for applications *other* than power production. An IEC device is basically a very compact particle accelerator and could be useful for the same applications as larger accelerators, including radioisotope production and production of radiation, especially neutrons.

      (D) Several non-IEC, non-colliding beam approaches are not as subject to problems (2) through (10) above and thus are theoretically able to produce net power with deuterium + helium-3. In fact, Bussard, Rostoker, and Kulcinski have worked on many of these approaches, including field-reversed configurations and tokamaks. The engineering challenges for these reactors are admittedly very difficult and may even ultimately be insurmountable, but that cannot be proven from the outset, so such approaches are certainly very worthy of further work.

      (E) I believe fusion research is more limited by the lack of good ideas than by the amount of funding available to build larger and larger machines. Perhaps someone could think of a confinement system that would be better than tokamaks and other current approaches that are theoretically feasible but problematic from an engineering standpoint. Or better yet, perhaps someone could find an efficient method to catalyze fusion reactions, so that a given input energy would yield significantly more fusion output. (Spin-polarized and muon-catalyzed fusion were two clever but ultimately inadequate attempts to do just that.)

      To summarize, I would love to see a working, power-generating fusion reactor, especially one that would be less radioactive than the deuterium-tritium reactors that are normally proposed. There are many technological and physical challenges that must be overcome in order to do that, and to overcome them one must openly acknowledge those challenges and then find clever ways around them. Unfortunately, the inertial-electrostatic confinement and colliding-beam fusion researchers have not even attempted to do that. They may choose to ignore the basic laws of physics in designing and building their prototype fusion devices, but when the switch is turned on, I doubt that the laws of physics will return the favor by ignoring them.

      If you would like independent confirmation of the physics principles I have outlined, please feel free to contact Peter Catto at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (, 617-253-5825) or Bill Nevins at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (, 925-422-7032). They are both familiar with the IEC approach and my analyses.

      I am attaching five .pdf files of several of my journal articles and conference presentations on this topic. Please let me know if you have any problems opening these files or if you have any other questions.


      N.B. I either don’t have the pdf’s, anymore, or else they are stashed away on some hard drive in storage. Rider’s email (at the time) was .

      • I’m not going to go into Riders objections point by point. It would take a while. Let me simply state that the people doing the research do not consider them show stoppers. And there his no one in the field who is not aware of his objections.

        One point of interest. Rider no longer works in the field.

      • M Simon,

        It might take a while but I have to say I would absolutely tear my own arms off to read rebuttals/discussions to these points, many of which I have heard, and in fact I know Bussard himself has discussed at some point.

        Perhaps you could prepare a guest post, or a post in response to this on talk-polywell.

        I find electrostatic inertial fusion to be absolutely as fascinating a thing in science as I have ever encountered, I think partly because the physics is so readily understandable, and the enormous energies and temperatures tittilating, and the elegant solutions required to deal with them endlessly interesting.

  27. If a viable, safe, NON POLLUTING, economical fusion reactor were ever invented, you can bet that Green Peace and the other “environmental” groups would devote massive sums of money to prevent its use.

    Recall the Club of Rome;

    ” ……and thus the “real enemy, then, is humanity itself….believe humanity requires a common motivation, namely a common adversary in order to realize world government. It does not matter if this common enemy is “a real one or….one invented for the purpose………”

    In case anyone was wondering why the AGW fraud lives on , irrespective of real world observations refuting this fraud, well, now you know. It is a POLITICAL MOVEMENT.

    And you thought that ruling elites and their nomenklatura had dies off with the demise of the USSR; you would be wrong.

  28. The sun produces energy equivalent to 100 trillion lbs of dynamite exploding per second.
    I can see the appeal of solar power.

    Unfortunately while solar power is more practical than using an extension cord from the sun to to the earth, economically it is a poor choice amoung energy sources.

    Shame really, all that energy, 100 trillion lbs of dynamite exploding per second…

  29. “The problem is nobody has figured out how to extract more energy out of an electrostatic fusor, than you put into it.”

    A big part of that is an inability to achieve ignition (meaning a self sustaining reaction). Existing fusion reactors require the continuous input of huge amounts of energy to keep the reaction going.

    I have a thought on this, though I don’t know enough to know if it’s a viable thought. Perhaps if Dr Svalgaard sees this, he can comment.

    Most of the proposals I have seen for generating electricity from fusion reactors involve using the emitted neutrons to heat water to turn turbines, and all of the existing reactor designs whether some form of magnetic bottle or electrostatic containment will simply loose all the generated free neutrons.

    However, look at the one stable fusion reactor we have that is readily observable, the Sun. Between it’s massive gravity and the density of the solar plasma I rather doubt that all of the neutrons generated by solar fusion manage to escape to space.

    I suspect that the key to self sustaining fusion reactors is to find a way to deflect at least some of the neutrons back into the reactor.

      • The balanced 4(1H + 2 e) –> 4He + 2 neutrinos + 6 photons makes it appear so, but reality is messier. 3He gets produced too, meaning one got away – either as a free neutron or proton, but neither stays free long in the sun’s core. All the particle exchanges going on under the extreme conditions there tend to even it out though.

      • @notfubar: True, I should have said, “does not produce free neutrons”. I think, though, that the neutron produced by the initial weak-mediated p-p reaction is immediately bound with the other proton into a deuteron.

  30. I dunno. To make sustainable hydrogen fusion by natural means, a plasma density of about 100 g/cc is needed. This is most achievable in an object that has about 0.1 solar masses. If you would like to pressurize to the required density at earth’s gravity, a vessel of nonobtanium will be needed.

    Perhaps a more practical approach is to create short term nuclear fusion events, i.e. explosions, and then capture the energy somehow. To do this, some kind of phase change comes to mind. Maybe you melt
    rock and store the energy as lava, for example.

    I don’t think the government will grant me a mountain range to try out this idea.

    • If as in the ramjet, the energy released is moved rapidly as not to be confined in a way that melts the ramjet or ram-fusion jet, then heat capturing can produce steam or molten whatever for energy producing desired rotating generators. The fusion pulse is from the nozzles or is injected at the moment of fusion. So far to date, the process is engineered in a confined space.

      P.S. You can pay me later… :)

      • A near-light speed ionized hydrogen gobbling ramjet using magnetic fields to guide and compress (with assistance of the shockwaves) was behind the science fiction Bussard Ramjet. It has to go _really_ fast in order to work. A fusion torch like that would be visible a long way away. Just remember, a non-ionized sand grain striking the hull could ruin your day. (…also, shielding requirements are left as an exercise for the student…)

  31. I believe that if any engineering feat is possible, nature would have done it already.
    Flying- nature beat us to it with insects, pterodactyls, birds, and bats.
    electric power- nature beat us to it with lightning..
    solar energy- nature beat us to it with green plants
    nuclear fission nature beat us to it with a naturally occurring reactor in Gabon about 2 billion years ago.
    As to fusion, the smalles reactors in existence have a mass about 1/10th that of the sun, and they only burn about 1 trillionth of their fuel each year. I don’t see fusion as a viable energy source, ever.

  32. “When you consider the eye watering sums which are wasted on renewables, such as the huge loss sustained by the Federal Government when Solyndra collapsed, …….”

    The loss was not sustained by the Federal Government; the loss was sustained by you and me, our children and our grandchildren. The government has no money to lose. That’s why it’s so easy for it to spend, since it is spending other people’s money.

  33. There’s been a comment or two bemoaning the government’s wasteful expenditure of money into green energy boondoggles and climate research, and wishing that some of that money was spent researching this energy source. I think the following well known quote goes a long ways towards explaining why:

    “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

    That was from Dr. Paul Ehrlich. I think it might be important to note that John Holdren collaborated with Paul Ehrlich in the past and is currently President Obama’s national science advisor.

    • The Obama administration is aware of Polywell. They have allowed some funding. Not near enough for a full scale test. And that funding has ended.

  34. DOE is now finally paying attention to alternative fusion devices, instead of relying on ITER (which is 20 years away from even firing off test dataand $50 million in cost)… LPPFusion in Middlesex, NJ has already met two of the three Lawson criteria and closing in now on the third (density)… with a recent series of upgrades LPPFusion will have releasing test data starting in the next six weeks or so.

  35. So long as practically all funding for fusion research is being thrown at the ITER Tokamak, fusion power will always be 50 years away. That’s why concepts like Polywell and Spheromak fusion only get chickenfeed, otherwise the fossil fuel energy is screwed.

  36. Going to be a difficult problem to solve. The energy produced by the Sun by fusion has about the same energy per pound of matter as a compost heap produces. I’m not optimistic that fusion will ever be practicable and is itself just another money pit.

  37. There is one major problem with any kind of household size nuclear reactor. Nuclear reactions create gamma rays. There’s no stopping it. Even if the reaction itself creates no radioactive waste, there’s no way to get rid of that radiation. The more energy you create, the more gamma rays is released. And you need about one meter thick concrete wall to stop that radiation, or you’ll irradiate your whole neighborhood. Plus you’ll get secondary radiation on the inner side of that wall – and you’ll need to enter the space time to time to perform maintenance. In total it’s going to be expensive and dangerous, with no added value compared to centralized production where maintenance/security costs per MWh can be substantially reduced.

    • Yes. There will be gammas to deal with. And a meter of concrete is not particularly expensive. We build bridges with it after all. The key is direct conversion. And the net gain for that is low. You need as much energy to run the reaction as you get net from the equipment. The actual gain for direct conversion runs about 3X because of the fuels used. Protons and Boron11.

      • If one burns P+B11, there won’t be any gammas; there are hardly ever gammas in (interesting for power) fusion reactions because the starting masses are low. Fusion assays are also much tighter, statistically speaking, then fission assays.

        There are potential daughter-reactions in P+B11 burning where output He4 alphas collide with the fuel – but none reduce to gamma outputs.

      • No gammas? You mean the reaction magically appears in the nuclear ground state? Almost every nuclear reaction has an intermediate excited state in the product nucleus that emits a gamma when it settles to ground. Some are more energetic than others, but I would be surprised that the configuration just appears in the nuclear ground state. I suspect this reaction is taking boron and a proton and making at first a 12C which is in such an elevated state that it breaks into three alpha particles. There would be no beta + or – as everything stays as it started, there would be no neutrons either. The problem is how can it go from such an elevated state in the highly stable 12C nucleus that it breaks up into a ground state in three alpha particles and not emit a few fairly strong gammas? I also wonder if basing an energy source on a low abundance element like boron is a good economic starting point.

        If an alpha particle strikes an 11B with the correct energy to bond it will form 15N which is stable, but again I would think the odds of a ground state product unlikely and a gamma ray (or two) as the configuration settles in would be all but inevitable. I also don’t know what an extremely excited 15N might be induced to break into but I could see three alphas and a 3HE nucleus. – don’t know what the cross section might be on that branching, but also don’t know what the energy on the protons and 11B we started with were (probably a few 10s to 100s of eV or less since I don’t see an accelerator). Likewise I don’t know what sort of kinetic energy the alphas get kicked out with or how we are trying to extract this energy.

      • There is enough boron in the world to supply civilization for 10K to 100K years. And that is before we extract any from the oceans. The US and Turkey have the major supplies.

    • That is not at all correct. The LPPFusion reactor design is a super high energy design that creates no radiation at all. The study reactor is licensed to operate in a storage unit in a commercial district. This reactor that’s based on the principles of Dense Focused Plasma can be entered within hours of shutdown with no radiation protection at all. This is a small unit designed to generate 5MWs, though several can be operated in parallel for higher output.

    • One of the cheapest things there is in a house – and I have built one – is concrete.

      A meter of concrete is nothing.

      I am not sure that secondary radiation happens though. Not with deuterium and no spare neutrons.

      Photodisintegration and photofission might produce something, but my guess is these would be very short lived products and would not be a barrier to maintenance after the thing had cooled down.

      • Concrete is certainly cheap. Maintaining millions of such concrete bunkers for decades and making sure they’re all safe is in my opinion almost impossible. People are stupid.

        Photodisintegration and photofission is exactly what I had in mind (I just did not know the name). I can’t say for sure but in a mix of elements I think any kind of decay half-time can be expected. LHC’s beam dump has pure carbon in it and it is expected to be very dangerous at the end of its lifetime. It depends on what kind of photons is released, though – if their energy is low enough they won’t cause photoeffects.

      • Kasuha
        April 1, 2015 at 3:34 am

        You don’t need millions. Tens of thousands is more like it. And a fusion reactor will be cold – radioactivity wise – in not more than 100 years. The fission stuff takes about 1,000. That is not to zero radiation levels but to background levels.

    • Wicked, the notion is that while protons repel because of electrical force, there is a distance within which the strong force — an attractive force — wins out over electrical repulsion. So it takes energy to get protons close enough for the strong force to take effect, but once it does, there is a net energy release as the protons come together. This is how a fusion bomb works.

      For atoms at the heavy end of the periodic table, if a critical number of neutrons are added to the nucleus, they act like spacers between protons, thereby defeating the short-ranged strong force, allowing electrical repulsion to win out. The large unstable atom will split into two more stable atoms, and release energy. This is how a fission bomb works.


    • With apologies to serious nuclear scientists everywhere:

      Crudely speaking, atoms lighter than iron sort of “have” more energy separately than they do if they are “fused” into a heavier — but still lighter than iron — atom. So if you can fuse them, the extra energy is released. But an atom heavier than iron “has” more energy than the two elements it could be “fissioned” to produce, so if you split a heavier-than-iron atom, the extra energy is, again, released.

      Imagine that H has 10 energy units, He has 5, and Li has four. Fuse one H and one He to form Li. 10 + 5 (from the H and He) – 4 (carried off by what is now Li) = 11 units released via fusion.

      Imagine that U has 10 energy units, Cs has 4 and Sr has 1. Split U into Cs and Sr. 10 (from the U) = 4 (carried off by Cs) + 1 (carried off by Sr) + 5 released via fission.

      I made these numbers up; their only relevance to the real world is that they increase as you move away from iron. I don’t mean to imply that fusion offers more energy than fission (it might, but that is beyond my knowledge).

      For whatever reason, iron seems to be the “bottom” of the “energy valley”. At any rate, stellar fusion apparently stops (as a self-sustaining process) when iron is produced. The energy from p-p fusion can propel H-He fusion; energy from that can drive He-He fusion, and on down. When fusion creates iron, though, there is no leftover energy to drive further fusion. (Production of heavier elements in a nova or supernova is something else again.)

      (I’ve been known to explain fission to laymen in terms of chocolate-chip cookies. If you can present a nicer analogy than the one I’ve just done, please do — and please let me use it in future.)

    • It is all in the magic of the binding energy per nucleon. In the lighter isotopes the binding energy per nucleon goes up as you get to heavier atoms with a notable spike at 4HE. and a peak at about iron. For those elements heavier than iron, the binding energy per nucleon actually goes down as you get to heavier nuclei.

      The upshot of that is light elements release energy when you fuse them, while elements on the other end of the list release energy when you split them.

  38. • “The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.”- Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation

    • “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”- Prof Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University

    • “The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.”
      At the time, I think it was assumed that free energy would allow more and more massive consumption of natural resources until used up. But they didn’t consider recycling and substitution. For example the wide use of plastics to replace metals and even wood.

      • Not their (Erlich, Rifkin) intention, I think, but Do the Math.

        Except of course we’ll develop the technology to beat the math, because tech, even though driven by math, trumps everything.

    • The project was mentioned, but not those links. The impression I got from the articles last year was that they were designed to pique the interest of investors. The technology seemed to be the leaky magnetic bottle architecture people have been trying to seal for some time.

      I figured the Rossi device had a better chance of going commercial.

      • Rossi’s 1 MW unit is supposedly functional at present and under test at a commercial facility for the rest of this year. The problem, assuming that it is legitimate, is that like Black Light Power, it doesn’t agree with known physics. If either of these come to fruition it’s going to set physics scrambling for a while and I can’t see that rather arrogant community simply handing over the helm to maverick’s like R. Mills or Rossi.

      • You have to assess the probability of any given breakthrough being a real new bit of science that upsets existing science, or pure fraud,

        In the case of most renewable energy, its all been pure fraud. I dont think the probability changes much for cold or alternative fusion.

    • Remember what “they” did to Nikola Tesla. The power of greed has not changed. Remember, electricity rates will necessarily have to increase. The green movement is empowered by those who will keep the poor poorer and the rich richer.

      Remember, “they” destroy power producing dams, rather than construct new.

  39. If you have a big stream of neutrons, you will activate some of what the neutrons hit, and when you turn off your reactor, the radiation will NOT stop. There will be less radiation than fission reactors produce. But the statement that the radiation will stop is not correct.

    • A fission reactor is designed so you can walk in the reactor compartment ten days after shutdown. With a well designed fusion machine it would be less to much less.

  40. BFL.. The problem with taking all the good ideas and combining them for the “ultimate solution” is that you end up with ALL the problems and short falls combined as well. … A lot like averaging climate models….

    ..see what I did there ….

    • @Kirkc:
      The difference is that this is a reputable company known for getting results (not that past successes guarantee future promises as they like to say in stock pitch fine print) and is a private company that is not addicted to government grants. And the grant side may be why the big fusion plants never get anywhere as I’ve seen reports of cases that when there is a review then they dump tritium into the system to improve efficiency to encourage more taxpayer investment.
      The ITER, for example, will cost an estimated $50 billion and when complete will measure around 100 ft. high and weigh 23,000 tons.
      The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets within the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the chamber. “So for us, instead of a bike tire expanding into air, we have something more like a tube that expands into an ever-stronger wall,” McGuire says. The system is therefore regulated by a self-tuning feedback mechanism, whereby the farther out the plasma goes, the stronger the magnetic field pushes back to contain it. The CFR is expected to have a beta limit ratio of one. “We should be able to go to 100% or beyond,” he adds.
      This crucial difference means that for the same size, the CFR generates more power than a tokamak by a factor of 10. This in turn means, for the same power output, the CFR can be 10 times smaller. The change in scale is a game-changer in terms of producibility and cost, explains McGuire. “It’s one of the reasons we think it is feasible for development and future economics,” he says. “Ten times smaller is the key. But on the physics side, it still has to work, and one of the reasons we think our physics will work is that we’ve been able to make an inherently stable configuration.” One of the main reasons for this stability is the positioning of the superconductor coils and shape of the magnetic field lines. “In our case, it is always in balance. So if you have less pressure, the plasma will be smaller and will always sit in this magnetic well,” he notes.
      Overall, McGuire says the Lockheed design “takes the good parts of a lot of designs.” It includes the high-beta configuration, the use of magnetic field lines arranged into linear ring “cusps” to confine the plasma and “the engineering simplicity of an axisymmetric mirror,” he says. The “axisymmetric mirror” is created by positioning zones of high magnetic field near each end of the vessel so that they reflect a significant fraction of plasma particles escaping along the axis of the CFR. “We also have a recirculation that is very similar to a Polywell concept,” he adds, referring to another promising avenue of fusion power research. A Polywell fusion reactor uses electromagnets to generate a magnetic field that traps electrons, creating a negative voltage, which then attracts positive ions. The resulting acceleration of the ions toward the negative center results in a collision and fusion.
      The team acknowledges that the project is in its earliest stages, and many key challenges remain before a viable prototype can be built. However, McGuire expects swift progress. The Skunk Works mind-set and “the pace that people work at here is ridiculously fast,” he says. “We would like to get to a prototype in five generations. If we can meet our plan of doing a design-build-test generation every year, that will put us at about five years, and we’ve already shown we can do that in the lab.” The prototype would demonstrate ignition conditions and the ability to run for upward of 10 sec. in a steady state after the injectors, which will be used to ignite the plasma, are turned off. “So it wouldn’t be at full power, like a working concept reactor, but basically just showing that all the physics works,” McGuire says.
      An initial production version could follow five years after that. “That will be a much bigger effort,” he says, suggesting that transition to full-scale manufacturing will necessarily involve materials and heat-transfer specialists as well as gas-turbine makers. The early reactors will be designed to generate around 100 MW and fit into transportable units measuring 23 X 43 ft. “That’s the size we are thinking of now. You could put it on a semi-trailer, similar to a small gas turbine, put it on a pad, hook it up and can be running in a few weeks,” McGuire says. The concept makes use of the existing power infrastructures to enable the CFR to be easily adapted into the current grid. The 100-MW unit would provide sufficient power for up to 80,000 homes in a power-hungry U.S. city and is also “enough to run a ship,” he notes.
      Lockheed estimates that less than 25 kg (55 lb.) of fuel would be required to run an entire year of operations. The fuel itself is also plentiful. Deuterium is produced from sea water and is therefore considered unlimited, while tritium is “bred” from lithium. “We already mine enough lithium to supply a worldwide fleet of reactors, so with tritium you never have too much built up, and that’s what keeps it safe. Tritium would be a health risk if there were enough released, but it is safe enough in small quantities. You don’t need very much to run a reactor because it is a million times more powerful than a chemical reaction,” McGuire notes.
      Although the first-generation reactors will have radioactive parts at the ends of their lives, such as some steel elements in the shell, McGuire says the contamination situation “is an order of magnitude better” than that of contemporary fission systems. “There is no long-lived radiation. Fission reactors’ stuff will be there forever, but with fusion materials, after 100 years then you are good.” Contamination levels for fusion will improve with additional materials research, he believes. “It’s been a chicken-and-egg situation. Until we’ve had a good working fusion system, there has not been money to go off and do the hard-core materials research,” McGuire says. “So we believe the first generation is good enough to go out and do, and then it will only improve in time.” Old CFR steel shell parts can be disposed of with “a shallow burial in the desert, similar to medical waste today. That’s a major difference to today’s fission systems.”
      Operational benefits include no risks of suffering a meltdown. “There is a very minimal amount of radioactive tritium—it’s on the order of grams—so the potential release is very minimal. In addition, there is not enough to be a risk of proliferation. Tritium is used in nuclear weapons but in a much larger inventory than would be involved here, and that’s because you are continually making just enough to feed back in [to maintain the reaction],” he adds.
      Preliminary simulations and experimental results “have been very promising and positive,” McGuire says. “The latest is a magnetized ion confinement experiment, and preliminary measurements show the behavior looks like it is working correctly. We are starting with the plasma confinement, and that’s where we are putting most of our effort. One of the reasons we are becoming more vocal with our project is that we are building up our team as we start to tackle the other big problems. We need help and we want other people involved. It’s a global enterprise, and we are happy to be leaders in it.

      • The CFR has the problem of leaky end cusps. It will be interesting to see if they can reduce the leakage enough to be practical. In the Polywell machine leakage is a small problem because the particle beams can re-enter the system. That keeps the energy cost of “lost” particles low. The Wiffle Ball sealing keeps the number of particles escaping low. too. Electrons are naturally recycled by the positive charged grid. They tend to haul the heavier particles wit them.

  41. If Bill Gates had any sense he’d fund Polywell for a demonstration reactor. Good to see M.Simon defending Polywell here. As I understand it the work so far has not found any show stoppers. Like Doc Bussard, I too am a spaceflight enthusiast. Get on with it!

  42. Alas, I think the problem here is the PRESUMPTION that stellar bodies obtain their energy from “nuclear fusion”. Rather than a central core, which acts as a melange of “super heavy nuclei”, allowing dropping into deep potential energy wells, and conversion of matter to antimatter, with subsequent annihilation to yield pure E=mc^2 energy.

    See this work:

    Now compare the overall ability to model “many body nuclear” systems (I.e., the elements as they go UP from Helium and above..with the ability to model SPD orbitals and the “electron clouds” around atoms and molecules. The electronic modeling of atoms and molecules is QUITE advanced, and totally understood. The modeling of the many body problem, has something like 15 competing “theories” right now, none of which are comprehensive, and give no ability to “predict” interactions such as observed in the Scribd cited above. Thus, the reason a successful “fusion” reactor has not been developed, may be because stellar energies DO NOT COME FROM FUSION REACTIONS!

    • “may be because stellar energies DO NOT COME FROM FUSION REACTIONS!”

      Then how are all the upper elements made from Hydrogen if not by successive fusion reactions???

  43. I too am a spaceflight enthusiast.

    But the only viable energy form we have ever created is heating H2O.

    All else is speculation.

  44. From the article:
    “He (Krall) acknowledged that EMC2 Fusion hasn’t yet determined whether or not a working Polywell fusion reactor is feasible”

    Krall is a plasma physicist and adviser to EMC2 Fusion. I think ITER is ahead of the game. Krall et al have yet to build a working fusion reactor, much less a reactor that produces more energy than its input. If they have a superior design, they can get funding to build an experimental reactor from private investors like Bill Gates, Google, Richard Branson, or research institutions like MIT, Caltech. When there is lack of funding, it is often because investors are not convinced.

    • And ITER’s working reactor is located at? And the papers proving it works are? Krall has not given up on Polywell. I assume he would do that if there was a show stopper.

      It is not convincing investors need. It is a good deal.

      • ITER is building a Tokamak reactor, a design that has been in operations since 1960s. While Krall is still dreaming, no shortage of funding for Tokamak reactors. Below are the Tokamak reactors.

        Currently in operation:

        1960s: TM1-MH (since 1977 Castor; since 2007 Golem) in Prague, Czech Republic. In operation in Kurchatov Institute since early 1960s but renamed to Castor in 1977 and moved to IPP CAS, Prague; in 2007 moved to FNSPE, Czech Technical University in Prague and renamed to Golem.
        1975: T-10, in Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, Russia (formerly Soviet Union); 2 MW
        1983: Joint European Torus (JET), in Culham, United Kingdom
        1983: Novillo Tokamak, at the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Nucleares,in Mexico City, Mexico
        1985: JT-60, in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan; (Currently undergoing upgrade to Super, Advanced model)
        1987: STOR-M, University of Saskatchewan; Canada; first demonstration of alternating current in a tokamak.
        1988: Tore Supra at the CEA, Cadarache, France
        1989: Aditya, at Institute for Plasma Research (IPR) in Gujarat, India
        1980s: DIII-D, in San Diego, USA; operated by General Atomics since the late 1980s
        1989: COMPASS, in Prague, Czech Republic; in operation since 2008, previously operated from 1989 to 1999 in Culham, United Kingdom
        1990: FTU, in Frascati, Italy
        1991: Tokamak ISTTOK, at the Instituto de Plasmas e Fusão Nuclear, Lisbon, Portugal;
        1991: ASDEX Upgrade, in Garching, Germany
        1992: H-1NF (H-1 National Plasma Fusion Research Facility) based on the H-1 Heliac device built by Australia National University’s plasma physics group and in operation since 1992
        1992: Alcator C-Mod, MIT, Cambridge, USA
        1992: Tokamak à configuration variable (TCV), at the EPFL, Switzerland
        1994: TCABR, at the University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil; this tokamak was transferred from Centre des Recherches en Physique des Plasmas in Switzerland
        1995: HT-7, in Hefei, China
        1999: MAST, in Culham, United Kingdom
        1999: NSTX in Princeton, New Jersey
        1999: Globus-M in Ioffe Institute,Saint Petersburg, Russia
        1990s: Pegasus Toroidal Experiment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; in operation since the late 1990s
        2002: HL-2A, in Chengdu, China
        2006: EAST (HT-7U), in Hefei, China
        2008: KSTAR, in Daejon, South Korea
        2010: JT-60SA, in Naka, Japan; upgraded from the JT-60.
        2012: SST-1, in Gandhinagar, India; the Institute for Plasma Research reports 1000 seconds operation.
        2012: IR-T1, Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch, Tehran, Iran
        2012: ST25 at Tokamak Energy at Culham, Oxfordshire, UK (now at Milton Park)
        2014: ST25 (HTS) the first tokamak to have all magnetic fields formed from high temperature superconducting magnets, at Tokamak Energy based in Oxfordshire, UK

        Previously operated:

        1960s: T-3 and T-4, in Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, Russia (formerly Soviet Union); T-4 in operation in 1968.
        1963: LT-1, Australia National University’s plasma physics group built the first tokamak outside of Soviet Union c. 1963
        1971-1980: Texas Turbulent Tokamak, University of Texas at Austin, USA
        1973-1976: Tokamak de Fontenay aux Roses (TFR), near Paris, France
        1973-1979: Alcator A, MIT, USA
        1978-1987: Alcator C, MIT, USA
        1978-2013: TEXTOR, in Jülich, Germany
        1979-1998: MT-1 Tokamak, Budapest, Hungary (Built at the Kurchatov Institute, Russia, transported to Hungary in 1979, rebuilt as MT-1M in 1991)
        1980-2004: TEXT/TEXT-U, University of Texas at Austin, USA
        1982-1997: TFTR, Princeton University, USA
        1987-1999: Tokamak de Varennes; Varennes, Canada; operated by Hydro-Québec and used by researchers from Institut de recherche en électricité du Québec (IREQ) and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS)
        1988-2005: T-15, in Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, Russia (formerly Soviet Union); 10 MW
        1991-1998: START in Culham, United Kingdom
        1990s-2001: COMPASS, in Culham, United Kingdom
        1994-2001: HL-1M Tokamak, in Chengdu, China
        1999-2005: UCLA Electric Tokamak, in Los Angeles, USA

      • Well there is actually no proof that a tok can generate net energy. By prro paper I meant a paper write of of a net energy experiment. BTW a tok big enough to economically generate energy is too big. You get too many GW. Too many steam plants. Good for base load. And not much else if even that. Power companies like 100 MW units that can be throttled economically. You can put the plants near the loads. That lowers transmission losses. Transmission is 1/2 your electric bill for a home owner. The cost of transmission goes way up with a 10 GWe plant.

      • Vincent Page of GE covered the desirable qualities of a fusion reactor:

        Fusion reactors must be sized reasonably.

        Current cost estimates for the ITER project are approximately $6 billion.

        GE’s present quarterly earnings are “only” $4 billion.

        We don’t want governments to build fusion reactors, we want private industry to build them.

        Designs need to be feasible with power output in the 15 MWe to 1500 MWe range and cost < $6700 per KWe.

        (MWe = MW electrical, KWe = KW electrical)

        More expensive machines will not be commercially viable.

        Competition will only occur if private industry is involved.

      • I guess you’re not an engineer in the power industry. Papers “proving” technical feasibility are a dime a dozen. The only way to actually prove it is to build a reactor. 100 MW is less economical than 1,000 MW for the same technology. Transmission cost is a function of distance not the capacity of the plant.

        ITER $6 billion cost is small. That’s a 1,500 MW nuclear plant. The 1970s Chernobyl plant was 4,000 MW. Your $6700 per KWe is expensive. Solar PV is less than $4000 per KWe. Natural gas plant is less than $1000 per KWe.

        Tell your private industry friends to invest in fusion instead of complaining in blogs.

  45. Too many comments here for me to have read them all, but it seems all the fantasized “future power” speculations still require a boiler and turbine, effectively eliminating them from consideration as ‘domestic’ sources of electricity. You don’t want a steam turbine in your basement.
    A real breakthrough will be one that produces electricity directly, without heat.

    • No, that’s not true. Polywell and especially Focus fusion derives electricity straight from the apparatus. In the case of the focus fusion, you can think of it as like a particle accelerator in reverse. Electricity is sent along a cathode at extremely high voltage until it gets to the end where the plasma collapses within an atmosphere of boron and hydrogen forcing them to fuse. This creates a burst of energy which sends energy back down the cathode where it is collected and sent to capacitors. Some of that collected energy is sent back to the cathode and some of it is drawn to be distributed.

      But they still won’t be in our basements. It would still be too expensive – there is a critical size these devices need to be in order to produce net power. Too large and they would burn up, too small and they won’t produce more energy than they require. with the Polywell, the ideal size about 3m sq, but it would produce enough energy for a town. Likewise the fusor, you would be looking to produce energy for about 5000 homes. What’s great about them is that designs are relatively simple and economic and presumably will slot nicely into existing infrastructure.

      • Yes that is the one I was referring to. IMO the focus fusion project is the one closest to commercial feasibility. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the polywell isn’t a contender, but their problems seem a little more difficult to overcome.

  46. We ought really hear more from “The Polywell Guy” than the few links he posted. This whole area is incredibly interesting and exciting.

    – This article presumes that the development of the wiffle-ball design has stopped, but to my knowledge it is still continuing.
    – Bussard originally developed the concept as a form of highly efficient rocket propulsion for interplanetary flight.
    – As someone pointed out earlier, one of his earliest projects was the “Ramjet”. He comes from a propulsion background.
    – The US Navy funded him on a shoestring so that the IEA wouldn’t notice and complain that “they were the ones doing fusion, we should get all the funding”.
    – The reason you don’t know much about the Polywell development is because it was developed by the US Navy in secret. The potential for a safer form of submarine propulsion than conventional nuclear was what attracted them.
    – Another reason for its slowed development is that it initially showed so much promise that it was felt it was worth developing a boron-hydrogen fuelled version as that would be aneutronic. WB-8 is still being developed in secret but what we know is that results have been good and funding is continuing.
    – There are problems with the Polywell design such as thermalization from “brehmstrahlung”. Bussard considered these problems to be non-trivial but solvable.
    – He also considered it not to be worth going to a middle stage in design, it was worth going straight to full scale. Because of the scale of the power output, that put the limit of the size of a polywell reactor at about 3m sq. (1.5m is the minimum size to break even)
    – At that size, roughly the size of a jet engine, it would produce roughly a little more net energy as a jet engine. About 95 – 100 MW. Enough for a small town.

    The Polywell is not the only game in town. Sarastro92 posted a link to the focus fusion project. IMO I think this project is the closest to getting usable and commercially running fusion. The disadvantages with it is that it is not as efficient as the polywell design (my understanding), and it will have parts that will wear out – specifically the rod along which the plasma pinch travels. By not as efficient, the proposed net power gained is less in relation to the power input. Also, you have to ‘re-fuel’ it every so often and I think that would be a non-trivial exercise. Never-the-less, it’s also quite a small and relatively cheap design – or so it seems to me, and would fit easily into existing infrastructure.

  47. IIRC Doc Bussard said during his Google Tech talk that “we’ve spent $16 billion on Tokamaks and found they won’t work”.

    No Slywolfe, p-B11fusion done right with direct conversion is essentially a couple of million volt DC power supply. No turbines, no steam.

    C’mon people, look up the Google Tech Talk and watch. A great 90 minutes entertainment and you’ll learn enough not to post commnets which are wrong or miss the point on this topic.

    I’m off to watch Park on Microsoft.

  48. Sounds like wishful thinking to me.

    And aren’t we on this blog allergic to articles with the words “claimed”, “could” and “might”?

    • Check out the literature on this. Electrostatic confinement has been around since the invention of the TV. But there are a number of reasons why it hasn’t been explored properly earlier, some of which are outlined by Bussard himself.

      One of the reasons is that the kind of physics involved isn’t “sexy”. You’re a young physicist, and every one is interested in Higgs Bosons, quantum mechanics, and black holes and things. This is pretty arcane physics, advanced high school level, but involving really tricky engineering solutions.

      Another reason is that all the focus on fusion (pardon the pun) has been in plasma confinement such as JET or ITER. It seems the more expensive the project, the more likely it is to get funding, and indirectly proportional to its likelihood of ever being commercially viable.

      Another reason is that, just throwing money at the problems don’t make them go away. There are engineering challenges that need to be solved but it requires understanding of fields and energies way beyond anything that has been studied. So the science has and understanding has to be there first. You need the right people, performing the right experiments, and building that understanding. That simply takes the time it takes.

      • Another reason is that this is vacuum tube physics. And everyone knows vacuum tubes are obsolete. I was fortunate to grow up at the end of the vacuum tube era. “Space charge” is an old friend. No one studies that stuff any more. So when does a person get into tubes these days? When they get a job that requires it. As you point out there is not much primary interest.

  49. In the deep oceans you can find temperatures that will melt glass, and 100c minus without freezing the water, all the energy we need is down there, where are those research $ ?

  50. Here is a nice intro to the Focus Fusion project by the head scientist of the project. It explains where they’re at, some of the problems they have, and why it’s a particularly interesting approach.

  51. Problems Problems!
    It may be that we find desktop fusion somehow or another in the short or longer time frame, but what we know at present isn’t all that great. If one looks at the Sun and the fusion going on there, super high pressures and 10 – 15 million K temperatures, achieving those conditions without having gravity from something the size of the Sun are going to be really difficult. Granted that the sheer force of gravity is far weaker than that of the electrostatic field by around 10^38, but other things are happening such as the trapping of the energy produced. THE kicker though is that even with these conditions, the rate of conversion in the core is around 0.2mW/kg. Put another way, heating up hydrogen to 10million K will mean that the energy produced will be a small fraction of a milliWatt in a kg of material. you’ll need many thousands of kg of hydrogen this hot and dense to have enough power to light a single light bulb. Granted it would run for 10 billion years but to get greater power yields, one has to go to much higher temperatures.

  52. OK, conspiracy theory time.

    Bussard’s reactor really did work. The US Government knows all about it, along with most of it’s allies. The entire global warming scam is a huge piece of misdirection designed to keep the public from finding out, because,

    a) They’re afraid of the economic chaos the sudden appearance of virtually free energy would entail,


    b) They’re afraid of the boost that it would give to individual freedom, particularly since a Bussard fusion reactor is something you could keep in your garage,


    c) They know that true prosperity would render them utterly irrelevant,


    d) All of the above.

  53. Whatever we use to build a controlled nuclear fusion reactor would automatically be useful as a defense against H-bombs.

  54. The personal computer gave us so much freedom and prosperity, now all we need is a personal power unit in every house.

  55. I was very excited when I first heard of the Polywell concept. It made so much more sense than the huge ITER, which even if it breaks even will never be cost effective. I believe our energy future lies with fusion both hot and cold. Hot fusion in the form of the polywell or dense plasma focus will have it’s place along with cold fusion(LENR). I see far too many rejecting these approachs because some so-called expert used the word impossible. Many of these so-called experts have a vested interest in the current centralized control of
    our sources of energy. Time for a change!! Be willing to question the word impossible.

  56. Several years ago Analog did a science fact article on Bussard’s work and it amounts to finding a way to construct the magnets in such a way that there were no cracks for the gas being compressed to leak out. The question still remains about how much compression can be achieved but with Bussard’s design there won’t be a pinhole leak.

    • My friend Tom Ligon wrote that. He was Dr. Bussard’s EE for a few years. I have given him a heads up. But he spends a lot of time in the woods these days so no telling when he will show up.

  57. Guys, consider the following…the predominate “atom” in the universe is HYDROGEN. Or a single proton.

    The solar wind is HYDROGEN NUCLEI.

    Whence comes all the DEUTERIUM which is what they are fixed on, because H+H+H+H fusion is nigh onto impossible, even at the center (alledged) of the sun.

    Could it be, barking up the wrong tree? I.e. the sun is NOT a fusion reactor? Let’s say, at the core, the pressures are great enough..and the conditions that a composite, “super heavy nuclei is formed”. See the work of Walter Grinier on neutron stars and “islands of nuclear stability”.

Comments are closed.