Can Fusion Energy Save Us?

Fusion results when two positively charged hydrogen atoms are smashed together to form helium.

Well, maybe, someday. What is fusion energy? Fusion results when two positively charged hydrogen atoms are smashed together to form helium and a heck of a lot of energy. This is what happens inside stars. Stars use their gravity to compress and thus heat hydrogen. So, how do we build a star? Enter the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics and it’s collaboration with the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. In August 2021, for the first time, the latter was able to produce more fusion energy than the electrical power needed to generate it. They did this using intersecting laser beams to heat hydrogen atoms (using deuterium and/or tritium) to 150,000,000°F (this process has to be contained in magnetic fields since no metals can withstand these temperatures—much like the storage of anti-matter that “propels the star-ship Enterprise”).

The lightest element produces the biggest bang.

Up until recently the only way to generate this much heat was by setting off an atomic (i.e., fission) bomb which then unleashes the far greater energies of fusion (i.e., a hydrogen bomb blast). As you know, this type of energy release wouldn’t work very well for producing electrical power. And unlike fission that produces radioactive waste with half-lives of 200,000+ years, there are no radioactive by-products or chemical pollutants from fusion—just helium that is in short supply on Earth. Water is the primary source of hydrogen atoms so there is little chance of national conflicts or black marketing of fuel supplies.

But just as renewable energy is decades away from matching fossil fuel energy’s output, fusion energy is likely decades away from being practically and commercially viable. Thus, in the meantime we’re stuck with our existential decision about whether to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels to net zero by 2040 and implement renewable energy and carbon capture, or just continue as we are. The former means a huge hit for global gross national production, the latter, well, maybe human extinction. If we decide the former, NOW is the time.

Author: Stephen Fielding Images

I'm a retired medical sociologist from the University of Rochester. Climate change is one of the two great challenges facing humanity (the other is nuclear weapons). In writing about the impact of climate change I read reputable books and articles on the topic. So when I make statements about climate change you will see a link taking you to the scientific source(s) of the information I provide. As for my independently published photobooks, each has gone through several layers of editing and peer review for both readability and accuracy. This is not to say that everything I say is accurate. Even the New York Times makes mistakes. So, if you find something that is factually incorrect, let me know. I hope you find reading my blog a positive experience. If you do, please encourage your family and friends to have a look. You can find photos from my other photo work by clicking on the My SmugMug Gallery tab, above. Best wishes, -Steve

One thought on “Can Fusion Energy Save Us?”

  1. Hi Uncle,

    How do I get a password to read the article? Thanks! I’m interested in your thoughts on this one so looking forward to reading it!


    Sent from my iPhone



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