Fusion Scientists See Progress as Obama Shows No Ardor
Bishop is a fusion evangelist. He has devoted six years to this corner of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wielding a laser that delivers 1,000 times more energy than the U.S. electrical grid at any instant in time. If the laser can spark atoms to fuse in a self-sustaining reaction known as ignition -- the equivalent of a laboratory-scale microbomb -- scientists may be on their way to rewarding the planet with unlimited and nonpolluting energy, Bishop says.
"Fusion is a rich source of power," he says.
Edward Teller, father of the fusion-powered hydrogen bomb, would agree. When he co-founded Livermore in 1952 for weapons research, he also sought a peacetime perk: abundant electricity. Scientists say fusion could provide the foundation for both. It seeks to combine deuterium and tritium, two variants of hydrogen, to form the heavier element helium. As the atoms fuse, a small portion of hydrogen is converted to energy, as Albert Einstein's famous E=mc2 formula predicted.
Edward Moses, the principal associate director for the NIF and Photon Science Directorate, wants to harness that energy for practical uses. He says Livermore could join with private companies to build an electricity-producing fusion power plant eight to 12 years after the NIF achieves ignition.
Moses, 63, wants to raise $1.5 billion, partially from utilities and suppliers, to get commercial fusion technology ready. In a possible prototype, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PCG) and others agreed in December to pay the Livermore lab $150 million to use its supercomputers for improving California's electricity grid. Wealthy individuals may contribute, and some have expressed interest, Moses says, declining to name them.
Detractors say cost estimates are meaningless because they involve technologies not yet invented.
David Fuller's view Nuclear fusion is the Holy Grail of clean, self-sufficient, and unlimited energy. I have been hearing about it my whole life.
As a young teenager in the 1950s, I can remember the excitement when Edward Teller addressed a school that I attended. He talked about nuclear fusion for energy rather than weapons. As I recall, he said that it might be attainable within 35 years. Needless to say, this did not happen, partly because of a lack of funding, not least because of cheap oil.
That target date stayed in my head, and apparently the memories of many other people. I have tried to follow the very limited progress on fusion energy ever since. Its achievable, commercial potential always seemed to be 35 years away, until perhaps today.
The biggest problem, in addition to scientific complexity, was the lack of 'needs must' motivation. This is slowly changing, for obvious reasons ranging from energy security to reducing energy pollution. We may not need the equivalent of another Manhattan Project for fusion energy but I hope to see at least successful fusion ignition within my lifetime.
Meanwhile, the two most important drivers for the next secular bull market for equities, which Fullermoney projects could be apparent before the end of this decade, are: 1) the accelerated rate of technological innovation; 2) cheaper energy in real (inflation adjusted) terms.