Why Nuclear Fusion Is Always 30 Years Away

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 23, 2016 11:50 am

The Joint European Torus tokamak generator, as seen from the inside. (Credit: EUROfusion)

Nuclear fusion has long been considered the “holy grail” of energy research. It represents a nearly limitless source of energy that is clean, safe and self-sustaining. Ever since its existence was first theorized in the 1920s by English physicist Arthur Eddington, nuclear fusion has captured the imaginations of scientists and science-fiction writers alike.

Fusion, at its core, is a simple concept. Take two hydrogen isotopes and smash them together with overwhelming force. The two atoms overcome their natural repulsion and fuse, yielding a reaction that produces an enormous amount of energy.

But a big payoff requires an equally large investment, and for decades we have wrestled with the problem of energizing and holding on to the hydrogen fuel as it reaches temperatures in excess of 150 million degrees Fahrenheit. To date, the most successful fusion experiments have succeeded in heating plasma to over 900 million degrees Fahrenheit, and held onto a plasma for three and a half minutes, although not at the same time, and with different reactors.

The most recent advancements have come from Germany, where the Wendelstein 7-X reactor recently came online with a successful test run reaching almost 180 million degrees, and China, where the EAST reactor sustained a fusion plasma for 102 seconds, although at lower temperatures.

Still, even with these steps forward, researchers have said for decades that we’re still 30 years away from a working fusion reactor. Even as scientists take steps toward their holy grail, it becomes ever more clear that we don’t even yet know what we don’t know.


The first plasma achieved with hydrogen at the Wendelstein 7-X reactor. Temperatures in the reactor were in excess of 170 million degrees Fahrenheit. (Credit: IPP)

For Every Answer, More Questions

The Wendelstein 7-X and EAST reactor experiments were dubbed “breakthroughs,” which is an adjective commonly applied to fusion experiments. Exciting as these examples may be, when considered within the scale of the problem, they are only baby steps. It is clear that it will take more than one, or a dozen, such “breakthroughs” to achieve fusion.

“I don’t think we’re at that place where we know what we need to do in order to get over the threshold,” says Mark Herrmann, director of the National Ignition Facility in California. “We’re still learning what the science is. We may have eliminated some perturbations, but if we eliminate those, is there another thing hiding behind them? And there almost certainly is, and we don’t know how hard that will be to tackle.”

We will almost certainly get a better perspective on the unknown problems facing fusion sometime in the next decade when an internationally-backed reactor, intended to be the largest in the world, comes to fruition. Called ITER, the facility would combine all we have learned about fusion into one reactor.

It represents our current best hope for reliably reaching the break-even point, or the critical temperature and density where fusion reactions produce more power than is used to create them. At the break-even point, the energy given off when two atoms fuse is enough to cause other atoms to fuse together, creating a self-sustaining cycle, making a fusion power plant possible.

Perhaps inevitably, however, ITER has fallen prey to setbacks and design disputes that have slowed construction. The U.S. has even threatened to cut its funding for the project. It is these sorts of budgetary and policy hesitations that could ensure we continue saying fusion is 30 years away, for the next three decades.

In the face of more immediate challenges, from health epidemics to terrorism, securing funding for a scientific long bet is a hard sell. A decades-long series of “breakthroughs” that lead only to more challenges, compounded by pervasive setbacks, have diluted the fantastic promise of a working fusion reactor.

What Exactly Is Fusion?

Reliably reaching the break-even point is a twofold problem: getting the reaction started and keeping it going. In order to generate power from a fusion reaction, you must first inject it with sufficient energy to catalyze nuclear fusion at a meaningful rate. Once you have crossed this line, the burning plasma must then be contained securely lest it become unstable, causing the reaction to fizzle.

To solve the issue of containment, most devices use powerful magnetic fields to suspend the plasma in midair to prevent the scorching temperatures from melting the reactor walls. Looking something like a giant doughnut, these “magnetic containment devices” house a ring of plasma bound by magnetism where fusion will begin to occur if a high enough temperature is achieved. Russian physicists first proposed the design in the 1950s, although it would be decades before they actually achieved fusion with them.


A magnetic confinement fusion device, the Wendelstein 7-X, under construction. (Credit: IPP)

To create a truly stable plasma with such a device, two magnetic fields are required: one that wraps around the plasma and one that follows it in the direction of the ring. There are currently two types of magnetic confinement devices in use: the tokamak and the stellarator.

The differences between the two are relatively small, but they could be instrumental in determining their future success. The main disparity in their design arises from how they generate the poloidal magnetic field — the one that wraps around the plasma. Tokamaks generate the field by running a current through the plasma itself, while stellarators use magnets on the outside of the device to create a helix-shaped field that wraps around the plasma.

According to Hutch Neilson of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, stellarators are considered more stable overall, but are more difficult to build and suffer from a lack of research. Tokamaks, on the other hand, are much better understood and easier to build, although they have some inherent instability issues.

At the moment, there is no clear winner in the race between the two, as neither appears to be close to the “holy grail.” So, due to lack of a victor, researchers are building both.

“There is a lack of a solution at this time, so looking at two very realistic and promising configurations for closing that gap is the responsible thing to do,” says Neilson.


One of five sections that comprise the outer vessel of Wendelstein 7-X, photographed during production. (Credit: Wolfgang Filser/IPP)

Currently, the largest fusion reactor in the world is the Joint European Torus (JET), a tokamak based in England and supported by the European Union. JET was commissioned in the 1970s and first came online in 1983 and successfully produced plasma, the first step in achieving fusion.

With a series of upgrades beginning in the late 1980s, JET became the world’s largest fusion generator, and currently holds the record for the most energy produced in a fusion reaction at 16 megawatts. Even so, it has not yet reached the break-even point.

ITER Offers a Way

To reach this all-important milestone, we will likely have to wait for ITER. Latin for “the way,” ITER will be the largest and most powerful fusion generator in the world, and is expected to to cross the break-even point. ITER is projected to produce 500 MW of power with an input of 50 MW, and be able to hold plasma for half an hour or more. That’s enough energy to power roughly 50,000 households.

Based on the tokamak design, the project is the result of a collaboration between the European Union and six other countries, including the U.S., that have pooled resources and expertise to build a reactor that is expected to be the gateway to useable fusion energy.


One of the cables used to create the toroidal magnetic field within ITER. (Credit: ITER Organization)

One of the main issues facing current generators is one of size, says Duarte Borba, a researcher at EUROfusion, and ITER will attempt to overcome this shortfall. As reactors get larger, they become more stable and can achieve higher temperatures, the two key factors in creating fusion.

ITER is meant to be the successor to JET, and will take the technology developed there and apply it on a much larger scale. This includes JET’s tungsten and beryllium divertors, which capture energy in the reactor, as well as the capability to fully control the system remotely. ITER will also use superconducting magnets to create its magnetic field, as opposed to ones made of copper, according to Borba.

Such magnets will reduce the amount of energy consumed by the device and will allow for longer, more sustained plasma production. JET can currently only produce plasma in bursts, as it cannot sustain the high levels of energy use for very long.

Collaboration Is Key

The most important development made by JET and implemented with ITER may not even be scientific, but rather bureaucratic in nature, says Borba. As a project supported by multiple nations, JET forged the path for organizing and implementing a large-scale, decades-long project.

With a projected price tag of $15 billion and a daunting shopping list of complex components, ITER could only exist today as a collaborative effort. Each of the member nations contributes researchers and components, with the hope that the potential benefits will be shared by all.


An illustration showing which countries are responsible for manufacturing various parts of the ITER reactor. (Credit: ITER Organization)

However, the democratic nature of ITER has significantly slowed down its construction. The goal is to have all of the parts arrive at the same time, but allocating each part to a different country brings in political and economic variables that throw the timing off. When ITER first received formal approval in 2006, it was slated to first achieve fusion in 2016, a date which has since been pushed back at least 10 years. Issues with component construction and design disagreements have been blamed for the delays.

A Worldwide Effort

To achieve a fusion power plant capable of addressing our energy needs, ITER alone is still not enough, according to Neilson. Even though it represents a significant advancement in reactor design, ITER isn’t the end game for fusion research.

If everything goes to plan, ITER will pave the way for another reactor, called DEMO, which will expand the technologies perfected by ITER to an industrial scale, and hopefully prove that nuclear fusion is a viable source of energy.

In the meantime, the new crop of fusion reactors appearing around the world will continue to play crucial roles in the chase for fusion. Far from being redundant, their supplemental research will attack the problem from different angles.

While ITER addresses the issue of scale, fusion projects in Asia are attempting to hold on to plasmas for longer and longer as they probe the benefits of superconducting magnets, Neilson said. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Wendelstein 7-X is pushing the boundaries of the stellarator design, possibly sidestepping issues of stability entirely. Nuclear fusion research has been a mild success in terms of international cooperation, with a growing number of countries determined to contribute their own piece of the puzzle.

Today, there are nuclear fusion experiments operating in the U.S., Germany, United Kingdom, India, France, Japan and several other countries. More reactors are being planned or are currently under construction. Even with the surge of interest, it’s still not enough, says Neilson.

“For a problem as dense and challenging as fusion, you want to have many more experiments trying out different parts of the problem than we actually have,” says Neilson.

More Than a Scientific Problem

Ultimately, the question may be one of funding. Multiple sources said they were confident that their research could progress faster if they received more support. Funding challenges certainly aren’t new in scientific research, but nuclear fusion is particularly difficult due to its near-generational timescale. Although the potential benefits are apparent, and would indeed address issues of energy scarcity and environmental change that are relevant today, the day when we see a payoff from fusion research is still far in the future.

Our desire for an immediate return on our investments dampens our enthusiasm for fusion research, says Laban Coblentz, the head of Communication at ITER.

“We want our football coaches to perform in two years or they’re out, our politicians have two or four or six years and they’re out — there’s very little time to return on investment,” he said. “So when somebody says we’ll have this ready for you in 10 years, that’s a tough narrative to tell.”

In the U.S., fusion research receives less than $600 million in funding a year, including our contributions to ITER. This is a relatively small sum when compared to the $3 billion the Department of Energy requested for energy research in 2013. Overall, energy research represented 8 percent of the total funding the U.S. gave out for research that year.

“If you look at it in terms of energy budgets, or what’s spent on military development, it’s not really a lot of money that’s going to this,” says Thomas Pedersen, division head at the Max-Planck Institut für Plasmaphysik. “If you compare us to other research projects, it seems very expensive, but if you compare it to what goes into oil production or windmills or subsidies for renewables, its much, much less than that.”


The JET reactor, as seen from above. (Credit: EUROfusion)

Pedersen looks at fusion research in terms of expected inputs and gains. Research into solar and wind power may be relatively cheap, but the payoff pales in comparison to a working nuclear fusion generator.

Always 30 Years Away

However, the finish line has been visible for some time now, a mountaintop that seems to recede with every step forward. It is the path that is obscured, blocked by obstacles that are not only technological, but also political and economic in nature. Coblentz, Neilson and Borba expressed no doubts that fusion is an achievable goal. When we reach it however, may be largely dependent on how much we want it.

Soviet physicist, Lev Artsimovich, the “Father of the Tokamak” may have summed it up best:

“Fusion will be ready when society needs it.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts
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  • jameswmakepeace

    Anyone who is fooled into thinking the enormously expensive ITER project represents anything more than an extreme “long-shot” should remind themselves that it was orignially approved and financed on the basis of some very hollow promises by a bunch of scientists who, although they may be experts in their fields, were very coy with some of the details about just how unlikely it was (and still is) that a tokamak device will be able to harness fusion energy in any meaningful way.
    They were well aware when they gave those hollow promises that some very rash assumptions lay behind their proud words, and these have indeed proved to be true…. ITER, which is after all nothing more than a massively expensive experiment, not a fusion power plant, nor even a demonstrator, has a long history of schedule over-runs, cost over-runs and disastrous management.
    But perhaps what keeps ITER going (and spending a fortune on publicising itself) is the fact that it represents a nice little earner for a number of highly-paid “elite scientists”, whose fortunes will have been made long before the world realsies that it was just another shot in the dark… albeit an obscenely expensive one !
    In short, it is in the interest of the scientists who lead it to keep promising that ITER will eventually deliver… That is the only way they will keep their jobs … and their reputations.

    • Shallots

      Ah, yes. Rather than discuss the challenges faced by the decades of research into a form of energy that’s baffling we’re even able to produce at all, much less any potential way to overcome these challenges, let’s instead craft a wordy ad hominem accusation towards those involved. Clearly we have our priorities straight.

      • jameswmakepeace

        If we had our priorities straight we would not have de-funded laser-driven fusion energy research.

        • OWilson

          Ah, “priorities”.

          The very word strikes terror into the hearts of the research grant seekers with lifetime jobs, searching, but never quite finding, what they tell us will be the Holy Grail, the Secret of Life on Earth, the God Particle that will unite a Theory of Everything or a Doppleganger Earth with Intelligent Life. if we only continue to give them the $billions in investments, without demanding any conclusive results.

          Granted, t’s very hard to argue against any kind of scientific research (knowledge for knowledge sake, potential spin off and all that) but there is a limit to the funding available.

          Choices must be made.

          Scientific feasibility does not mean practical utility, I mean I could build a house powered by a basement full of AA batteries, and shout Eureka! when The Simpsons came on TV.

          There is a lot of energy out there. The question is, at what cost?

          Without the availability of cheap fossil fuels, even solar panels and windmills could not be manufactured, shipped, erected, maintained and replaced and the energy from the collected and transmitted and distributed.

          • Sanjosemike

            I agree with everything you said but one sentence: “Nuclear fusion for energy production is possible on Earth.”

            No, actually it is not.


          • OWilson

            Technically it is, in small measure.

            In the LHC Cern, they are colliding protons at nearly the speed of light. and the energy produced from these collisions (fusion) gives life to all the particles we postulate should be there, including our old friend the Higgs.

            Of course I agree that nuclear fusion is about as efficient as solar panels in the northern hemisphere on a cloudy day.

          • Bob Juniper

            You have not called Thor to try it yet. How do you know? His hammer has enough power.

        • Van Snyder

          Laser-driven fusion energy research hasn’t been de-funded. It has not, however, produced any significant result. A room bigger than Disneyland full of lasers can produce about one shot per week. Copious quantities of neutrons, a little bit of energy, and several interesting subatomic research result papers come out. Then parts of the lasers need to be replaced.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Google, nuclear fusion “X years away”
    13,000 hits, X= 20
    10,900 hits, X= 30
    17,800 hits, X= 40
    10,700 hits, X= 50
    18,800 hits, X= 100
    We need do nothing but patiently wait a century while doing “studies.”

    • Sanjosemike

      Actually, controlled fusion on Earth is impossible. But it is an excellent method to keep scientists and technologists building useless, multi-ton paper weights.

      The money would be much better spent creating methods to process and deliver potable water through 3rd and 4th world countries.


      • Maia

        I totally agree with you alternate plan to bring clean water to those who don’t have! We could do so many things like this, if we only cared more about what really REALLY matters on this planet.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Allow the congenitally inconsequential to die of their own hands, or those of their gods.

      • Bob Juniper

        Thor’s Hammer could provide enough power to do it on earth.

      • Van Snyder

        Delivering clean water requires energy.

  • Dutchie65

    Nonsense, fusion can be here within a decade. Look at EMC2 General Fusion or LPPFusion. All these Initiatives have scientific merits of which LPPFusion is close to scientific validation – they reached high enough temperature and confinement time. They know a path to the pressure requirement, which they hopefully prove later this year. A prototype reactor can be here within two to three years.

    • Sanjosemike

      We’ve heard the same “song” for 30 years.

      Controlled, energy positive fusion is impossible on Earth due to the exceedingly high temperatures and pressures necessary.

      I have no objection to scientists and engineers employed in industry and supporting their families. It would be much easier and less expensive simply to pay the scientists and have them do nothing for it.

      Or, they can do something of value, like researching and putting in place potable water for 3rd and 4th world countries. That would reduce deforestation and reduce pollution. THAT would have value.


  • Maia

    “we don’t even know yet what we don’t know…”. Exactly.

  • http://geoarchitektur.blogspot.de/ enkidu gilgamesh

    Claiming energy surplus by fusion is one of the biggest scams of corrupt science! It is a shame for every scientists!

    Every fusion is energy consuming and part of the energy is bound in the created core. Cracking neutrons gives the energy back.

    The fusion is a energy consuming byproduct. It is a waste of the process, which is fission not fusion.

    Fusion reactors will never produce energy because they consume more energy! They are not real fusion reactors! Its fission!

    • john

      You do understand that fusion is what powers the sun and megaton nuclear bombs don’t you?

      • http://geoarchitektur.blogspot.de/ enkidu gilgamesh

        Sure I know that the SUN is fusing materials. But fusion is the result of high pressure by huge mass. Also here the fusion is a energy consuming process. High pressure energy has to be invested to get this result.

        The fusion is not powering the SUN, it is only a byproduct of pressure. To get the same result, You would need to invest the same pressure energy.

        Also in a SUN by pressure cores are destroyed, mater is turned into energy and some energy is lost (invested) to produce bigger elements.

        • Just call me Joe

          Let me guess, you are 13 years old?

          • Nick

            What if he is?

          • Maia

            No need to resort to insults, is there?

    • Anon

      Fusion power works by merging two hydrogen isotopes, the energy that holds the two SINGLE isotopes together is higher than the amount of energy that holds the single helium atom together at the end, the biproduct of the reaction is the release of energy, significantly more than fission, please go back to GCSE physics.

    • Dutchie65

      Look up: atomic weight of two deuterium atoms and compare that to an helium atom. You will find the weight of the former is more than the latter. With fusion of the deuterium atoms into helium, the difference in weight is converted into energy through E=MC2.

      • http://geoarchitektur.blogspot.de/ enkidu gilgamesh

        As proven here and the former comments, fusion reactors have to work with heavier isotopes, to crack out neutrons and free binding energy. This cracking (fission) is the source of usable energy. Fusion to helium is a energy consuming byproduct, just trash of this process.

    • Maxx Scott

      To understand this the issue is binding energy. The binding energy of one hydrogen atom is greater than the binding energy of the one helium atom. That is where the energy comes from. Its the same as fission, but since we are working with the other end of the periodic table or the chart of the nuclides the split atoms have less binding energy.

  • Dutchie65

    Look up: atomic weight of two deuterium atoms and compare that to an helium atom. You will find the weight of the former is more than the latter. With fusion of the deuterium atoms into helium, the difference in weight is converted into energy through E=MC2

    • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

      1) Nuclear mass not weight.

      2) D + D gives T (1.01 MeV) + p (3.02 MeV), 50%
      D + D gives He-3 (.082 MeV) + n (2.45 MeV), 50%
      It has a large triple product rendering it poor for containment.

      3) D + T gives He-4 (3.5 MeV) + n (14.1 MeV)
      That has the lowest triple product of various chioces. 80% of the energy is in the neutron. Nobody knows what to do with it, including the entire apparatus oozing as its atoms are progressively displaced by collision. A breeder/heat exchanger blanket of tens of tonnes of molten beryllium lithium fluoride eutectic to breed tritium by neutron capture has its own nightmares.

      • Van Snyder

        Some people are betting on P-B11, but that is even more difficult.

  • Mike Richardson

    Well, in the meantime we do have a free fusion power source that’s been burning pretty steadily for over 4 billion years, and will continue to do so for about the same length of time. Solar energy is the main energy source for life on this planet, and if harnessed wisely, could provide for all the energy our civilization would ever need. Billions upon billions have been spent on fossil fuel subsidies for already profitable companies to addict our civilization to polluting nonrenewable energy, when the same amount could already have established orbiting solar stations to supply an endless stream of energy for humanity. At least, that was the hypothesized cost of space solar power back in the 1970s and early 1980s, but with space launch costs now going down, so too would the cost of building such power stations. But if that seems too ambitious for the near term, progress is still being made in reducing the cost and increasing the efficiency of photovoltaics to capture solar power here on earth. Fusion energy is already providing a growing share of power for mankind, courtesy of our home star and human ingenuity.

    • OWilson

      Ah, the Sun, “if harvested wisely”. Who could argue with that? :) And, “all the energy our civilization would ever need”.

      Sign me up, Scotty. :)

      Send in your plans for those orbiting power stations right now. Make sure you get the patents sorted out. Shouldn’t be a problem finding investors, they’ve been looking for this energy holy grail for ever! Maybe Greenpeace would even sell their yacht.

      Then maybe you could get the Russians to put them into orbit for you, like they are doing with out astronauts to the Space Station.

      You gonna be rich!

      Get back to us, ya hear?

      • Mike Richardson

        Yep, truly a well-reasoned and thoughtful response, which also ignored the literally more down-to-earth solar applications I discussed. But I suppose we could lick the boots of the oil and coal companies, singing their praises and ignoring the huge environmental costs they’ve passed down to generations. Apparently that blissful ignorance works for some folks, proudly marching us forward into the early 20th century.

        • OWilson

          Your obtuse naive, smarmy and self evident, politically correct posts need to be questioned from time to time.

          You sound just like your blowhard politicians :)

          But here we talk back :)

          • Shallots

            How is that *remotely* constructive?

            Ohhhh, you’re enjoying this, aren’t you.

          • OWilson


            I have little respect for stalkers and political trolls! :)

            But I did point out a couple of problems with his “hope and change” nonsense “solutions.”, so I remained on topic.

          • Mike Richardson

            So you must not respect yourself very much, as you are the very archetype of the poster you bemoan. Seldom do you enter a discussion without veering it off into some political diatribe, railing against the pursuit of knowledge, or insulting other posters (and quite frequently, the hosts). But we all know it’s only trolling if other folks do it, right? 😉 Not an ounce of self-reflection.

          • OWilson

            Sorry, no trolling for you today!


          • Mike Richardson

            Understood, you’ve met your quota, and will resume in another thread.
            Anyways, back on topic, the sun truly is an amazing thing in the way it so consistently uses basic hydrogen fusion to produce energy in a way we’ve yet to truly duplicate. Hydrogen bombs have used deuterium and more commonly, tritium, but the sun and other stars manage with simple gravity to compress and heat the simplest form of hydrogen to fuse into helium. Now if we had some means of duplicating that kind of force — but then again, that would be requiring more energy input than we could hope to gain. So given the enormity of what humans are attempting to duplicate with fusion reactors, it’s certainly understandable that some would question the amount of funding for this research. It may not pay off in true sustained fusion for more than a lifetime, though we’ll likely see useful spin-off technologies in the meantime. Until then, though, that oldest form of fusion remains in our sky to exploit and benefit mankind.

          • OWilson

            At least you bring out your mop and bucket, once in a while, to clean up your messes.

            And yes, Mikey, the Sun really “is an amazing thing” .

          • Tayvl

            You’re obviously a typically naive Leftist, and one who’s not all that knowledgeable about science in particular… The inane idea that Leftists have that hare-brained ideas should be tried simply because “at least we’d be doing SOMETHING” has influenced way too many decision-makers in the last 40 years or so, and it’s time to go back to reality. Nobody is more optimistic and enthusiastic than I am about nuclear fusion, but take away all the use we’ve had from fossil fuels the last several hundred years and we’d not even be to the point of manned flight, let alone at the point where we could afford ANY fusion research (not that we’d be past the animal-power water-power stage of civilization or science in that scenario). Quit trying to make yourselves appear more noble than everyone else and start helping to solve some problems (beyond just putting forth more hare-brained ideas, that is). High school is over; time to grow up.

          • OWilson

            I absolutely agree with you.

            I’m Wilson, by the way.

            Considered here, slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Looks like you, too, have found a friend, at least once he realizes which one you are. Maybe not that coherent, but you can’t be too picky, can you? And I really love those simplistic arguments that pretend those of us favoring a phase out of fossil fuels don’t acknowledge their contribution to the current level of technology. We just also acknowledge the environmental and health trade-offs, and look for a better way. Try to keep up, now! :)

          • OWilson

            Do you have any particular qualification for your advocating “favoring the phase out of fossil fuels”, that fuel Western Civilization, feed the growing population, and producing the greatest improvement to the human condition in the history of mankind?

            And, those “environmental health trade offs”?

            Or are you just another Sanders supporting socialist, a government hack, living on the government teat?

            I was challenged to provide my bona fides a couple times, and was happy to.

          • Mike Richardson

            My qualifications are being an informed voter in a democracy. Perhaps you favor limiting the vote to those who meet certain qualifications, but some of us do consider it a privilege and responsibility, and therefore learn as much about the issues as possible before voting. Which means we reject the empty rhetoric of folks like you, and look for policies that can do the most good, and not just make a fortunate few rich at the expense of the rest. The “trade offs” you ask about? Smog, oil spills, increased cancer rates near refineries, military involvement in volatile regions like the Middle East to keep the oil flowing, black lung disease, mountain top removal and stream pollution in the Appalachians, and climate change — so yeah, reliance on fossil fuels is not without cost. Or are you just another Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck quoting, plutocrat supporting laissez-faire capitalist, a profiteering hack, living off the work of others? I mean, if you can view folks as stereotypes, why shouldn’t I — oh, that’s right, I’d prefer not to stoop to that level. But given your effervescent praise of fossil fuels, given the obvious downsides any rational person would acknowledge, it isn’t hard to see why some have questioned your motives in the past. It’s okay if you profit from these industries in some way — quite a few folks do. I’d just admit it if I were you.

          • OWilson

            I started to read your apparently rare non ranting post, but I don’t do Limbaugh or Beck, sorry.

            Beavis, Butthead, now Limbaugh and Beck!, and supporting Bernie Sanders. My!

            I don’t listen to any of them so your slavish quotes mean nothing to me.

            There is another world out there you know.

            You really should seek other, more balanced, sophisticated sources, otherwise you will continue to be……..(fill in the gap).

            (I don’t want to run afoul of our erstwhile moderator for saying what I really, really think of you! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            LOL.. You’re going to lecture me on “balanced and sophisticated sources”? Really? But from your response, it’s pretty obvious you can dish it out, but get pretty thin-skinned when it’s handed back. Please, though, don’t feel that I’m censoring you in any way. I’m all for you expressing yourself to the fullest extent possible — it really doesn’t bother me at all. For example, your statement about balanced, followed by the most egregious misrepresentation of progressive ideals. Maybe you don’t listen to right-wing talking heads, but you certainly do repeat some of the bizarre statements that make it out of their bubbles to the rest of us. Your echoing them is not really doing much damage to any of the points I’m making, but does draw one to question your own credibility and judgment.
            Now the topic, from which you continually derail discussion, was nuclear fusion research, and the priority given to such research. Interestingly enough, we may have more points of agreement on this than you’d think. It may one day be very useful source of energy, but I’ve grown pretty skeptical of it myself over the years as research budgets come under increasing scrutiny and pressure. The best approach to fusion may well be smaller incremental steps that allow us to better understand the groundwork for a sustained reactor. Billions for large-scale projects that their supporters themselves admit aren’t likely to produce a functioning practical power source are a hard sale. We’ve got plenty of other near-term alternative energy prospects that need far fewer steps for viability, or for improving what are already viable options. Solar, wind power, geothermal, and engineered biofuels have all demonstrated their capacity to be competitive with existing fossil fuel sources. Speaking of biofuels, such as switchgrass or oils produced from specialized algae, wouldn’t even require a significant change from present internal combustion engines and power stations that burn oil or gas. Is that something you oppose, as well? Regardless, our present century is poised to be one in which reliance on fossil fuels wanes. The only questions about it are the time frame on which the change occurs, the types of alternatives employed, and whether or not economic forces or increasing concern for our environmental impact are the driving forces of this change.

          • OWilson

            I see the obligatory ad hominem “thin skinned” (I assure you I’m not, otherwise I would not tolerate your rambling, and always insulting posts as much as I do :)

            Your post is rambling, and most contradictory to your traditional Bernie talking points, so shall we assume your worldview is “evolving? :)

            To answer your question though, for our readers, our concentrated energy consumption, has evolved from the caveman campfire wood, to animal fat, to olive oil, to wind and water power, to whale oil, to coal, to kerosene, to crude oil, to gasoline, to nuclear fission, and one day to hydrogen, nuclear fission, or more likely some other source that we, as in the past, cannot see at the moment.

            The market, which is all about availability, economy, supply, demand and cost benefit analysis, pro and con, by diverse people’s all over the world, is a very powerful tool to provide these answers.

            Not, for godsakes, by laws and executive orders from some left wing political hacks.

          • Mike Richardson

            Not a bit hypocritical to complain about “ad hominem” attacks when I point out you’re thin-skinned, and you pile on numerous insults in every post you submit? I mean, seriously, whether insulting entire groups or a specific person, you’ve got me beat by a country mile. But I’ll be the better person and stick to responding to your points, such as they are. First of all, I expect markets will play an important role in determining our energy future, but it’s a fallacy to pretend that the markets in the energy market have ever been free. The enormous subsidies to oil companies, tax breaks for mining and drilling in return for campaign contributions, and propping up dictatorships in third world nations to access their oil supplies? How’s that a free market? Then you go on to the inevitable “it’s either free markets, or Stalin, Mao, or Robert Mugabe” choice. That’s a simplistic choice that ignores the vast number of alternative mixed markets, such as in Western Europe, and to some extent, even in your Canada. Hardly brutal dictatorships, and places with pretty good standards of living. The United States taking pointers from our neighbors to the North (not you specifically, but most other folks in Canada), or from other successful democracies, is hardly intellectually bankrupt — it’s common sense, and much better than the empty rhetoric we’ve seen from the right, which seems to always give lip service to raising all boats while somehow benefitting the folks with the yachts and leaving everyone else in leaking lifeboats. I’ve certainly not seen any statistics showing rising wages in our states that have adopted anti-union legislation. Quite the opposite. I could provide many other examples of conservative policy failures ( I do live in the South, after all), but we’re wandering yet farther from the topic of discussion. So when you have actual facts to support your opinions, then maybe we can sit down and have a more rational discussion. Probably even find a few points of agreement. But if not, there’s still some entertainment value here, so see you around.

          • OWilson

            You say:

            “” it’s a fallacy to pretend that the markets in the energy market have ever been free. The enormous subsidies to oil companies, tax breaks for mining and drilling in return for campaign contributions, and propping up dictatorships in third world nations to access their oil supplies? How’s that a free market?””

            In your contradictory ramblings, you have finally hit a pertinent question. I have you running in all directions, so I will take a little credit for that :)

            The real question is for your government.

            Do you want to stop the unsustainable and undeserved hand outs, and pay as you go? A balanced budget?

            Or elect your fave candidate Bernie, who will steal from the “rich”, and run up more unsustainable debt on your grandkids, to bribe his voters?

            Your defense of “free markets” is at odds with your choice for POTUS.

            Ever think about the contradiction?

            Trust me, I think I can really help you :)

          • Mike Richardson

            “Than,” not “then.” And nice deflection, but you didn’t answer my question regarding whether or not you consider subsidies to contradict the free market, or any of the other numerous contradictions to the Adam Smith ideals committed by conservatives as much or more than liberals. And you again make the ludicrous comparisons of anyone left of center with totalitarian regimes. Should I lower myself to your level and start my own Godwinist Nazi comparisons? Ridiculous, and an epic fail. You continue to advocate a simplistic worldview of either one extreme or the other, and can’t defend it by answering simple yes or no questions and providing a non-rambling, non-hyperbolic response. To keep at least one of us on topic, I’m still skeptical of any claims for fusion solving our energy problems before I see my yet-born grandchildren graduate from high school. I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen some of the periodic advocates of next-gen fission plants coming out on this topic. Liquid thorium reactors seem promising, and a few years back there were other proposals for pebble bed reactors and passive cooling systems to prevent meltdowns like Chernobyl or Fukishima. There are plenty of other alternatives to energy of the past and energy of the not-too-near future.

          • OWilson

            Congrats on picking up the typo! :)

            Your “questions” are usually hidden a deary, deluded maze of dissembling socialist talking points, that rarely elicit a response from anybody but me.

            I respond not to to you, because you are little more than a left wing talking points fax machine bot. Most of the time you don’t pass the Turing Test.

            I could recreate your response here with a simple algorithm. I could even call it an “AlGoreRithm :)

            I post for the benefit of any other low info voter who just might, just might, start to think about these things for himself, and question why this great country finds itself in such troubled and hateful division. And asks himself, who benefits from that hate? Certainly not Corporations, they hate looting and boycotts, so who then? :)

            It does happen that a get a positive, personal response, from those outside from who know my handle here, often enough to make the effort worthwhile, and I get that warm and fuzzy feeling, you might get by thinking you and your U.N., can change the weather, a hundred years from now :)

            Anyway to answer your question, “whether or not you consider subsidies to contradict the free market”? The answer is a resounding yes, especially from the Federal government.

            The Federal government’s role is primarily national defense and a balanced budget.

            Regional governments (States, Provinces) should be allowed to regulate most of what else needs to be regulated (a speed limit in New York City, might be different in Montana. A school curriculum in Beverly Hills, might be a little different from one in inner city Detroit), you get the idea!

            But I know you don’t:)

            State wide referendums within balanced budgets could help determine some spending priorities, just like sitting around the dinner table with your family to decide whether it’s a new car this year, a new house, or a much needed vacation for everybody.

            If you need some bureaucrat in D.C to decide those things for you, that’s why you vote for the socialist.

            But while he is running your life he is also forging your signature on a $300,000,00 unpaid loan application. (that’s the average family portion of the National Debt being run up in your family’s name.

            You are blissfully unaware of it because it doesn’t make your Colbert, or your Beavis and Butthead shows.

            Either that or you don’t care, because you can just kick it down the road.

            Sad, either way.

          • Mike Richardson

            Well, how about that! I got a pretty straightforward response to a question. Still have to work on the rambling, hyperbolic, blindly partisan responses, but one step at a time. :)

          • OWilson

            Any idea why that might be ? :)

          • Van Snyder

            Could we have some numbers for the “enormous subsidies” instead of your ignorant politically-motived exaggerations? The Energy Information Agency of the Department of Energy lists subsidies. The subsidy for solar is truly enormous, being 400% of the utility rate in California. Wind is a distant second at about 100% of the utility rate. Everything else is in the noise, way below 1% of the utility rate.

          • Thomas

            If you ever get any numbers please share with me.

          • Thomas

            Except that oil is hardly subsidized….and solar is heavily subsidized….

          • Thomas

            Our high average IQ has given us our civilization though…..

          • earonesty

            I think it’s abundantly clear that fossil fuels are a bit dicey right now. You should read the book “The Alchemy of Air”. There were many you felt the way you do – business is good, lets not change things. But research into a renewable supply of power is probably really hard, and best not put off until we’re desperate. Fusion, solar, whatever. Renewable energy should be reasonably efficient once it reaches economies of scale comparable to petrol.

          • OWilson

            Your strawman doesn’t fly.

            I’m not for the “status quo”, but we conservatives don’t share the socialist’s enthusiasm for throwing out the baby with the bath water :) Unintended consequences follow that idealism like welfare recipients follow government handouts :)

            There is a world of ingenuity out there searching for solutions, and for the successful, the rewards will be phenomenal. They will be there for us. The world is not ending because YOU happen to be alive at this blink in Earth’s long history.

            You are really not that SPECIAL :)

            Some blind alleys will also be encountered, like the recent bankruptcy of the world’s two largest solar energy companies, taking literally billions of U.S. loans with them.

            Fossil fuel’s are getting cleaner and cleaner all the time, as is air quality, water quality, health and longevity, for the world at large.

            More so, than at any other time in human history.

            It’s a beautiful world out there!

            Now stop scaring the kids, and try to guess what energy sources we’ll be using in 50 years.

            Hint, it won’t be windmills :)

          • Van Snyder

            I don’t make common cause with those who demonize oil and coal companies with no evidence. But I have calculated that it is possible to phase out all fossil fuels, over a period of about 65 years, using the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) described in “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American. We would need about 1700 GWe average capacity to satisfy today’s demand, and undoubtedly more in 65 years.

            IFR has the advantage that it would effectively destroy our current stock of “nuclear waste,” which nothing else can do, by converting actinides (which need special custody for 300,000 years) to electricity and 1% as much fission products (which need special custody for 300 years, a trivial problem).

            Coal is truly dreadful stuff, responsible for at least 30,000 American deaths per year, according to numerous credible estimates, and 100 million tonnes of eternally toxic solid waste per year. But right now it’s important to continue to use it until we have viable alternatives.

          • Thomas

            To be entirely honest you also have to count all the lives saved by cheap electricity though. Maybe it’s less today, but I don’t think it was in the past. (And all the other life improvements for that matter).

          • Mike Richardson

            Wilson, who needs Beavis and Butthead cartoons or Colbert when we have you? Endless entertainment, all operating under the guise of “conservative wisdom”? LOL … good stuff, man.
            Well, at least some folks have the imagination and inclination to try new things, as opposed to sticking with methods that have been tried and failed. Cheers!

          • OWilson

            You apparently, I had never heard of them until you started quoting them, and then it all fit!

            So THAT’s where you get you material :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Funny, despite your age, I really don’t think you’re one to be talking about maturity. My “talking points,” as you call them, are simply common sense, which seems much less common nowadays, particularly in certain company. I enjoy the humorous wherever I find it, whether on a silly cartoon, or unexpectedly in a discussion ostensibly about nuclear fusion and energy alternatives when a poster lauds continued dependence on fossil fuels and launches into personal attacks on those who disagree with him. Now that’s funny!

          • Bob Juniper

            I’m really strong. I could squeeze it really hard if it wasn’t so hot.

          • Mike Richardson

            And your hyperpartisan, deranged, condescending, anti-intellectual, negative, rambling right-wing posts also need to be questioned. You sound much like the AM radio or far-right blogosphere — all rhetoric, and no substance. And Ol’Wilson, you certainly aren’t Churchill — you’ve been keeping those boots nice and shiny! 😉

        • Van Snyder

          Less than 1.6% of worldwide electricity production depends upon petroleum. Can we avoid the gratuitous slander?

          • Mike Richardson

            If I were writing something untrue, it would be libel, not slander. But I haven’t. Petroleum produces some electricity, coal more, and a growing percentage is natural gas, which produces the least carbon emissions (but is problematic when extracted via fracking, at least if you like having clean water out of your well and fewer seismic events in your neighborhood). But I apologize if I hurt petroleum’s feelings, and promise to be more sensitive to its gentle and caring nature in the future.

          • Van Snyder

            As of 2014, according to EIA, Petroleum produces only 0.733% of US electricity. That’s “some” but less than wind or wood. The only more irrelevant sources of electricity are non-wood biomass (0.527%), geothermal (0.327%), solar (0.663%), non-methane gas (0.292%), and “other” (0.328%), which includes tides, waves, hand-waving, magic pixie dust….

          • Irish Sweetness

            Incorrect, it’s 67% generated by fossil fuels, 5% of which was oil.

          • Van Snyder

            I didn’t write “no fossil fuels.” I pointed out that petroleum is irrelevant to electricity production, so “licking the boots of oil companies” is gratuitous libel. You’re right that almost half of electricity is produced by burning coal, and about 20% more is produced by burning natural gas. But I don’t think the coal companies care about nuclear power, and at least one oil company (Gulf General Atomics Division) had at one time spent a lot of money on a Tokomak in La Jolla. “Blissful ignorance” applies more to the “no nukes” crowd, who actively promote their fact-free position based upon their ignorance, instead of simply trying to live their lives.

          • Van Snyder

            What I wrote was correct, and in reply to the remark about “licking the boots of oil and coal companies.” A bit less than 50% of US electricity is generated by coal, which isn’t oil and typically isn’t extracted by the same companies. About 0.75% is generated by petroleum. And the subsidies for fossil fuels are extremely low; the amounts of which I’ve reported, from the US DOE Energy Information Agency, in another post concerning this same article.

      • Irish Sweetness

        Harvesting the sun would make us a Type II civilization on the Kardashev scale – like that civilization around the KIC star?

        • Van Snyder

          Sure, but the cost just to provide today’s energy demand would be about twenty times the cost of doing it with nuclear fission. Nuclear fission has a perfect safety record outside the Ukraine, and only killed 63 there, according to the UN Special Commission for the Effects of Atomic Radiation. The right way to do it is described in “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American. The system described therein has the advantage that it would destroy our current stock of nuclear waste, which nothing else can do.

    • Van Snyder

      After you put the solar power station into orbit, for how many years must it operate to produce the energy required to fabricate and deploy it? Will it last that long, or will it quit working before then and represent a net energy loss to society?

      • Mike Richardson

        Back when they were proposed in the 1970’s by Gerard O’Neill and other advocates of space settlement, the plan was that they would be built and maintained in space. Populations living in orbit or at one of the stable Lagrange points would service the power stations, and make repairs using additional resources from asteroids. You’d have to have a significant infrastructure in space first, but it would be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run than launching in the first place. I suppose how quickly something like this would pay for itself would depend on the rate of growth of energy consumption on earth, and how much of that would be supplied by the station.

        • Van Snyder

          How long would it take for the space-based solar panels to produce the energy required to set up a colony on the Moon or in orbit to produce them?

          • Yvonne78454

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    • Van Snyder

      Free? Really? Solar is the most expensive way to make electricity!

      • Mike Richardson

        How do you figure that? Remove the subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies, factor in their cost in terms of pollution and other externalities, and they really aren’t that cheap. Plus, you don’t have to worry about ever exhausting your energy source with solar.

        • Van Snyder

          I use math and data.

          Here are the contributions to electricity in GWe-years (2013), total subsidies ($millions, 2013), from DoE, and subsidies per kWh.

          Coal (173): 1075, $0.0007
          Gas (140): 2345, $0.0019
          Nuclear (88): 1660, $0.0022
          Hydro (31): 395, $0.0014
          Wind (16): 5936, $0.0421
          Solar (0.51): 5328, $1.20
          Geothermal (1.76): 345, $0.0224
          Petroleum (2.63): 44, $0.0019
          Biomass (6.5): 629, $0.0111

          The California average domestic electricity rate is $0.1534/kWh,
          so the solar subsidy is 782%. The wind subsidy is 27%. The
          geothermal subsidy is 14%. The biomass subsidy is 7.2%. The coal subsidy is 0.46%. The gas subsidy is 1.2%. The nuclear subsidy is 1.4%.

          So what was that about “subsidies paid to the fossil fuel companies?”

          The really huge subsidies are going to solar, geothermal, biomass, and wind. All the rest are less than about 1.5%.

          • Mike Richardson

            Wow, quick to get personal. No wonder you and Ol’ Wilson hit it off. Yep, California pays more subsidies to alternative energy producers, which are relative newcomers. How long have oil, coal, and gas companies benefitted from tax breaks and subsidies? I think we’d have some way to go to catch up. To support non-renewable and polluting energy sources would seem more gullible in the long run than supporting the means to wean ourselves of them.

          • Van Snyder

            Personal? You asked how I arrived at my conclusions. Nothing to do with you.

            Do you have data, or just political rhetoric?

          • Mike Richardson

            Referring to folks as “gullible” is considered a compliment? At any rate, thanks for the figures. You’ve made your point regarding subsidies. You also made a very good point about coal, and nuclear, with which I agree. But living in Louisiana, I’ve seen both the good of the oil industry (jobs) and the bad (air pollution from refineries, political corruption, and of course the BP oil spill and its effects). I’d like an alternative with less of the bad.

          • Van Snyder

            You must be gullible if you actually believe that removing subsidies for coal and gas would make electricity produced from them more expensive than electricity produced from solar. Check the data before either making up number-free allegations, or repeating numbers that somebody else made up, for political purposes.

          • OWilson

            Since my name was mentioned, I should just point out that I do NOT call you “gullible”

            I call you a low info voter.

            Given your consistent referring to my age, and alleged associated diminishing mental capacity, it does surprise me that you are voting for a Presidential Candidate who will be 83 if he lasts long enough to finish 8 years.

            Yuk! Ol’ Bernie :)

          • Mike Richardson

            For what it’s worth, I really doubt it’s your age that’s the limiting factor in your ability to overcome inflexible ideology and incorporate new knowledge or ways of thinking. Plenty of folks your age (or Sanders’) are much more adaptable and prefer logic over rhetoric. They tend not to be very conservative, however, and don’t view fossil fuels as the best way to ensure their grandchildren’s future. They also acknowledge that it’s not terribly mature or effective to go around insulting everyone they disagree with, again, not like you. 😉

          • OWilson

            “folks (my) age, tend not to be conservative”?

            Lol another low info observation pulled out of the socialist hat! :)

            We are all gung ho for your Bernie? :)

            Look up a poll, PEW for example. Self decribed conservatives increase with age group.

            Ah. well, another waste of time


          • Mike Richardson

            I said “plenty,” but not most. You’re right, most folks do get more set in their ways, and more rigid in their thinking, as they get older, though not all follow this trend. I just figure you were probably that way prior to the golden years, and just increased the trend to an extreme as you aged. Which does bring into question any possibility of you possessing sufficient objectivity or ability to incorporate new information into your worldview. So it’s not to surprising that you oppose alternative energy research, or research into a lot of fields of currently theoretical science. New knowledge challenges old ways of thinking.

          • OWilson

            You lie so easily.

            I’m all for alternative energy research!

            I love science and science research.

            You are a sick, sick, puppy.

            You need a break from the socialist propaganda that is filling your head with nonsense.

            Adios por ahora!

          • Mike Richardson

            “I’m all for alternative energy research! I love science and science research.” Sorry, but your frequently overblown and overheated rhetoric on such topics strongly suggests otherwise to the objective observer. “You are a sick, sick, puppy.” — again, a tendency to project on others. Regrettable, but not unexpected. :(

          • OWilson

            You can always go troll (I mean talk to) somebody else for a change.

            Oh wait you did, I just saw your post below to Snyder’s excellent greatly detailed post above.

            Same old, same old Mikey.

            I’m done with you here! :)


          • mayalibre

            Subsidies are one thing, taxes are another. The smaller scale, clean industries are subsidised because they can’t compete with giant behemoths whose huge lobbying budgets allow them to avoid normal taxes. It’s also worth looking at secondary effects. Fossil fuels provision the (huge) military and armaments industries in ways solar and wind never can. In both these senses it’s a miracle clean energy is supported at all. The fact that clean energy is subsidised at the corporate level, without much in the way of results, should be the real clue. An analogy would be how giant the American Heart Association and Cancer Society are, and how long we’ve had government-determined dietary guidelines, yet obesity, diabetes, heart-disease, cancer and Alzheimers are now skyrocketing exponentially. No corporation is going to work to free itself of funding. Thus what presents itself as “goodness” in fact has only accelerated our illness. If clean energy was REALLY desired, individuals and property owners would be subsidized, not corporations.

          • Van Snyder

            Perhaps you have actual evidence (i.e., not something that an activist made up) that corporations are avoiding taxes? Ask any economist, and you’ll be told that all taxes are paid by individuals, from income. Corporate income taxes are passed along to customers, not paid out of thin air. And they’re passed along to all customers at the same rate, so they’re not “progressive” taxes.

          • Thomas

            You mean the industries that are being carbon taxed?

          • James1951

            And what is the cost in dollars of the environmental damage each of your energy alternatives , What is the cost in dollars of health and what is the cost in tems of life expectancy?

        • Thomas

          You do actually since there is non-renewable metals in solar panels.

      • petergkinnon

        I depends on how the energy is harnessed. If we can master the trick used by biological systems (essentially a very efficient way of splitting water) then the cost could become trivial.

        • Van Snyder

          How much nuclear waste would that destroy? The only way to destroy it is to turn the 95% of it that’s unused fuel into electricity. Fission products are a trivial problem.

          • earonesty

            Fusion is unrelated to nuclear waste

          • Van Snyder

            And fusion won’t destroy any of it either. Only a fission reactor can turn waste into fission products — but not one of the design currently in use. Read “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American, also available online. What we call “waste” is actually 95%-unused fuel. it requires special custody for 300,000 years. Fission products would be 5% the amount of current “waste”, or only 1% if the dangerously radiotoxic ones (Cs, Sr, Zr) were separated. Only 300 years special custody are required. That’s a trivial problem.

          • earonesty

            5% is still 100 times more than a fusion reactor produces (depending on how long it runs) and 300 years of custody is 4 times more than fusion requires. There is absolutely no comparison.

          • Van Snyder

            Except for the part about fusion always being 50 years in the future.

          • Van Snyder

            Fusion is not unrelated to nuclear waste. The byproducts of fusion are helium, a tiny bit of lithium, and copious neutrons, which deliver the resultant heat to the first wall. They are also absorbed into the nuclei of the atoms in the first wall, transforming them into radioactive isotopes, i.e., nuclear waste, that are just as difficult to deal with as fission products.

          • earonesty

            Complete crap and you clealy know it. A fusion reactor produces no /waste/ during its lifetime, because you don’t replace the wall until you decommission the plant. Also, when you do, the decay rate is 50-100 years… not thousands, so the minuscule amount of resulting material is comparatively trivial to deal with.

          • Van Snyder

            By that argument, a PRISM reactor would also produce no waste during its lifetime. All its fuel would be delivered when it’s built. At the end of fifty years or so, all of it would be converted to fission products, which would have been stored on site, plus electricity. At that time, same as for a fusion reactor, the radioactive detritus would be dealt with. Durations of custody and volumes of materials needing custody are similar for both, and both in the noise level compared to 95%-unused nuclear fuel we currently call “nuclear waste.”

      • Mr J

        Better not tell that to Elon Musk.

        • Van Snyder

          Here are the numbers, not conjectures, for delivered unsubsidized electricity, in cents/kWh: Solar 30.2-52.8, Wind 7.6-15.3, Gas 7.8-9.5, Hydro 4.7-8.7, Coal 6.2-6.7, Nuclear 5.1-5.4. This includes capital amortization, operation, maintenance, capacity factor, and lifetime.

          • Mr J

            I’m curious to know where a set of rooftop solar panels fits in this cost comparison.

          • Van Snyder

            The Federal + California subsidy for domestic solar is four times the average utility rate (15.34 cents/kWh) and twelve times the cost the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Generating Station reports (about 5 cents/kWh).

          • Mr J

            Not sure how your subsidies work. I was really wondering how a set of paid-for rooftop panels simply doing their thing compared. As in, no subsidies asked for or given – they just generate electricity.

          • Van Snyder

            The cost per kWh of electricity from a base-load power plant includes capital amortization. The cost from solar panels does too. That includes subsidies that are not direct costs to consumers, but are hidden in your tax bill. And solar panels do need maintenance. As little as 5 grams of dust per square meter can reduce efficiency by half. In a dusty place, e.g., a desert, they need to be pressure washed frequently. Where do you get the water?

          • Mr J

            Rinse them down with a bucket of rainwater once or twice a year. No noticeable effect on electricity production, but they look shiny.

    • earlymusicus

      I have long held the belief that Big Oil stands in the way of solar being as productive as it possible can be. I believe Big Oil has always stood in the way of truly high-mileage cars, too.

      • Mike Richardson

        The petroleum industry has opposed alternative forms of energy and transportation since the days of J.D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Some of the first cars developed were electric, but folks like Rockefeller pushed the internal combustion engine and oil as a more powerful alternative, delaying the development of efficient electric automobiles by nearly a century. And yes, solar suffered from Big Oil’s influence in very visible ways — President Carter installed solar panels on the White House in the 1970’s during our spat with OPEC, to lead by example. However, Reagan removed them as a gesture of good will to the GOP’s boosters in the industry (including overseas producers like Saudi Arabia). That was symbolic of the uphill battle solar energy would have to face until only recently. It’s a shame that so much progress was delayed by so few wealthy and powerful individuals, but such is the unfortunate influence of greed.

        • Van Snyder

          Is ARCO part of BIG OIL? Ever heard of Arco Solar? Is Gulf part of BIG OIL? Ever heard of Gulf General Atomics Division, who spent a ton of money on the Tokomak in La Jolla.

    • Alkan23

      Ground based devices work much better per dollar spent.

      Spend 20 billion on a several square kilometers of solar panels in the desert, or spend 20 billion on a few square meters in space. Lol.

      That’s before you get to the problem of beaming the energy back, vs. just using fricking cables.

      • Van Snyder

        The energy payback for ground-based solar is about 4.5 years. How long would it take to recover the energy required to put solar power in orbit, let alone the cost to fabricate the devices? Would they last that long? I haven’t done the calculation, but I suspect space-based solar is a net loss to the energy economy.,

    • James1951

      Apparently photovoltaics will produce an even greater pollution hazard than nuclear power and very hard to get rid of. People never want to take responsibility for the dangers and clean up of their creativity be it chemical, biological or nuclear the environment suffers and the only way to repair the damage is by civilization ending catastrophic events.

      • Van Snyder

        Solar also conterintuitively needs significant quantities of water. Less than 5 grams of dust per square meter can degrade efficiency by half. Where do you get the water to pressure wash the panels 2-4 times per year in Arizona and Nevada?

        We have about 70,000 tonnes of “nuclear waste,” which is actually valuable 5%-used fuel. 95% of it is actinides, which can be turned into fission products and electricity, in the appropriate design of reactor, as described in (for example) “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American (available online). Actinides need special custody for 300,000 years. The pyramids were plundered after less than 1,000 years, so expecting Yucca Mountain to isolate nuclear waste from humanity for 300,000 years was (a) a fantasy and (b) an expensive — $8 billion — boondoggle. 3/4 of fission products are either stable or have half lives under one year — a non-problem. 1/4 (Sr, Zr, Cs) have half lives of about 30 years, and need special custody for 300 years — a trivial problem.

        Our coal-fired power plants produce 100 million tonnes of eternally toxic solid waste per year, not counting the gaseous wastes (which are not confined to CO2). Per GWe-yr, the solid waste from coal-fired power plants include about 4 tonnes of uranium and 15 tonnes of thorium, so (in theory) the solid waste from coal-fired plants could be used to produce about 20 times as much electricity as was produced by burning the coal.

        • James1951

          What about automatic power washing panels with recycled water on a daily basis. Dirt settles out or is filtered out and water is reused.

          • Van Snyder

            That sounds inexpensive ;->

          • James1951

            It’s not the expense of cleaning the panels I was considering, but the expense of getting rid of the degraded panels after their use. I heard those panels would become very toxic and very expensive to dispose of and replace.

          • Van Snyder

            There is that too. Already the solar subsidy in California is about $0.60/kWh, about 12 times the rage charged by the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Station, which provides the lowest cost electricity in California — just a tiny bit above $0.05/kWh.

          • James1951

            And apparently there are also many “hidden costs” such as the cost of shipping toxic production wastes to other counties.

  • Glen Wurden

    The comment in this article “As reactors get larger, they become more stable and can achieve higher temperatures, the two key factors in creating fusion” is baseless. Perhaps the author meant they have longer confinement times. But stability is a totally different issue. Larger size, coupled with instabilities (ie, disruptions), actually leads to greater problems.

  • Sanjosemike

    I have no objection to scientists and technology people being employed. But fusion research is just a boondoggle to keep them busy. The problem is controlling the temperatures involved. It is almost impossible (on Earth).

    It would be less expensive to just pay the scientists without their having to do anything for it at all than do fusion research, which actually is a gigantic waste. These devices are multi-ton paper-weights.

    These researchers could be employed doing something else that is more productive scientifically, like research to provide cheap, potable water to 3d and 4th world countries.


    • Van Snyder

      Producing cheap potable water requires energy.

      BTW, an Israeli company has developed a desalination process that uses less than half as much energy as the alternatives. They tried to build plants in parched California. After getting the run-around from seventeen agencies, they folded up their tent and went home.

      • Maia

        We have a long way to go on conserving water and attempting wherever that’s possible) to live within our water budget before we ought to be spending money on desal, even a less expensive plant.
        What kind of fuel supplies the electricity to run the plant?

        • Van Snyder

          Before or after irrational hysteria shut down San Onofre?

  • Bob Juniper

    The energy spent in this discussion is more than the fusion reactors can produce currently.

    • OWilson

      If you laid out the massive investment equal to, say, the entire GNP of Europe, you could actually get some useful energy out of nuclear fusion, even if it took more energy to produce,than what it delivered.

      That’s the crazy argument in favor of solar and wind power.

      Damn the costs, and the inefficiency, it’s the right thing to do!

      • Bob Juniper

        Perhaps we will discover something else from the efforts.

        • OWilson

          Maybe a byproduct of banging one’s head against a brick wall will provide us with the relative resistance to change, of each component. :)

          There are easier ways of finding mushrooms, than looking for gold :)

  • Paul Griese

    General Atomic in La Jolla, California, uses a tokamak in their DIII-D Research Program. Back in the 1980s I worked there as a computer operator supporting the fusion facility. Right around the year 1986, while a new tokamak was being installed, I was told by one of our fusion scientists that it would take about 30 years to reach a point where more energy is produced than what was put in to create the reaction. Looks like nothing has changed.

    • Van Snyder

      Remember that “General Atomic” was originally “Gulf General Atomics Division.” So much for “big oil” sabotaging alternative energy research.

  • Van Snyder

    Even more questions remain. Amortizing the investment in a century (or so) of experiments, plus the eventual capital investment in a device that works, plus operational costs (fuel will be essentially free), what will be the cost per delivered kilowatt hour?

    What about nuclear waste? WHAT??? you say? Yes. The fusion product is mostly harmless helium, with tiny bits of tritium and lithium, and copious quantities of neutrons. When the neutrons strike the first wall, they deliver the heat necessary to produce electricity, but they also transmute the materials into radioactive isotopes, i.e., nuclear waste, that is actually more intractable than fission products. This also damages the first wall, so how long will it last? What effect does that have on delivered cost?

    Nuclear fission delivers the lowest cost electricity in most countries that use it. USA and South Korea are the exceptions — but in California, the Diablo Canyon reactor delivers the lowest cost electricity, and San Onofre was a close second until hysteria and lawsuits shut it down.

    We’ve known for more than 30 years how to build a different sort of fission reactors, that are inherently safe. This was proven to an international audience in 1986. Look for “EBR-II” and “Pete Planchon.” They could be fueled with the substance we currently call “nuclear waste,” thereby effectively destroying it by reducing its volume by a factor of 100 and its custody duration from 300,000 years to 300 years. It becomes a trivial non-problem. A GE/Hitachi consortium claims they could build such reactors for about $2.00/watt. Their name for the system is S-PRISM, for Super Power Reactor Inherently Safe Modular. The prototype (EBR-II) was described in “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” in December 2005 Scientific American (available online), and elsewhere. There is nothing else that can destroy nuclear waste — a substance of which we are desperately eager to be rid — not solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tides, ocean currents, biofuels, fairy dust,… or nuclear fusion.

    So far, in fifty years of use, worldwide, 63 deaths have been attributed to nuclear power, all at Chernobyl; look for the UN Chernobyl Forum and UNSCEAR reports, and the accident database at the Paul Scherer Institute in Basel, Switzerland. Nobody was killed by Fukushima (although the hysterical panic of the disorganized evacuation killed about 600). Nobody was killed or injured by Three Mile Island. But they’re irrelevant anyway because nobody is proposing to build either another boneheaded Chernobyl reactor, or reactors of the fifty year old design used at Three Mile Island and Fukushima. Scherer’s data (not hysterical speculation) show that nuclear fission is the safest ever way to make electricity, by a very wide margin.

    Continue research on fusion at a reasonable scale, but if we’re serious about climate change, energy cost and availability, and nuclear waste, the only solution is S-PRISM or something like it. We can’t get to the goal of limiting worldwide average temperature increase to 2 degrees without it. There is nothing but nuclear fission and solar that can supply all our energy needs. Everything else, taken together, can’t even come close. Solar takes 1000 times more land, costs more (if you include the hidden taxpayer subsidy contribution), and is growing far too slowly. Solar also has surprising unexpected requirements too. Where do you get the water. WATER??? Yes. Solar panels need to be pressure washed periodically, especially in dusty climates such as Arizona. As little as 5 grams of dust per square meter can reduce efficiency by half. Fabrication of solar panels produces substantial pollution. Handling the enormous quantities of eternal e-waste from thousands of square kilometers of worn-out solar panels per year will be a problem….

    • OWilson

      If you take the latest satellite recorded temperatures for the last 37 years, including this current El Nino, 0.73 degrees, and “assume” the increasing rate remains steady over the next 84 years, with no pause or “hiatus”. the Earth will attain a temperature of 1.67 degree by 2100.

      That’s less than the U.N. Stated goal, and far less than the dire “solutions” promise to deliver.

      All the rest is propaganda!

      • Van Snyder

        The effect of additional CO2 on the temperature of a clear dry atmosphere is a calculation an undergraduate physics student could do. The real unknowns are clouds, and cloud feedbacks. Anybody who claims to know is either delusional or a charlatan.

        There are those who insist the Earth’s temperature will increase faster than Wilson calculates unless we “do something.” As expected, those are the same people who reject the only thing that will actually work. They believe it is more important to be seen doing something, or to advocate for doing something, than actually doing something that works.

        • Mike Richardson

          Well, at least we’re on the same page with coal. Glad to see a point of agreement on the pollution, if not on climate change. It’s a start.

          • OWilson

            Hey! it’s the “me too” guy!

            Ever met anybody who advocates “pollution” ? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Hmm, remind me again who the troll is? It get’s so confusing around here, ya know? It may be hard to believe, but I do believe in a constructive dialogue with folks of other political views, where possible. You should try it sometime.

          • OWilson

            I can see why it gets “confusing” for you “around here”

            My comment was on topic, your reply wasn’t!

            See how it works? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Your two sentence reply? LOL… sure. Alright, on topic. No, nobody advocates pollution, but there sure seem to be folks here who don’t mind it much. Coal fired power plants are notorious for particulate emissions, and have contributed to more cancers than Chernobyl or Fukishima ever will. And the oil and gas refineries that line the Mississippi River just upstream from New Orleans — they give the horizon a nice brown haze most days. Probably not too healthy to be downwind of them, either. So while you might not be cheerleading the effects of pollution, it certainly seems you don’t have a problem cheering on the causes.

          • OWilson

            You are the cause of that pollution, not me.

            Until you turn off your lights, turn off the AC, walk to work, and have an appliance free kitchen, no wired or piped services to your home, and live in a wooden hut, you are the reason it is there.

            Just say no, yourself, and until you do stop denigrating others.

            It’s just stupid, meaningless logic. OK?

          • Mike Richardson

            You don’t use lights, the AC, automobile, appliances, or a computer (well, we at least know about the computer)? I think you might be contributing just a bit yourself, right? Yes, we have these things, which require energy. The logical choice is working on conservation now (which I do) while advocating cleaner and more sustainable sources of energy as soon as possible. Logical and reasonable, as opposed to supporting the known causes of pollution and ridiculing any attempt at improvement.

          • OWilson

            I don’t ridicule adaptation, technological development, and I certainly don’t “support” pollution.

            I ridicule selfish Chicken Little leftists gods like you and Al Gore who got yours and want to decide who else can or cannot have it.

          • Mike Richardson

            And I ridicule head-in-the-sand (or elsewhere) ostriches who believe you know more about the climate than 97% of the scientists studying the subject. Everything must boil down to some distorted right-wing view of the world, right? Industry will adapt and develop new technologies, but right now the profit motive drives most of the energy companies to remain conservative (i.e. stagnant), and use more polluting and limited sources of energy. I’m sure they’d move on to other energy sources once oil and coal are depleted, but by that point, the ice caps at the poles and alpine glaciers will be equally depleted. No, I haven’t said you support pollution directly — strawman argument, again. But you do support the sources of that pollution, very stridently. You’ve practically composed odes to oil. In the long run, it’s the carbon pollution from coal and oil that’s going to produce a lot more Third World situations as the sea levels rise and more fertile crop lands imitate the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Makes it kind of hard to take seriously your claimed concern over “inner city plantations” and the Third World poor. But the view’s probably not so good when your head constantly stuck in a dark place. 😉

          • OWilson

            You are confused.

            You are the addict, because you are using the energy produced by cheap fossil fuels, your oil, gasoline, gas, your car, your bike, phone, computer, foreign factory made appliances. fridge, TV, microwave, music system, services like phone, cable, electricity and water, that are all reliant on cheap fossil fuels.

            You are the original, “Stop me before I kill”, cartoon.

            And like all cartoons, you are a joke! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            No, I may like cartoons, but I’m not one. You on the other hand, behave like one. Some of the best caricatures, in fact, which is why most people at first glance think you are doing this “right-wing curmudgeon taken to the extreme” shtick for laughs. It only gets funnier when they realize you’re not. I know that popularity matters to you, so that 3% figure must delight you, understanding the very folks you deride as “low-information” actually agree with you, while most of the intelligent researchers and educated lay people don’t. And you can drop the paranoid comparisons to totalitarianism. Trying to educate the public, as most of the writers of these articles try, is a far cry from forcing anyone to do something against their will. Arguing that this is a “danger to civilized society” is the ridiculous last resort of those who’ve abandoned reason in favor of fear. Maybe fusion won’t be the answer, and certainly I don’t expect (and won’t force) others to agree with me on solar and wind as better alternatives to fossil fuel. Hide under the bed if you’re afraid, but nobody’s coming to get you or try to “re-educate” you. You can’t teach someone who thinks he’s to smart to learn something new.

          • OWilson

            Remind us who the “under the bed hiding” Chicken Littles, again?

            It is your choice for President that is going to bring “climate deniers to justice” when he gets elected.

            That’s a “danger” to all independent thinkers.

            Discovery has good and current information, the information get’s screwed by people like you and Al Gore and Bernie Sanders who bend it for political gain.

            And, you can never “be smart” if you are not learning something new ALL THE TIME, no matter how old you are, and stop letting these politicians tell you what to think.

            Sometime you run in such spiraling logical circles you are always in danger of vanishing up your own ……

            So this discussion is over.

            Adios por ahora :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Mind sharing your original pre-edited response with everyone else? No? Not surprising. Anyway, I stand by my original assessment. Folks like me will continue to support educating the public about sensible alternatives to fossil fuels (including fusion, when it becomes viable), and you can continue peeking out the window for the skulking villains you think are trying to forcibly change your mind or haul you off to an oil-free hell. 😉

          • OWilson

            Not at all! (I lost the first one, and then found it was posted already so I tried to delete the second one).

            I’ll be more than happy for you to repost it, or accurately quote it.

            That should take care of your first off topic juvenile strawman.

            As for your “educating the public”, you should read something other that the Daily Dem Talking Points, before you do :)

            You might figure out what is actually going on in your world of “sensible alternatives”.

            Here’s today’s paper :)


            Abengoa was a renewable energy company that scripted perfectly the Obama administration’s shift from carbon-based fuel, providing a European counterpart to the U.S.-based Solyndra (which also went bankrupt)

            Obama invested billions in Abengoa

            The bankruptcy, the largest in Spain’s history, was triggered after Gonvarri, an arm of Spain’s industrial group Gestamp, decided in November 2015 against a plan to invest $371 million into the company.

            Last November, after the Abengoa bankruptcy was announced, Reuters reported the company’s bonds were “virtually worthless,” as its share price plummeted 54 percent in a single day.

            In a separate move Tuesday, a local court in Mexico ordered the seizure of all Abengoa assets in the country in an effort to settle an action by bondholders seeking to prevent the company from selling the Mexican assets without paying the bondholders.

            Last November, the Washington Times reported Abengoa had received at least $2.7 billion in federal loan guarantees since 2010 to build several large-scale solar power projects in the United States. There was no certainty any of the government loans would be paid back amid a collapse that dwarfed the $530 million loss to the U.S. taxpayer with the collapse of Solyndra in 2011.

            An exposé by Town Hall on Aug. 4, 2012, found that the then-estimated $2.8 billion Abengoa received in U.S. federal grants and loans made the company the second largest recipient of the $16 billion doled out through the Department of Energy Section 1705 loan guarantee program, the same DOE program that had funded Solyndra.

          • Mike Richardson

            Well, you actually made some decent points regarding past solar ventures (which have still cost far less money than all the past tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies), but then you went off on your hyperbolic rant about how everyone who disagrees with you is dooming us all to a new caliphate. If you could just stick to a point without going off on this wild right-wing rants, you might find more people willing to listen to you, instead of writing you off as a hopeless loss to rigid partisan ideology. You don’t think our involvement in the Middle East, driven by our desire for the petroleum deposits in that region, might have contributed just a little bit to the instability in that region which has in turn helped spawn Al Queda and Isis? Yet another reason to pursue means of energy production which don’t unnecessarily involve us in the affairs of other nations, and provide ammunition to extremists arguing that the West has exploited them and propped up dictators (not that they offer a better alternative, but since when has logic appealed to extremists anywhere?). You jump to a lot of unsupported conclusions and weak overgeneralizations, but you don’t seem to acknowledge that many of the problems you fear more than climate change are also directly and indirectly affected by reliance upon fossil fuels. And it’s ridiculous to argue that you can’t address more than one problem, such as climate change and terrorism, at the same time. Only someone low on information would buy into that simplistic argument, right? 😉

          • OWilson


            You lie and dissemble thru your teeth!

            It has already been pointed out to you that subsidies to your “sensible alternatives” per KW far exceed those of oil and gas.

            As for the old leftie chestnut that “our involvement in the Middle East, (was) driven by our desire for the petroleum deposits in that region”,

            Make up your mind, here we thought it was over something called WMD :)

            As usual you low info folks don’t even know that we get almost all our oil and gas from North and South America.

            Ignorance is bad enough, but arrogant ignorance is boring.

            Adios por ahora!

          • Mike Richardson

            Oil and coal companies have benefitted for government assistance for over a century. Solar and wind are a lot newer at the game, and still a maturing technology. Now there’s never been any corruption or fleecing of the public from those folks in the oil and gas industry over the years, right? 😉 North and South America are also CURRENTLY the top producers of oil — question: what region was at the time of the Shah, the OPEC embargo, the Iranian revolution, or Saddam Husein’s rise to power? So yes, maybe we don’t need Middle Eastern oil as much as in the past, but a lot of people in that region aren’t so quick to forget the past. Your pretending that this past never happened would be a true display of ignorance, though I’m more inclined to believe deliberate deceit is a more likely alternative. Kinda like that whole WMD farce you brought up. Anything to avoid admitting I’ve actually got a point, right? Nighty night, Wilson. :)

          • OWilson

            Ever hear of the “Strategic Reserve”?

            That’s where your country decided last century that energy was one of the most important, if not THE most important factor in your National Security. It served you well through multiple hot and cold wars and other international threats.

            Not just your ‘subsidies” but millions of your brave souls were lost securing, fighting over it, and defending it.

            Without it, you wouldn’t be here today.

            Not to mention your electricity, water, heat, gas, car, appliances and Lazy Boy :)

            (If they could have fought those wars using solar panels and windmill powered tanks, planes, and ships, they would have, really, really, subsidized them too, Mikey:)

            Now stop being silly, and take your teddy to bed :)

            Buenas Noches!

          • Mike Richardson

            The Strategic Reserve was never more than a stopgap measure, and it sure didn’t stop us from going after that Middle Eastern Oil, did it? It’s okay, I understand you really don’t have a good answer, so the Strategic Reserve was a last-ditch distraction from the point I made. Concession accepted. Again, goodnight, Wilson.

          • OWilson

            Adios ninito :)

          • Mike Richardson

            And again, none of this addresses the fact that we still involved ourselves in the affairs of other nations for oil, in the name of national security, ironically. If you must bring Katrina into the equation, you know what would have been useful in those sweltering sunny days following the hurricane, when all of us were off the grid? Cheaper solar panels that could have supplied electricity after fuel for generators ran out (oil production and refining may have concerned other parts of the country, but Louisiana and Mississippi had trouble just getting fuel into the hardest hit areas due to flooding and downed trees). That’s why there’s been such a push for solar energy as a back-up in case of such future disasters. But remind me how you’re all for alternative energy research, again? 😉

          • OWilson

            From caveman campfires, through oxen, olive oil, whale oil, horses, coal and oil to nuclear power plants to whatever is next. All good (and very progressive :)

            Only duped luddites (and their anti Western Civilization political masters) would ever go back to inefficient windmills, and uneconomical solar panels made in dirty factories in China :)

            But hey you choose! Buy and use ’em yourself. The American Way.

            But don’t have your personal political master, Bernie, threaten to “bring (me) to justice, because I don’t believe your collective socialist ideas, OK?

          • Mike Richardson

            So you’re for alternative energy, then not for it because it’s inefficient, then for it only if not pushed by the government, and finally afraid someone’s going to get you for your peculiar and not terribly coherent ideas? Who needs to debate you Wilson — you’ve had more positions on this topic (and global warming, for that matter) than any 10 individuals. Must make for some interesting dinner time discussions, even when you eat alone. But regarding luddites, isn’t it more backwards to hang on to fossil fuel dependence than continue to refine solar and wind technology (which contrary to what you say, is getting more efficient each decade)? As for where the solar panels are manufactured, that’s a discussion that ventures into the territory of equal trade relations vs. “free trade,” and has less to do with the actual practicality of the technology. Once manufactured, however, the solar panels and wind turbines aren’t dependent on a fuel source from overseas, or one that creates further pollution in generating power. That alone places them above fossil fuels as a better alternative, at least until fusion power is finally perfected.

          • OWilson

            “Once manufactured, however, the solar panels and wind turbines aren’t dependent on a fuel source from overseas, or one that creates further pollution in generating power”.

            You mean aside from shipping, transporting, erection, repairs, maintenance, and of course replacement:)

            Not to mention the infrastructure needed to get the power from where the sun may be shining at that particular time, and store it (cue batteries, constructing. manufacturing, shipping, maintaining……….lol) to where it isn’t.

            (Look up the places that need electricity and compare them to the few places that can generate solar energy, even then for only a few hours a day.

            Does it never occur to you why the world’s 2 biggest solar energy companies just went bankrupt and took billions of your borrowed money with them? (There goes yer spare parts LOL)

            I thinkYour Beavis and Butthead cartoon orbital power generators make more sense.

            You DO work for the government, right?

            I’m done with you here, I can’t take any more of your nonsense.:)

            You get the last word!

          • Mike Richardson

            So you’re closing with the anti-solar argument then? And you are factoring in things other than the generation of power, which is true of all existing power generating sources. Still less polluting than burning fossil fuels. And the dig at my gainful employment (what exactly do you do other than stay on the computer at great deal of the time?) does put you more in the realm of ridiculous cartoon characters than any serious poster. Nice to see you’re done, because you’ve certainly contributed more than a fair share of the nonsense around here. 😉

          • OWilson

            You ask, “what exactly do you do other than stay on the computer at great deal of the time?”

            You see Mikey, I am semi retired.

            You match me post for post, so my question for you is how do you manage in a government job, and have all this time on your hands?

            Don’t bother answering, LOL

          • Mike Richardson

            So much for that whole last word thing, eh? It’s okay, nobody expects you to stick to anything you say anyway. As for how much time I have on my hands, I’m apparently online a great deal less than you, and mainly just check my e-mail, Facebook, or Pinterest. Also, I read the articles here, and frequently get a good laugh from you with your contradictory posts, absurd assumptions, and simplistic overgeneralizations. But if it makes you feel that much more accomplished and important, that’s okay — your insecurities are your own problems, and nobody else’s. Now, unlike the fusion energy of the sun, I’m happily tapped out, and you can have the last word. I promise. 😉

          • OWilson

            You work for the government.

            I just hope there’s a “boss coming” button on your computer.

            (look it up :)

            On the other hand, I’m thinking private business practices. You probably get an extra bonus for trolling, maybe even a shout out from the union :)

          • OWilson

            Remind us again, who the “hiding under the bed Chicken Littlles are?

            Truth matters to me not popularity, I don’t post to seek approval. Sometimes exploding liberal and socialist myths can be downright confrontational :)

            Totalitarianism? Me?

            It is YOUR CHOICE for President who wants to bring me and other “climate deniers” to justice.

            Now maybe the WACO Flamethrowing Tanks and the ELIAS AK47 Jackbooted Swat Teams are not yet revving up in anticipation, but I have seen where this political rhetoric leads.

            Believe what we believe, or go to jail. Seen it all before.

            Now if you’ve ever seen a mob of disgruntled Democrat voters fired up by their political leaders coming up your street to loot, arson and destroy your life’s work, it ain’t pretty. (even if it is, as you tell me, “only replaceable private property”) :)

            Now I don’t want to jail Chicken Littles, just a cheap laugh at their stupidity, once in a while. Like to remind them as their Doomsday “Tipping Points” go by unnoticed :)

            As for learning, you should never stop, whatever age you are. Magazines like our Discover give you good nfo, but it will always go over your head, if you let lyin’ corrupt politicians here and at the U.N. tell you what to think.

            Sometimes your convoluted logical spinning has you spiraling so fast that you are in danger of vanishing up your own, ……..:)

            And today I don’t want to follow you there, so we’re done here and you get the last word.

            Adios por ahora

      • Van Snyder

        The desire is to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius more than in pre-industrial times (i.e., about 1800) by 2050. At 0.73 degrees (I assume you quoted Fahrenheit) per 37 years, that’s 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2.7 degrees Celsius, in 250 years. Assuming the handwaving of climate-change zealots is correct. Numerous scientists, engineers, and even former rabidly anti-nuclear activists, have calculated that goal cannot be reached without nuclear power. It’s weird that climate change zealots reject the only solution that will work. It’s clear they prefer to keep the issue, because without it many of them would have to manufacture a different controversy to get any income from ignorant donors.

        • Maia

          “It’s clear (those who accept climate change science) prefer to keep the issue, because without it many of
          them would have to manufacture a different controversy to get any income
          from ignorant donors.”

          Not sure who you are talking about or reading, but that’s not at all true in my world. Just because people don’t want or trust nuclear does NOT mean they are artificially cheering on the problems of erratic and extreme weather. Because this is connected to a lot of OTHER bad things like acidification and warming of oceans which is kill delicate organisms, etc etc etc

          Please don’t lump everyone who accepts science on climate change into a single bag with a label on it, thanks.

          • Van Snyder

            As it turns out, I’ve been working on climate-related science for sixteen years. What I’ve learned is that

            1. It’s trivial to compute the effect of CO2, ozone, methane, water vapor, … on the atmosphere’s radiative balance, and therefore average temperature, assuming there are no clouds.

            2. Nobody knows what to do about clouds. Nobody knows whether increased CO2 etc will result in more cloud formation or less, and nobody knows the effect of more cloud formation (or less) on the atmosphere’s radiative balance (and therefore average temperature).

            The radiative-transfer equation is a trivial first-order linear initial value ordinary differential equation. If you add scattering, it becomes a monster integro-differential equation. Even the scattering term (let alone the infinitely-multiplied complexity caused by introducing it) is understood only for homogeneous spherical ice particles.

            Anybody who says he knows what cloud feedbacks will do to climate is either delusional or a charlatan. And that’s the key to long-term climate prediction. So although climate predictions sound very scientific, complete with dozens of (disagreeing) models, it’s still all handwaving, and a good deal of that aimed at getting grants or otherwise swindling taxpayers, or scams such as the Chicago Carbon Exchange that has made Fat Albert so fabulously wealthy without any effect whatsoever on the climate trajectory.

          • Maia

            As it happens, I agree with you that the climate effects in question are often too complex to be calculated with much certainty, especially for long periods in advance.
            Just leaving computer models and science consensus aside: Science excludes anecdotal evidence, but there is LOTS of it. People are directly observing that the climate is growing more erratic, ie clearly departed from its former “normal variations” over the last several decades especially. Spring coming earlier, winter disappearing in some places and excessive in others, plants and animals confused, extreme climate events shifting to MORE extreme…and all the people I am in contact with, not just scientists, have noted and lamented these things, (and many more), then put them together with obvious over-population/pollution and they have arrived, with or without science consensus, at the conclusion that what they experience is due to : way too many humans polluting wantonly. Whatever you want to say about computer models, I can agree with. Nevertheless, there IS an observable climate disturbance going on, and human excesses certainly appear to be one of its drivers.
            Are you thinking we can keep on keepin’ on burning oil while the poles melt?

          • Van Snyder

            If you read my other remarks in this blog, you will see that I advocate for a different variety of nuclear power, that is inherently safe, and can consume the substance we currently call “waste,” of which we are desperately eager to be rid. It’s actually valuable 5%-used fuel. Converting it to electricity reduces the volume by a factor of 100, and reduces the duration of isolation from humanity from 300,000 years to 300 years. Both effects make it a trivial problem. We would be deploying these now, if Hazel O’Leary, Bill Cliton, and John Kerry had not teamed up to kill the prototype when it was an inch from completion, at more cost than finishing it. Cliton said, in his usual pandering mode, “I know; it’s a symbol.”

          • Van Snyder

            People who don’t trust nuclear are too lazy to learn the facts, or they prefer not to acknowledge them. In the entire 60-year history of the use of nuclear fission to produce electricity, there have been only 63 deaths, all at Chernobyl. Read the reports of the UN Special Commission for the Effects of Atomic Radiation. The UN Chernobyl Commission said there were only 56. The difference is the number of thyroid cancer cases. There are 40,000 cases of thyroid cancer in Eastern Europe every year. How UNSCEAR decided that seven of those were due to Chernobyl is beyond me. Nobody has ever been injured or killed by nuclear power, anywhere else.

            We have only 70,000 tonnes of “nuclear waste,” which is actually valuable 5%-used fuel. We’ve known for fifty years how to turn the 95%-unused portion into fission products and electricity. Fission products need special custody for 300 years, a trivial problem, not 300,000 years, an essentially insolvable problem. So being afraid of “nuclear waste” is also irrational.

        • OWilson

          I f history is any guide, In 250 years they will be chuckling about climate “tipping points”, horse manure disposal problems and windmills.

          • Van Snyder

            My use of 250 years was “250 years from 1850,” i.e., the year 2050, not the year 2266.

  • Troll lololol

    All of this is true if you look at the tokkomak. The tokkomak is burning up all of the world’s nuclear fusion funding. Meanwhile we have proof that using the magnetic field generated by the plasma is much more efficient. So much more in fact that is only uses 10% of the energy that the tokkomak uses. Of course you only mention the obselete black hole of nuclear fusion research. They should abandon this project and move on to other projects like the dynomak.

  • earonesty

    I think it’s abundantly clear that fossil fuels are a bit dicey right
    now. Anyone who likes this article should read the book “The Alchemy of Air” by T. Hager.

    Development of a dominant, renewable supply of power is probably really hard –
    and best not put off until we’re desperate. Fusion, solar, whatever –
    I’m agnostic. (I do think that people who think windmills are ugly, not beautifully futuristic, are a bit daft though.)

  • http://laurencehunt.blogspot.ca/ Laurence Hunt

    Honestly, this article is presenting the “standard line.” A lot of the “facts” are correct, but fusion research and theory encompass many ideas and strategies not touched on here. Fusion power is decades away because we’re doing minimal research on the topic in proportion to its importance. For example, the US has spent $50 billion on fusion research over the past 50 years, whereas $500 billion has been poured into fracking in the past ten years, and trillions have gone into hydrocarbon development this century alone. We don’t have fusion power because our research and development spending emphasis is in the wrong place.

    • Van Snyder

      Part of the problem with fusion research is the lack of new ideas. How much sense does it make to spend money on bigger versions of old ideas that haven’t worked yet? All the money spent of fracking has been private money, and essentially none of it is research. Oil and gas companies have used fracking for decades, because it works, and the payoff from the investment is positive.

  • Irish Sweetness

    Even in the comments section of a piece on nuclear fusion will you find fevered egos doing battle.

  • Jamal Shrair

    The problem with fusion is the wrong physics. The one to blame for the great mess that we have in physics and the failure to produce fusion power is Arthur Stanley Eddington. He was the biggest Crank in the history of science

  • Mart

    Excellent post . BTW , if anyone is requiring a VA 10-10M , my assistant filled out and esigned a fillable version here http://goo.gl/xpuhLa..

  • brians000

    I looked for an article like this because I wanted to put my 2cents in about solar vs fusion but I see a whole bunch of people already beat me to it.
    Yep, I don’t get the drive to fusion energy either. Yes solar is expensive but probably less expensive than fusion. The other benefit of solar is that it does not require global cooperation, for now anyway. In the next 20 years, we just need the following:
    1. boost efficiency of solar collectors by a few percent
    2. develop energy storage technology
    3. build up a long distance power transmission grid.
    4. figure out how to replace fossil fuel power with electric power.

    None of these are nearly as challenging as building a fusion reactor. All of these can be solved incrementally by small groups of innovative people.

    Now for the distant future, mankind will move to orbital solar arrays that beam power down to receiving stations because ground level collection will not be enough for the ever increasing demand for power.
    I just don’t see fusion ever being more than a minor contributor to human energy consumption.

  • Van Snyder

    Page 1 of Lazard’s report admits there are a myriad of factors not considered. Some of these are really important and enormously expensive, such as storage and grid upgrades. One they admit to not being able to quantify is nuclear waste disposal. We’ve known how to reduce the custody volume by a factor of twenty or more, and the custody duration by a factor of 1000, but we refuse to do it, instead wringing our hands about a problem that is actually quite tractable. And the cost of nuclear waste disposal is included in the delivered cost of electricity from nuclear reactors. The utilities have been paying into the Nuclear Waste Disposal fund for sixty years. It stands at $25 billion today. There’s no “Worn Out Solar Panel Disposal Fund” to recycle the eternally-toxic materials in solar panels.

    Page 2 shows unsubsidized cost of solar at $0.174 – $0.300 per kWh, not $0.05. It shows nuclear at $0.097 – $0.136 per kWh. The California average from all sources is $0.1534. Diablo Canyon says their delivered price is $0.05, substantially below the bottom of Lazard’s range.

    Looking at capital cost per peak installed watt on page 11 is deceptive. Look at the cost per delivered kilowatt hour, which requires attention to the capacity factor. One unit at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Station operates at 104% capacity factor. That means it delivers 104% of the amount of kilowatt hours it was originally designed to produced, every year. Sacramento Municipal Utility District said their solar PV installations had a 15% capacity factor.

    Lazard’s capital cost for nuclear is five times what GEH estimates would be their bill for PRISM reactors. Why is that? Money has a time value. If a utility contracts to build a reactor, and then it’s delayed for a decade by lawsuits, that magnifies the cost. There’s a reason that nuclear power is the lowest cost in every country except the United States and South Korea.

    Solar panels and windmills can’t destroy nuclear waste, but PRISM could. That should be part of the equation.

    We have no idea how to store enough electricity to get through the night. If all the batteries ever produced were fully charged and connected to the grid, they would provide the world’s energy for seven minutes. The largest battery in the world is a 10 MWh Na-S battery in, of all places, Fairbanks, AK. People dream of vehicle-to-grid. If all cars were replaced by electric ones, and utility grids could draw from them while they’re plugged in during, say, nighttime when the sun isn’t shining on their solar panels, they would provide all of California’s electricity for an hour.

    Nathan Lewis, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Caltech, has done a study of the entire energy system, not just looked at a solar panel here, a windmill there, and concluded that we’re in big trouble.

  • Joel

    Will never reach fusion. Besides, the sun is powered by electricity, not by an internal fusion process.


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