OK, now the plot is thickening. For a year now, I, Pat Boone – not a scientist, just an ordinary citizen who can sing and read and think for myself – have been here in this space, begging my countrymen and women to look at the obvious, most desirable and desperately needed answer to the energy needs of America and, in fact, the whole world.
You ask, “Well, Boone, if this answer, this God-gift, is so ‘obvious,’ why isn’t the scientific community all over it? Why aren’t scientists and physicists and even our Department of Energy doing whatever it takes to utilize it, to bring it to a world running out of answers? And what is this miracle energy source again?”
It’s nuclear fusion – and I’m about to answer the rest of that question.
As the Cold War grew more and more ominous and tensions between the two world superpowers intensified, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union spent huge sums of money developing more-advanced thermonuclear weapons. The fear of the awesome power of nuclear weapons deepened, and virtually all this work was “classified” by the military in both countries. Though the general public knew little of it, feverish progress was being made toward harnessing nuclear power for destruction.
But physicist Edward Teller in this country had a different vision. Some have conjectured that he was the inspiration for Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” a maniac wanting to see demonic devastation unleashed on mankind, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In addition to his founding and leadership of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Teller also supported a laboratory on the campus of Princeton University to pursue non-military fusion research. Rather than pursuing man’s power to destroy through fission – he saw nuclear fusion as man’s hope for survival.
Again, let me emphasize that fission splits atoms, the very material of creation; fusion can combine elements, releasing virtually limitless energy, with negligible negative effects. The sun itself is a huge nuclear fusion reactor, energizing the whole solar system.
It’s a God thing.
At Princeton, a first effort toward peaceful use of this awesome energy was Project Matterhorn, out of which was born the Princeton Plasma Physics Labs (PPPL). Plasma is the term given to matter when heated to extremely high temperatures and can be harnessed to release huge amounts of energy. And PPPL was also utilizing concepts developed by Russian physicist Sakharov. While America and Russia were deadly enemies on one level, a couple of their leading scientists were trying to achieve peace through science on another.
It was a terribly daunting, near impossible goal. But so was developing machines and technology that could send human beings to walk on the moon. And that was moving forward, too.
In 1954 Teller made a memorable presentation at the “Gun Club” on the Princeton University campus. Addressing the problems associated with the fusion plasma instabilities at incredible thermonuclear temperatures, he said, “Trying to confine plasma with magnetic field lines is like trying to hold a blob of jelly with rubber bands.” And these comments stimulated a controlled-fusion giant, Lyman Spitzer, to invent the Stellarator approach to magnetic confinement – the necessity of containing and focusing unimaginable heat on the plasma. Princeton was making progress!
And at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, now home to the NIF project, scientists were developing Teller’s “magnetic mirrors” concept, another approach to intensifying and directing sun-like temperatures. The Magnetic Mirror Fusion Test Facility was designed and built at a cost of over $150 million. It was tremendously promising, exciting … so what happened next?
The project was canceled and shut down by the government the very week it was to “go live” and testing was to begin! Why?
Because, while exhilarating progress was being made toward fusion energy, there was also frightening progress being made toward nuclear weapons – and a growing “anti-nuclear” movement was spreading worldwide. Starting in the mid 1950s, after the Castle Bravo test and accelerating in reaction to various nuclear weapons tests conducted by both superpowers, tremendous political pressure created various nuclear test ban treaties beginning in 1963.
Once these treaties were in place, the U.S. could no longer actively test nuclear weapons above ground. And since that time, many incremental bans on nuclear testing have been put into place, including the beginning of the START process. And once an “anti-anything” movement gains power, it tends to grind anything remotely connected with it to a halt. Today, though much of Europe and the Far East are increasingly turning to nuclear fission for peaceful energy, the eruptions at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and lately Fukushima have enflamed the anti-nuclear forces to new vehemence.
Our government’s response was to close down the Atomic Energy Commission, which previously ruled over all nuclear affairs, civilian and military, and in its place create at least three more regulatory authorities to, in various time-consuming ways, “collect, assemble, evaluate, and analyze energy.” Now the Department of Energy has nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship authority under its NNSA with a $9 billion budget just to maintain what we already have.
Get the picture?
The anti-nuclear group was successful at creating conditions that effectively quadrupled the costs associated with nuclear power, using lawsuits, public testimony and requirements for endless permits – to the point where atomic power in the United States has been at a standstill for the last 30 years.
Not so the semiconductor or cellular telephone or computer industries, all of which have flourished under the control of private enterprise. What a concept … private enterprise, private funding and huge benefits to all mankind!
This is really the point of all my writing on this vast, crucial subject.
If a government has virtually total control, and if it doesn’t want to pursue a goal, it will go nowhere. This administration in particular is openly committed to energy – but the scarce, ineffective and impractical kind. Meanwhile, new possibilities in fission power, like Thorium fuel rather than the more dangerous Uranium and Plutonium, have languished because private industry is intimidated and reluctant to fund it.
And guess what? China has already lifted its one-year hold on nuclear power, since the Fukushima disaster, and plans to graduate over 2,000 Ph.D.-level students to focus on fusion energy. Europe, India and Japan, along with Russia and China, are expensively working on a cooperative fusion reactor program – ITER – and American scientists are pleading for the funding to maintain our measly 9 percent of that project.
Just 9 percent! This unfortunately is what happens when a blind, politically driven government is in control.
Friend, our nation’s future hangs in the balance. The EPA is on record saying it wants to “crucify” our oil, gas and coal producers, while billions are squandered on hopeless projects like Solyndra and other solar, wind and algae fantasies. It’s a nightmare.
But in my third – and last – article on this subject, I urgently want to spur us to action, with hope for tomorrow.