The Promise of Controlled Nuclear Fusion Part XVII

Since the last report there have been many new developments in both Hot and Cold Fusion.

Firstly, to continue the theme of the previous report, let us update ourselves with three recent advances in Hot Fusion:

A super-computer based study led by MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center revealed that, inside the super-hot plasma created in Tokamaks, interactions between turbulence at the tiniest scale, that of electrons, and turbulence at a scale 60 times larger, that of ions, can account for the mysterious mismatch between theory and experimental results. This very counter-intuitive result may finally put the Tokamak back onto a competitive footing with more recent approaches.

Laser-based ignition research by the University of California and General Atomics has also advanced. In laser fusion, a spherical fuel cell is hit with hundreds of lasers, compressing the fuel, which is normally a mix of deuterium and tritium. Next, a high-intensity laser rapidly heats the now compressed fuel but it must deliver its energy to the densest region of the fuel which, up till now, has been unknowable. Using copper tracers inside the fuel cell, researchers found that it was possible to see where the biggest build-up of energy was, and thus the densest region, using an X-ray imaging system. Their research was published in the journal Nature Physics.

Another refinement of the basic Tokamak that might overcome the confinement problem in the first place is the Stellerator. As described in this article, it is a “cousin” of the Tokamak but with a twist, literally. In the latter, the torus shape creates a basic problem: The windings of the wire are closer together inside the hole of the doughnut so the magnetic field is stronger there and weaker toward the doughnut’s outer rim. The imbalance causes particles to drift off course and hit the wall. The hoped for solution is to add a twist that forces particles through regions of high and low magnetic fields, so the effects of the two cancel each other out.

Notice how the Nuclear Physics component of these projects is almost an afterthought. Most of the Hot Fusion researchers are variously expert in plasmas, lasers, electronics, super-computing or in nearly every branch of physics and maths except Nuclear Physics itself! Yes, its all ultimately based on the D-T reaction or, perhaps ultimately, the Proton-Boron one but I suspect that any tame Nuclear Physicist assigned to any of the many Hot Fusion teams spends most of his time reading reports from the LHC or solving chess puzzles.

By contrast, cold fusion or LENR research, is still sadly lacking in top class help from both practical and theoretical physicists, nuclear or otherwise. In an absolutely must-read recent article in Aeon, Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy suggests that the real problem is the reputation trap that they fear falling into. It is based on Sociology rather than science. One key paragraph puts it this way:

Again, there’s a sociological explanation why few people are willing to look at the evidence. They put their reputations at risk by doing so. Cold fusion is tainted, and the taint is contagious – anyone seen to take it seriously risks contamination. So the subject is stuck in a place that is largely inaccessible to reason – a reputation trap, we might call it. People outside the trap won’t go near it, for fear of falling in. ‘If there is something scientists fear, it is to become like pariahs,’ as Lundin puts it. People inside the trap are already regarded as disreputable, an attitude that trumps any efforts that they might make to argue their way out, by reason and evidence.

Professor Price actually makes points similar to the ones I made 4 years ago in Part 3 of this series when I noted, inter alia, that:

Rigorous observations and measurements have a “right to exist”, whether they conform to the latest scientific fashion or not.

Brillouin’s Robert Godes recently put this issue equally succinctly:

It is sad that such people say that science should be driven by data and results, but at the same time refuse to look at the actual results.

Speaking of results, Andrea Rossi’s year long endurance test of his 1MW E-Cat Plant has barely more than a month to go. I has not been smooth going, with Rossi having to spend most of his time monitoring and servicing it. In the course of this he has had many ideas for its future refinement. The most spectacular of these must surely be that he has apparently found a way of converting the output directly into electricity. Not surprisingly, that has produced a fresh wave of hard questions. Prominent in this and previous waves of anti-Rossi skepticism is this one. It is surely at the “weapons-grade” level, but I can only wonder why the authors are so gentle on the hot fusion side in terms of how long it has been promising results (60 years) and how much private and government money it has spent (200 billion dollars) for not one excess joule of energy to date.

In any event, Rossi’s most effective “reply” to these skeptics will need to start on March 1st, with a report of complete success with his year-long test. Provided, of course, it can all be independently verified! See you then but, as always, feel free to post comments about this and previous reports. Latest figures indicate that there are now nearly 6000 registered users of Think Tank Report, so go for it!

P W Power

January 2016


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