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The future is fusion

By Don Allan - posted Tuesday, 7 September 2010

If the IPCC scientists who predict CO2 emissions cause climate change, and talk of the new technology being developed to combat it, never seem to mention nuclear fusion why should I be surprised that economist Professor Lord Stern, also famous for climate change predictions didn’t mention fusion in his speech to the National Press Club last Wednesday?

During his speech Lord Stern alluded to new technology but not to fusion, nor did journalists raise the question at the end of his speech. Just in case they didn’t ask because they were shy, let me mention it.

Fusion energy is limitless and waste free. But more to the point, when it becomes commercially viable not only will it solve nearly all of earth’s energy problems, it will also combat CO2 emissions and make redundant the wave energy, solar panel and windpower installations that currently pollute the landscape and will do so for years to come. However, geo-thermal energy will be useful.


And so I ask: if the IPCC scientists and Lord Stern are really concerned about climate change why aren’t they shouting that the development of fusion energy should be a priority? Don’t they care that fusion energy will make fossil fuels redundant and that housing, hospitals, schools and the equipment used by the manufacturing and mining industries will be powered with clean energy? And don’t they want to see fusion energy powering cars, trains, ships and planes while keeping the environment clean?

I can understand coal and oil companies keeping quiet about fusion because fusion would close down their industries. And the same applies to governments: they would be reluctant to encourage development of fusion because they would lose the tax the oil and coal industries provide. And some Unions wouldn’t be happy about fusion either because it could cause significant job losses.

Strange as it seems, the foregoing entities say they want to curb CO2 emissions. If true, let me suggest that they demonstrate their sincerity by actively and publicly encouraging accelerated development of fusion. Will they? Well that’s the $64,000 question.

While it is said the age of miracles hasn’t yet passed, it is unlikely any of them would support such a proposition. And while I don’t find their attitude surprising, what I do find surprising is that fusion is not a subject to which the Australian media pays much heed, despite the fact that in 1932 Sir Mark Oliphant, famous Australian scientist and former Governor of South Australia, as a founding member of an international group of physicists, saw fusion’s potential.

Vocal opponents of fusion claim it is pie in the sky. But the fact that big polluters - China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, America and nations in the European Union - are now collaboratively spending billions of dollars at Cadarache in France, as members of ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) group of nations, to make fusion viable gives the lie to that statement.

(Let me reassure people frightened when the word nuclear is mentioned in conjunction with power: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission are completely different. Fusion is created by crushing together the nuclei in atoms, not splitting them. Fission is created by splitting atoms that produce the material necessary for making nuclear weapons.)


Although easy to understand fossil fuel companies not being excited by fusion I cannot understand the IPCC and Greenpeace, as evidenced by Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist Greenpeace UK, reported by Harry de Quetteville in the Daily Telegraph (UK) August 11, 2010, effectively being fusion deniers.

“We are sceptical on fusion,” said Dr Parr, “It is taking money away from renewables like offshore wind, solar and geo-thermal. We are fiscally constrained and there are screaming short-term needs - like decarbonising our electricity production.”

Parr suggests ITER’s capacity to soak up funds is particularly damaging because there is no guarantee that it will even work. “The fundamental critique of fusion,” he says, “is that it is 40 years away and always has been. We are continuing to put large quantities of money into something that may not deliver.”

Surely Dr Parr is not sceptical of the scientists who suggest that fusion is both practicable and viable? And could his scepticism be based on the fact that Greenpeace wants huge sums to be spent on the technologies it favours, wind farms for example, that could take forty years to develop fully and, also in the end, might not work?

It is unfortunate also, that many pontificators of climate change have become zealots whose attitude could be likened to that of members of the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed nothing would suit many of them better than that climate change sceptics be expelled from society.

Finally, fusion scientists are not be compared with the ancient alchemists who constantly tried to change base metals into gold. The fact is, apart from powering the sun and stars, not only has fusion been achieved on earth, it is working on a small scale at the Culham Research Centre outside Oxford and has been since 1991.

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About the Author

Don Allan, politically unaligned, is a teenager in the youth of old age but young in spirit and mind. A disabled age pensioner, he writes a weekly column for The Chronicle, a free community newspaper in Canberra. Don blogs at:

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