Fusion Power (aka miniature sun aka awesome)

So this article featuring Brian Cox on practical fusion power made me start thinking.

Right now, fusion power is in its pre-adolescence. Not infancy - that'd be when everyone was still scrambling to figure out cold fusion (fusion without needing the heat/pressure of the sun). By now, they've settled down a little and said, "Well, maybe we do need a hundred million degrees of heat to do this right - let's figure out how to do that."

And the surprising thing is that it's been done in a couple different ways already. And a potentially-commercial fusion reactor is being built (by the Europeans, damn them - we can't have nice things!).

Theoretically, fusion power is enormously powerful. It works along the same rough lines as nuclear power, only it puts the smallest atoms together instead of pulling the larger atoms apart.

The good thing about that is that there's a lot more hydrogen (even the weird types of hydrogen man-made fusion seems to require) in the universe than uranium, and helium is a much better waste product to create than some of the stuff I was talking about in my earlier posts.

And fusion could generate a lot of power. A massively huge amount of power, really. So much so that Brian Cox is pretty sure that it would solve the world's energy problems - even taking into account how big our population could grow.

And to one part of me, the part that played Sim City 2 a lot, that's totally awesome. I mean, fusion power. But another part of me wonders.

First, I have to throw out the inevitable comparison to nuclear fission power, which was once thought to be too cheap to meter and now appears to be barely competitive with renewable power sources. Are we just blinded by the idea of creating miniature suns?

But more than that. Right now, we have the potential to provide as much energy as necessary to the whole world. We could have done it with dirty fuels or fission power, and now we can do it with renewables. The technology is there already. And we should do it, without a doubt.

So there are two questions to me. Will fusion power, whenever it comes along (first experimental power generation projected to be 2030, which probably means 2035 - then who knows), be so great and plentiful that we can give it away for free or super-cheap to developing nations? Or will nations who build fusion power plants just use the additional power for things like desalinization (god I hope not)?

And second, can we afford to wait for fusion power to get clean power and electricity to people around the world?

I'm putting together a post on global poverty and climate change, but until then let me just say that we can't wait. We need to start right now - because developing nations and their citizens don't have the techno options we seem to (and we won't even let them have nuclear power plants, in most cases). The development of a minority of world nations are pushing the planet to a destructive brink - can we afford to force other nations to repeat our mistakes?

None of this changes the fact that fusion is roughly the coolest thing ever.

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