A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a talk by Ed Moses from the National Ignition Facility (NIF https://lasers.llnl.gov/) about laser fusion technology entitled “Clean Fusion Power This Decade”. You can download and listen to an mp3 posted on the Long Now site here:
In the talk, he describes ignition occurring in the 02010-02012 range, with a prototype reactor ready by the 02020 range and I want to thank Dr. Moses for his work and effort to communicate that research.
I had been a fan of hot fusion technology for years before I knew that cold fusion was real. In 02002 I went to the San Diego fusion facility (https://fusion.gat.com/global/Home) for a teacher training and professional development workshop. I toured the tokamak and met lots of smart and extremely generous people, enthusiastic about a fusion energy future. I wish them, and the NIF, the best of luck in reproducing star-power. It would be a major achievement.
But listening to Ed Moses, and now knowing (since 2003) that cold fusion has the promise to bring a decentralized carbon-free energy source with a simpler technology than large hot fusion reactors, I had to respond more critically. He envisions 9+ billion people populating this planet, concentrated in mega-cities, those cities above a population of 10 million, “because that’s where the jobs are, that’s where culture is, that’s where centers of power are, and by the way, they are more energy efficient.” There are many points to make in response to that scenario, let me make just a few.
Feeding and finding the resources for an additional 4 billion people, the majority of which are concentrated in cities, is quite a challenge even in a future with fusion technology. The carrying capacity of this planet is debatable. But where are we now with planetary resources for six and one-half billion people?
The oceans have been over fished with many species on the brink of collapse. Water resources have been privatized planet-wide and are being rationed. In the last several decades, food production has expanded only because of fossil fuels and the cheap oil available to produce and transport these foods worldwide. The heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers derived from petroleum has reduced topsoil around the globe to “merely a sponge”, a dead layer that has the capacity only to soak up more chemicals.
When Dr. Moses claims that cities are “more efficient”, what does he mean? More efficient than what? It’s not clear how he measures this efficiency. As I understand it, large centralized populations need huge influxes of food shipped in from very long distances. The majority of these shipments come on trucks using petroleum diesel as most mega-cities, that I know of, have no local food production. Many who live in mega-cities have a poor standard of living, with little access to nature.
Many of these large mega-cities of the world have their water transported hundreds of miles, from places that are becoming resentful about sending their water out of their local area. Some mega-cities situated in desert climates have expanded their population by mining water, i.e. tapping into underground water pools left by the recent ice age. These communities will experience a drastic and sudden need for more water when these one-time resources disappear.
I also wonder what kind of jobs are available in the mega-cities of the future? Will there be a second renaissance in advertising and marketing? Are the centers of technological revolution going to be located in these mega-cities? Is that a trend we can identify now? Are technology companies with huge job openings choosing to locate in cities now?
To say “we are in a non-local society” is to miss the dynamic changes occurring right now. We are fast flipping to a local society, where food, water, and energy resources are all farmed, pumped, and created locally. Geo-political forces are emerging that challenge the hegemony of superpowers’ reach abroad.
I just don’t see large cities as apart of our positive future, mostly because of a world population argument. The population explosion is directly related to the oil age. Controlling populations who need food, water, and jobs seems like it would require a police state, a total loss of personal freedom, and plenty of chemical inundation.
Dr. Moses contends that “2030-2050 is where things start happening”. I submit that things are starting to happen now. Perhaps the NIF would be willing to consider the plethora of displaced auto workers, the newly released mid-level office managers from marketing departments, or the shrimpers and fishermen, as new hires for their multi-billion dollar facility. If not, then Houston, we have a problem. The lights are going out all around the world right now as electrical grids are beyond capacity, and we need food, water, and jobs, for an increasing number of people.
Fusion technology will create its own environment, a vastly different one, not merely extend this present system. The Long Now seeks to find paradigms that last on the order of thousands of years, and perhaps large metropolis’ will emerge in that time frame, but the next hundred years are going to be a major transition, and I can only see a positive future if Earth’s population is reduced, not increased.
Every new technology creates an environment of services and disservices. Cold fusion technology, with its simple structure, small, compact and portable would surely allow the freedom to live in a decentralized world, closer to nature, if one so chooses.
Hot fusion technology is great. I hope that the NIF finds the answer to ignition soon. I am excited about basic research in science and have always been particularly interested in the science of stars, energy, rocket propulsion and space exploration. But hot fusion has had its share of the funding pie, with good results. Isn’t it time to take a look at cold fusion, low-energy nuclear reactions, which has had just as astounding results without the “infusion” of funding? One could argue the results that low-energy nuclear reaction scientists have obtained is even more remarkable given the paltry funding on the order of millions of dollars, as opposed to the tens of billions that hot fusion has received.
When Dr. Moses describes a “sustainable, carbon-free, not geo-political, safe, modular, compact, relatively rapid development path”, that “uses our existing infrastructure” and “accepts evolutionary improvements”, he is describing the technology of cold fusion. Yes, “it is too good to be true”.
ACTION Let’s contact the Long Now and ask them to present a cold fusion scientist to discuss the future of energy in a de-centralized and local world. You can find their contact information here: http://www.longnow.org/contact/